Deadly Blessing, Pina, Seven Psychopaths among new home entertainment titles

This week's reviews of what's new on Blu-ray and DVD

| January 30, 2013

(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD.)

Tyler Perry and Matthew Fox in Alex Cross (Photo: Summit)
  • Tyler Perry and Matthew Fox in Alex Cross (Photo: Summit)

ALEX CROSS (2012). Even with Tyler Perry essaying the title role in Alex Cross, don't expect to see any Cross cross-dressing in this poor adaptation of one of the many countless thrillers penned by best-selling author James Patterson. While Perry has made the bulk of his considerable fortune donning a dress to play the larger-than-life character of Madea, the actor plays it straight here. Keeping it so close to the vest, Perry acquits himself well enough, even if his limited turn brings to mind Dorothy Parker's famous quip about Katharine Hepburn (in a particular stage performance) running "the gamut of emotions from A to B." Morgan Freeman played an older Alex Cross in 1997's fairly decent Kiss the Girls and 2001's daft Along Came a Spider, so this turkey can be viewed as a prequel of sorts — although finding the through-line in these actors' radically different interpretations of the character can be a daunting task. In this outing, Cross is a Detroit detective-psychologist whose team consists of BFF Tommy Kane (Edward Burns) and Monica Ashe (Rachel Nichols). Their case involves them tracking down a demented killer they dub Picasso (Matthew Fox), a muscle-bound maniac who gets a thrill out of torturing people. Alex Cross is for the most part a stridently by-the-numbers thriller, yet its casual cruelty serves to also render it slightly repellent. Because Picasso is never identified as a serial misogynist — he's supposed to be an equal opportunity provider of pain — the fact that the most brutal and shocking acts of violence are all committed against women speaks ill of director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) and the writers. The first victim is injected with a date-rape drug that renders her paralyzed but able to feel everything that happens to her — which, in this case, includes getting all 10 fingers snipped off. Other women meet equally horrific deaths. (Incidentally, the ever-clueless MPAA rated this laughfest PG-13; heck, why not go ahead and rate it G? Rent it for the kids!) The performances are solid throughout the supporting ranks, with Fox the notable exception — his camp performance suggests too many screenings of Mommie Dearest prior to filming. Then again, perhaps a little more camp might have helped balance out against the sordidness of the enterprise. Cicely Tyson appears as Alex's mother, Nana Mama, and while it's always nice to see this American icon in a rare screen appearance, it might have been in the film's best interest if Perry had refashioned the role as Nana Madea and played opposite himself in drag.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Cohen; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and deleted scenes.

Movie: *1/2

Henry Cavill in The Cold Light of Day (Photo: Summit)
  • Henry Cavill in The Cold Light of Day (Photo: Summit)

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012). Madrid will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was in the Spain capital where 10th grade student Matthew Brunson, in town from next-door Portugal for a high school basketball tournament, got inebriated for the first time in his life, playing a game of "Quarters" while The J. Geils Band's "Freeze Frame" blared in the background. I bring this up only because, after sitting through the Madrid-set thriller The Cold Light of Day, I surely could use another stiff drink. Sigourney Weaver doubtless would be happy to join me at the bar: The actress, who in 2011 suffered the indignity of backing up Taylor Lautner — Taylor Lautner, for God's sake — in the daft Abduction, here finds herself essaying the role of the villain in another action flick that's nearly as dopey. As the duplicitous CIA agent Jean Carrack, she squares off against Will Shaw (Henry Cavill), who's after a briefcase that Carrack swiped from Middle Eastern spies (we never learn the contents of the briefcase, but don't expect a denouement worthy of Kiss Me Deadly or Pulp Fiction). The ruffians are holding Will's family hostage, and they'll kill the clan unless the briefcase is returned to them. Carrack isn't about to let that happen, and with the help of her weaponry and her vehicle, she seemingly destroys half of Madrid to achieve her goal. It's hard to tell whether Weaver is patterning her performance after Schwarzenegger's taciturn turn in The Terminator or if she's merely embarrassed by the whole thing, but either way, she's woefully ineffectual. As for the film itself, its dialogue is dull, its characters even more so, and its action sequences pack all the excitement of a Tide commercial. It seeks to emulate the Bourne films but merely ends up stillborn.

