(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.)
Denzel Washington in The Equalizer (Photo: Sony)
THE EQUALIZER (2014). Running for four seasons (1985-1989), TV's The Equalizer found British actor Edward Woodward essaying the role of Robert McCall, a former government agent employing his impressive skills to help out those too weak and powerless to fight for themselves. In this film version, Robert McCall has been reborn in the personage of Denzel Washington, who similarly brings enormous reserves of brains, brawn and bravado to the part. Making small talk with another regular customer at his favorite diner, a too-young call girl named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), McCall can easily surmise that her vocation isn't exactly what this Russian immigrant had in mind for herself — that becomes even more clear after she's brutally beaten by Russian thugs who control her very existence. Realizing he can no longer stand idly by, this employee at the supply store Home Mart taps into his long-buried past to help him with this present situation. The Equalizer is about as subtle as a nail gun shot to the temple, with McCall worthy of sainthood and the villains worthy of being Satan's emissaries on Earth. But who wants subtlety when one can bask in the glory of Denzel Washington obliterating remorseless degenerates left and right? Like Liam Neeson's Taken series, this isn't a film for those seeking moral ambiguity or thought-provoking shades of gray. It's cinema as catharsis, allowing ordinary people weary of living in a world run by vile criminals and corrupt cops the fantasy of seeing a sentient superman righting all wrongs on their behalf. Pimps and other like-minded creeps who prey on women represent just about the worst that humanity has to offer, so when McCall deals with them in violent fashion, no one watching will shed a tear. But some might cheer.
Extras on the Blu-ray (which streets Dec. 30) include a half-dozen behind-the-scenes featurettes; a discussion with Moretz about her character; and a photo gallery.
Arnold Oceng and Reese Witherspoon in The Good Lie (Photo: Warner Bros.)
THE GOOD LIE (2014). It's a shame The Good Lie was abandoned by Warner Bros. during its fitful theatrical run, because this one's a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It's also a movie about a group of minorities that — do mine eyes deceive me? — actually focuses on the minorities. That's a rarity in Hollywood, about as likely as winning the lottery on one's first attempt. After all, these sorts of films invariably spend more time with the camera focused on a saintly Caucasian and his or her petty woes than anything else (e.g. Million Dollar Arm, The Blind Side, Cry Freedom). So while Reese Witherspoon may receive star billing and be plastered larger-than-life on the Blu-ray box, her role is actually a supporting one: She doesn't even appear until the 35-minute mark, and after that, she's off-screen for large chunks of time. Instead, scripter Margaret Nagle and director Philippe Falardeau keep their attention where it belongs, on three of The Lost Boys of Sudan, children who journey thousands of miles seeking safety as their country is embroiled in a bloody civil war. As Mamere, Jeremiah and Paul become adults (and superbly played at this point by real Sudanese refugees Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal), they're sent to America — Kansas City, Missouri, to be exact — to start new lives; it proves to be a difficult task as they dwell upon the horrors of the past, cope with stateside eccentricities and seek to be reunited with Mamere's sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel). Witherspoon and Corey Stoll are fine as two of the people who help the immigrants secure jobs and residency, even if their characters aren't particularly filled out. Yet that's OK, since it allows the film to focus on what's important: the horrors of war, the end of innocence, and the hope of a better life just over the horizon.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted scenes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Photo: Paramount)
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014). There's a moment in TMNT when one of our shell-stocked heroes woos plucky reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) by playing "Happy Together." The joke, of course, is that the group behind that classic song was The Turtles, but this fact isn't mentioned, meaning it's the only gag over the course of 100 minutes that's targeted at adults. The rest seems aggressively geared toward kids who aren't particularly bright; then again, that's generally the m.o. of Michael Bay, who's attached as producer and whose sticky fingers are all over this thing (the director is Jonathan Liebesman of Battle Los Angeles notoriety). The major problem with this latest TMNT product — well, aside from its impersonal nature, mediocre performances, sloppy script and unseemly visual style — rests with the title characters themselves. I wasn't a fan of the three live-action TMNT films that appeared in the 1990s, but in retrospect, maybe placing four actors in cheap turtle suits wasn't such a bad idea. It certainly trumps the approach here, which is to use CGI to make hulking monstrosities out of Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello. Looking as if they've been ingesting steroids their entire lives, these ripped reptiles are almost as visually off-putting as their mentor, the rat Splinter, all of them created in a mock-realistic style when all anyone really desires is pure fantasy. The action set-pieces are choreographed fairly well, and there's a climactic skirmish, set atop a towering edifice, that delivers the goods. For these reasons, I'll graciously give these heroes in a half-shell an extra half-star.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; an extended ending; a look at the visual effects; a piece on the 3-D version (yes, also included on the 2-D version); and the music video for Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign's "Shell Shocked."
