(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
- Ice Cube in Barbershop: The Next Cut (Photo: Warner & MGM)
BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT (2016). The best of the Barbershop quartet (following 2002's Barbershop, 2004's Barbershop: Back in Business, and 2005's Beauty Shop), Barbershop: The Next Cut offers more laughs and more meaningful commentary than previous installments in the series. Calvin's Barbershop is still being run by its namesake (series star Ice Cube), but the formerly all-male Chicago business is now coed, with the smart and sensible Angie (Regina Hall) and her ladies offering beauty-shop services right alongside Calvin, crotchety Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) and the other barbers. Whereas the first two Barbershop entries employed the gimmicky plotline of rival developers attempting to swallow up the venerable venue, this one turns more toward the day's headlines, with Calvin and his crew worrying about — and being affected by — the crime that's tearing apart their community. It makes for many somber moments, but the humor isn't neglected in other scenes, thanks to the contributions of, among others, Sean Patrick Thomas as the sensitive Jimmy, J.B. Smoove as the opportunistic One-Stop, and, of course, Cedric the Entertainer. Only Dante Cole, utterly annoying as the sexist and preening Dante, fails to draw any laughs. Other subplots freely come and go — the most prominent centers on a stylist (singer Nicki Minaj) coming between married employees (Common and Eve) — but the twin strengths of the movie remain its amusing asides and, across the field, its civic-minded seriousness.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.
- Kelly Reno in The Black Stallion Returns (Photo: Twilight Time)
THE BLACK STALLION RETURNS (1983). The poetry and mysticism evident in the 1979 sleeper hit The Black Stallion (released last summer on Blu-ray by Criterion and reviewed here) is nowhere to be found in The Black Stallion Returns, a sequel that plays more like an adventure tale from a vintage Boys' Own periodical. As such, it's acceptable family fare, even if its general storyline (an international equestrian race through a punishing desert) was handled with more excitement and aplomb in 2004's Hidalgo. Kelly Reno, the young star of The Black Stallion, returns as Alex Ramsey, living stateside with his widowed mom (Teri Garr) and his magnificent horse, the Black. But the Moroccan sheik (Ferdinand Mayne) who previously owned the animal steals him back, forcing Alex to stow away aboard a plane to Casablanca and journey through unfamiliar terrain in an attempt to retrieve the Arabian stallion. It's always nice to see the great character actor and racial-barrier-breaking Los Angeles Ram Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge, Spartacus) pop up in a film — here, he plays Meslar, friend and protector of a young Moroccan (Vincent Spano) befriended by Alex — but it's embarrassing to watch respected character actor Allen Garfield (The Conversation, Teachers), here billed under his birth name of Allen Goorwitz, delivering a broad and buffoonish performance as the villainous Kurr. Robert Dalva, who earned an Academy Award nomination for editing the 1979 original, handles directing duties here, with Paul Hirsch (an Oscar winner for Star Wars) taking over editing chores. The Black Stallion Returns was followed 20 years later by the Disney-produced, IMAX-outfitted prequel The Young Black Stallion.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of Georges Delerue's score.
- Melissa McCarthy in The Boss (Photo: Universal)
THE BOSS (2016). They say that love is blind, but when it comes to starring in a movie co-written and directed by your spouse, it can also prove to be deaf and dumb — as in tone-deaf and very, very dumb. Melissa McCarthy has exploded as a screen comedienne thanks to her projects with filmmaker Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and Ghostbusters), but in the two pictures she's made with husband Ben Falcone, she's been provided with material far beneath her abilities — a surprise, since she herself co-wrote both films with her hubby. The Boss is marginally better than Tammy, but that's only because it doesn't grow hopelessly maudlin, electing to remain a comedy right to the end. Of course, like practically all comedies centering on a boorish and unlikable individual, this wraps up with a few insincere moments of character maturity and empathy, but here such bits are no harder to take than the desperate gags flailing and falling flat at a rapid clip. As Michelle Darnell, a millionaire and self-help guru who loses everything after she's arrested for insider trading, McCarthy has a few funny lines that she delivers with her usual aplomb. Mostly, though, the film puts her in situations which are humiliating rather than hysterical, and, worse, everyone around her (with the exception of dull Kristen Bell) has been ordered to go over the top with their grotesque characterizations. Among those suffering a direct hit is Peter Dinklage, who mined some laughs in last year's equally dismal Pixels but here can't inspire even an upturned lip corner. At one point, his character gets to wield a Samurai blade, and it's an apt visual: Here's a movie that needs to fall on its own sword and put everyone out of their misery.