There are no extras on the Blu-ray.

Movie: *1/2

Colleen Riley, Ernest Borgnine and Jeff East in Deadly Blessing (Photo: Shout! Factory)
  • Colleen Riley, Ernest Borgnine and Jeff East in Deadly Blessing (Photo: Shout! Factory)

DEADLY BLESSING (1981). Yeah, yeah, I know most people consider him one of the greatest filmmakers the horror genre has ever seen. But for my money, Wes Craven will always remain one of the industry's worst, responsible for an ungodly number of bombs (Shocker, The People Under the Stairs, My Soul to Take, etc.) but forgiven by the masses for kicking off two popular franchises (the underwhelming A Nightmare on Elm Street and the truly godawful Scream). To be fair, Craven has helmed three modestly entertaining films — 1977's atmospheric The Hills Have Eyes, 1982's cheerfully campy Swamp Thing and 2005's nifty Red Eye — and Deadly Blessing initially appears as if it will join their adequate ranks. Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) lives in wedded bliss with her husband Jim (Douglas Barr, who three months later would begin his long-running stint on the hit TV series The Fall Guy) on their farm. Their neighbors on one side consist of a community of crazy Hittites while the other adjacent property houses a mom (Lois Nettleton) and her grown daughter (Lisa Hartman). After Jim is mysteriously killed by his own tractor, Martha's best friends Lana and Vicky (Sharon Stone and Susan Buckner) pay her a visit; while there, Lana is tortured by nightmares involving spiders, Vicky flirts with a shy Hittite lad (Jeff East), and the head of that religious cult (Ernest Borgnine) rants about the presence of an incubus among them. The red herrings do little to distract from the obviousness of the mystery, but never mind: What's important to note is that Craven (working as director and co-scripter) manages to drum up a fair amount of ambiance and suspense during the first half. Unfortunately, the movie utterly collapses toward the end, and the daft conclusion is then followed by one of the most idiotic gotcha moments I've recently had the displeasure to endure. Craven's misogyny, which established itself right from the start in his debut picture The Last House on the Left, is largely kept in check here but does peek through toward the end. As for the actors, it's interesting to see Stone this early in her career, while Borgnine delivers a typically hammy, Razzie Award-nominated performance as a fire-and-brimstone sort prone to making declarations like "You are a stench in the nostrils of God!"

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Craven; new interviews with Buckner, co-star Michael Berryman and writers Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: **

Karl Urban in Dredd (Photo: Lionsgate)
  • Karl Urban in Dredd (Photo: Lionsgate)

DREDD (2012). Fans of the long-running British comic strip showcasing the character of Judge Dredd were horrified when Sylvester Stallone managed to turn the declarative statement "I am the law!" into a hammy punchline in the 1995 camp version. Those same folks will now be delighted to learn that Karl Urban has reclaimed the snatch of dialogue for them: When the character utters it in the new adaptation, it's grim enough to give viewers — and villains — pause. A straight-up action film with little on its mind besides murder and mayhem, Dredd — or Dredd 3D, depending on which Blu-ray you rent/buy/borrow/steal — is stylish enough to entertain more than just the hardcore-gore crowd. Director Pete Travis, who seemed unable to keep up with the dizzying plot twists sprung by scripter Barry Levy for his 2008 thriller Vantage Point, functions better with the relatively straightforward script provided here by Alex Garland; this freedom allows him to construct a movie defined by its beautifully framed mise en scenes and driven by two protagonists who manage to play off each other's differences. Dredd, the futuristic lawman who's sanctioned to serve as judge, jury and executioner whenever the need arises, is tough and taciturn, a direct counterpoint to the tentative and empathic rookie (Olivia Thirlby) he's assigned to supervise. But when they find themselves trapped in a high-rise overseen by a vicious drug lord (Game of Thrones' Lena Headey), he discovers that she can more than hold her own. It's poor timing that this was released both theatrically and on home video after The Raid: Redemption, since that offers the exact same premise with a higher rate of return — specifically, the hand-to-hand combats fueling that film are more exciting than the gunplay in Dredd. Then again, this picture (unlike Raid) can be viewed in 3-D, and for those opting to go that route, it should be noted that the movie looks terrific in that format. When a bullet lovingly rips through a thug's face in slow motion, viewers sitting on the sides of the couch might feel an inclination to duck.