Jane Fonda and Jason Bateman in This Is Where I Leave You (Photo: Warner Bros.)
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU (2014). This seriocomedy is packed to the rafters with insufferable characters, and the youngest of these offenders is a small tyke who's always shown sitting on his portable toilet trying to poop. This leads to the sort of bodily-function gags that are always a telltale sign of screenwriter desperation, but one moment stands apart with its brutal honesty. After proudly doing his duty — or should that be doody? — the kid flings said contraption, contents and all, at one of the grown-ups. This, in a nutshell, defines This Is Where I Leave You, an often wretched film that spends 104 minutes gleefully hurling crap at anyone unfortunate enough to watch it. This is one of those works programmed to make audiences alternately laugh and cry — and since nothing is too shameless for this film, one character even instructs another to "laugh or cry" ... twice. Jason Bateman handles the leading role of Judd Altman, who learns that his father has died around the same time he also learns that his wife Quinn (Abigail Spencer) has been sleeping with his boss Wade (Dax Shepard), the obnoxious host of a he-man radio show. Judd returns home for his pop's funeral; there, he and his siblings — happy mother but unhappy wife Wendy (Tina Fey), obnoxious man-child Phillip (Adam Driver) and nondescript entity Paul (Corey Stoll) — are basically forced by their eccentric mom Hillary (Jane Fonda) to hang around the house for a whole week. This Is Where I Leave You clearly isn't lacking in star power, although it's depressing to see so many fine talents cast adrift in such a puerile exercise.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Shawn Levy and writer Jonathan Tropper; behind-the-scenes featurettes; deleted and extended scenes; and outtakes featuring the character of Rabbi Boner (don't ask, don't tell).
Dustin Hoffman and Geena Davis (in her film debut) in Tootsie (Photo: Criterion Collection)
TOOTSIE (1982). In 1959, Billy Wilder made the brilliant cross-dressing comedy Some Like It Hot, and 23 years later, it was Sydney Pollack who helmed another classic gem in the same mold. (Perhaps not coincidentally, these two titles topped the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the 100 funniest movies ever made.) Tootsie marks one of those rare occasions when a troubled production and a revolving door of writers did not sink a film; on the contrary, the result proved to be a critical smash and a box office bonanza, grossing more than any other 1982 release save for the record-busting E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Dustin Hoffman stars as temperamental New York actor Michael Dorsey, who learns from his agent (played to perfection by Pollack himself) that nobody will hire him. So donning a dress and wig, he auditions as "Dorothy Michaels" for a female role in a popular soap opera. He lands the job, which leads to a number of complications: He has little time for his neurotic friend (Teri Garr), he constantly fights with the show's chauvinistic director (Dabney Coleman), and he finds himself falling in love with the program's leading lady (Jessica Lange). The gender politics, while still spot-on, seem more surface-skimming than before, but everything else about this topflight comedy still works beautifully. Hoffman is magnificent in his dual role, while Bill Murray stealthily steals scenes as Michael's deadpan roommate. Despite being nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture), its only winner was Lange for Best Supporting Actress (it got clobbered by Gandhi).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by the late Pollack; two making-of features, one from 1982 and the other from 2007; deleted scenes; a new interview with Hoffman; an "interview" with Dorothy Michaels by critic Gene Shalit; and wardrobe test footage.