The Blu-ray contains both the R-rated theatrical version and an unrated cut that runs five minutes longer. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
- Kevin Costner in Criminal (Photo: Summit Entertainment)
CRIMINAL (2016). When one is presented with an outlandish, take-it-or-leave-it premise that works thanks to compelling characters, nifty plot twists and exciting action sequences, the result is something like Face/Off; when presented with an outlandish, take-it-or-leave-it premise that offers none of these key ingredients, the result is something like Criminal. A grunting Kevin Costner plays Jericho Stewart, a convict who's chosen by Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to have the memories of Bill Pope (an uncredited Ryan Reynolds), a dead CIA agent, injected into his brain. The operation is conducted at the request of Pope's superior, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), as he's attempting to locate a computer hacker (Michael Pitt) who's also being sought by psychotic entrepreneur Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà, awful as always). The procedure is successful, but while the heartless Jericho initially uses his newfound knowledge for his own personal gain, he eventually discovers that the memories of Pope's wife (Gal Gadot) and daughter (Lara Decaro) are turning him into a big ole softie. For a movie that hinges on a soulless man developing feelings, Criminal is noticeably lacking any of its own, what with its roster of repellent characters and the chilly approach taken by director Ariel Vroman (whose previous feature, The Iceman, was similarly, uh, frosty) and scripters Douglas Cook and David Weisberg — note, as but one example, that the death of a highly sympathetic character (and played by a highly billed performer) is treated as an aside, completely ignored by the person's friends and colleagues and, by extension, the filmmakers themselves. Costner tries hard in a losing effort, Jones is completely wasted, and Oldman allows some of his vintage '90s overacting to sneak into the margins.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and the music video for Madsonik's "Drift and Fall Again."
- Humphrey Bogart in Deadline — U.S.A. (Photo: Kino)
DEADLINE — U.S.A. (1952). Although it was made over a half-century ago, expect to find plenty of topicality in Deadline — U.S.A., a sturdy drama about life at a big-city newspaper. From its examination of a publication that seeks to deliver relevant and hard-hitting news in the face of sensationalistic competitors to its knowing aside of how honest editors are often at odds with salesmen worried about losing advertising clients due to unfavorable coverage, the picture benefits from the experiences of writer-director Richard Brooks, who had been a New York reporter before becoming a successful filmmaker (he won an Oscar for adapting Elmer Gantry and was also behind the excellent screen versions of In Cold Blood and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). A typically terrific Humphrey Bogart stars as Ed Hutcheson, the embattled editor of the metropolitan rag The Day. In addition to having to contend with the shocking news that the newspaper is being sold to a rival outfit (which, of course, plans to shutter its doors), he's also urging his reporters to uncover solid evidence involving the activities of a murderous mob boss (Martin Gabel) while, on the personal front, simultaneously trying to back the affection of his ex-wife (Kim Hunter). Bogie delivers several speeches about journalistic responsibility and integrity, though, as usual with this actor, it's the zingers that stick in the memory ("I don't like him. I'll think of a reason later."). There's long been an unconfirmed rumor that a pre-stardom James Dean can be briefly glimpsed at one point, but I couldn't spot him.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Eddie Muller and the theatrical trailer.
- Luana Anders in Dementia 13 (Photo: The Film Detective)
DEMENTIA 13 (1963). After toiling in the background for Roger Corman on a couple of flicks — and helming the 1962 softcore romp Tonight for Sure on the side — Francis Coppola got a chance to show the world what he really could do when Corman gave him the director's chair for Dementia 13. Well, OK, considering he would later make such masterpieces as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, this early effort doesn't quite show off his filmmaking prowess, but it nevertheless remains an interesting part of his filmography — certainly more than such latter-day stinkbombs as Jack and Youth Without Youth. Working with a budget of $42,000, Coppola used his own hastily assembled script about a wealthy family haunted by the memory of a tragic accident that occurred on the grounds of their Irish estate. Two of the brothers (William Campbell and Bart Patton) are twitchy in their own right, a trait they share with the intense family doctor (Patrick Magee) — but can one of these three men really be the axe murderer who suddenly appears on the scene? Comparisons to Psycho are a given (including the early death of a leading character), but the film is stylish enough to maintain a fair amount of interest.
Dementia 13 has long suffered as a public domain title (meaning most versions have been unwatchable in terms of audio and video), but this new Blu-ray edition released by The Film Detective offers a restored version. There are no extras on the disc (for those keeping track, the similarly restored Blu-ray released five years ago by Film Chest included the trailer and a "before & after" restoration demo, and additionally housed a postcard sporting the poster image).