Blu-ray extras include a featurette looking at the history of the comic character; a piece on the visual effects; and a motion comic prequel.

Movie: **1/2

Pina (Photo: IFC Films)
  • Pina (Photo: IFC Films)

PINA (2011). When I first screened this Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature in a theater, it featured perhaps the most unique style of 3-D I had yet seen in a film. It was so subtle, unobtrusive and low-key that at times I felt like I was watching the movie through a View-Master rather than the requisite plastic glasses. That's not meant as a knock; indeed, one of the pleasures of this piece from director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) is that it realizes the artistry on display is less in this technological toy than in the action it's capturing on screen. So while Pina is available on Blu-ray in 3-D, catching it on either Blu-ray or DVD without that extra dimension is no cause for alarm. Wenders' tribute to the German choreographer Pina Bausch (who passed away in 2009, just as the filmmaker was prepping this movie) is a lovely, lyrical valentine that focuses on performances of Bausch's dances while also spending some down time with her disciples in the Tanztheater Wuppertal. Ever the innovator, Wenders doesn't exactly employ the reliable "talking heads" format; instead, he individually films members of her ensemble as they sit close-mouthed, with their words heard in voice-over. Their dialogue consists of remembrances of Pina Bausch the Artist; viewers expecting to learn any juicy details about Pina Bausch the Person will be sorely disappointed. But it's refreshing that Wenders focuses on the craft without cluttering up the film with messy details — although, admittedly, a bit more info on her life as it relates to her approach to art would have been appreciated. Dance connoisseurs and novices alike will be suitably impressed with the showcase routines, which take place not only indoors but outside in the natural world. Bausch herself said that dance helps communicate situations that otherwise "leave you utterly speechless." As we watch members of her talented troupe glide around chairs, weave through traffic or frolic under a waterfall, we are indeed struck dumb by the poetry in motion.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Wenders; a making-of piece; deleted scenes; and an interview with Wenders.

Movie: ***1/2

Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths (Photo: Sony & CBS Films)
  • Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths (Photo: Sony & CBS Films)

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012). Writer-director Martin McDonagh, Oscar-nominated for his original script for 2008's In Bruges, returns with another film that's just as profane, bloody and darkly humorous. If it doesn't quite match its predecessor in terms of total success, it's still potent enough to indicate that McDonagh managed to dodge the dreaded sophomore slump. In Bruges lead Colin Farrell plays Marty, a heavy-drinking screenwriter who has managed to come up with the title of his next work (Seven Psychopaths, of course) but nothing else. Inspiration arrives like spurts of blood once Marty starts hanging around less with his girlfriend Kaya (a wasted Abbie Cornish) and more with his best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), who, like his Travis Bickle namesake in Taxi Driver, has several screws loose. Billy and his partner-in-crime, a dapper gentleman named Hans (Christopher Walken), pay the bills by snatching dogs and then returning them to the owners for the reward money; this plan backfires once they nab the dog of a vicious mobster (Woody Harrelson). Seven Psychopaths is one of those self-referential films (like Adaptation. and Scream) in which the characters basically comment on the film-within-a-film and how its circumstances relate to the real world — in this instance, that includes Marty employing the characters he meets into the script he's writing (which of course is also McDonagh's script for the movie we paid to watch) and also a running discussion of making violent movies with peaceful ideals. Despite engaging performances (especially from a tender Walken), the film is unable to maintain its intellectual high-wire act, though after a deadly stretch in the desert it manages to rally for an inspired (and inspiring) conclusion involving the character of the Vietnamese assassin.

Blu-ray extras consist of six behind-the-scenes featurettes each running under three minutes; the oddest is Seven Psychocats, a spoof with cats creepily playing all the roles.

Movie: **1/2

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