- Colin Farrell in The New World (Photo: Criterion)
THE NEW WORLD (2005). Director Terrence Malick isn't in the business of making movies — and that's not just because he's only helmed seven pictures in a 43-year span. It seems almost incidental that Malick uses actors and scripts and props while creating his works, because what he's producing are visual poems. Other filmmakers have occasionally adopted this method — Werner Herzog, Jane Campion, Robert Flaherty, Godfrey Reggio — but in some respects Malick is, for better or worse, the most slavishly devoted to it. With The New World, it's mostly for the worse. As always, the cameraman is the star, and ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki scored an Oscar nod for his masterful visions on celluloid. Yet any ambience created in tandem by Lubezki and Malick repeatedly dissipates in the face of the plodding treatment of fascinating material: the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and, more specifically, the relationship between lithe Native-American girl Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher) and sensitive English settler John Smith (Colin Farrell). As a look at the despoiling of untamed territory by brutish Europeans, this can't touch Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, and Malick's indifference to the accomplished performers milling around the set (Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale among them) is so apparent that one almost wonders why he didn't just cast this with mannequins. He seems equally bored with prose, given some of the dead-weight exclamations uttered by various characters. Still, while it's no Badlands or The Tree of Life in my book, others admittedly rate it as perhaps his finest achievement.
Criterion's three-disc Blu-ray edition contains the 135-minute theatrical cut, the 150-minute first cut, and the 172-minute extended cut. Extras include a pair of making-of featurettes; interviews with Farrell and Kilcher; and a look at editing the various versions.
- Michelle Pfeiffer and Sean Connery in The Russia House (Photo: Twilight Time)
THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990). If the sturdy Jason Bourne films often feel like the spy game reconfigured for the kiddies, then the screen versions of John le Carré's various bestsellers are catnip for more seasoned viewers, those best able to appreciate the complexities that define both the characters and the plotlines. While not in the upper echelons of celluloid le Carré — The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold are still the ne plus ultra of his adaptations, if you ask me — The Russia House is nevertheless a worthwhile endeavor, benefitting from the combined talents of director Fred Schepisi (a perfectly lovely man whom I had the opportunity to meet at the 2012 RiverRun International Film Festival, there to hold a Q&A following the screening of his film The Eye of the Storm; photos and coverage here), scripter Tom Stoddard, and an exceptional cast. A glasnost-era Cold War yarn released the year following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the year before the dismantling of the Soviet Union, this stars Sean Connery as Barley Blair, a British book publisher entrusted by a mysterious Russian known as Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) with a manuscript that might blow open the whole arms race. Dante's confidante is a woman named Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer), and while Blair also comes to trust her, he's wary of the government suits — both British and American — who have reluctantly employed him as an amateur spy. Connery and Pfeiffer are both excellent, but much of the film's pleasure comes from watching the consummate pros filling out the roles of various bureaucrats, among them James Fox (as a perceptive MI6 head), Roy Scheider (as a wily CIA chief) and director Ken Russell (as an excitable British official — and amusingly looking like Bernie Sanders with bedhead).
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated track of Jerry Goldsmith's score.
- Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in Silk Stockings (Photo: Warner)
SILK STOCKINGS (1957). The 1939 classic Ninotchka (with the famous tagline, "Garbo Laughs!") led to a Broadway musical adaptation 16 years later; that stage hit was in turn followed by this musical screen version a couple of years after that. The picture effectively marked Fred Astaire's retirement from dancing — it was his last significant on-screen hoofing, and he's as sublime as ever. Yet it's co-star Cyd Charisse (often rumored to have been Astaire's favorite dance partner) who dominates the picture, effectively essaying the Garbo role of a frosty Russian emissary who's sent to Paris to retrieve three wayward comrades (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff), only to find her Communist principles melting under the capitalist gaze of an American movie producer (Astaire). Charisse is captivating in one of her best roles, and there's an amusing supporting turn by Janis Paige as a ditzy actress (basically a reworking of Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont from Singin' in the Rain). The Cole Porter score features approximately a dozen tunes, including the wildly entertaining "Stereophonic Sound" (a clever salute to the new technical wonders of cinema in the 1950s) and "The Ritz Roll and Rock" (a gentle dig at the burgeoning rock n' roll scene).
Blu-ray extras include a retrospective featurette hosted by Charisse; the 1934 short Paree, Paree, starring Bob Hope; and a theatrical trailer stating that Silk Stockings marked Lorre's first major comic role (apparently, those who assembled the trailer never saw his formidable turn in, among other earlier comedic efforts, Frank Capra's 1944 gem Arsenic and Old Lace).