(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.)
Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood (Photo: Paramount)
BOYHOOD (2014). Second only to Birdman as the best film of 2014 (and even then the difference is wafer-thin), writer-director Richard Linklater's Boyhood offers a unique angle: Follow the life of an individual (as well as those around him) from the age of 7 to the age of 18, shooting new footage over the course of all 12 years. Filmmakers such as Michael Apted, François Truffaut and Satyajit Ray have followed individuals in similar veins, but never for just one feature, and never in this condensed a time period. The result is a work that easily breaks free of the shackles of "just a gimmick" and emerges as a superb motion picture in its own right. Ellar Coltrane landed the leading role of Mason, and he was a great pick. The typical cute moppet at 7, he transforms before our eyes into a handsome teen of the brooding, soft-spoken variety. Just as important to the proceedings is Linklater's own daughter Lorelei Linklater, cast as Mason's older sister Samantha. When we first meet them, their parents are already divorced: Mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) raises them as best she can, while Dad Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) is only just now returning to their Texas stomping grounds. Over the ensuing years, we watch as Olivia tragically finds herself attracted to men who end up being alcoholic bullies while Mason Sr. pops up on weekends with the hope of bonding more fully with his offspring. The film serves as a powerful reminder of the vagaries of time: It forces viewers to examine their own march through life, where we go to bed at night and wake up wondering where the past years went but quietly optimistic about the ones that rest ahead. Boyhood earned six Academy Award nominations, including writing and directing bids for Linklater, supporting berths for Arquette and Hawke, Best Editing for Sandra Adair, and a nod for Best Picture.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette and a Q&A with Linklater and his cast.
Gregory Peck in The Boys from Brazil (Photo: Shout! Factory)
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978). The works of Ira Levin have proven to be a gusher for Hollywood filmmakers, resulting in motion pictures both good (1956's A Kiss Before Dying, 1968's Rosemary's Baby, 1975's The Stepford Wives) and bad (1991's A Kiss Before Dying, 1993's Sliver, 2004's The Stepford Wives). The Boys from Brazil registers as the most contentious of all Levin adaptations, with many responding favorably to its intriguing storyline and others scoffing at its histrionics (particularly that whopper of a climax involving ferocious Dobermans). In a rare (extremely rare) villainous turn, Gregory Peck stars as real-life Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, seen here hatching a diabolical plot that can only be stopped by dedicated Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier, playing a character based on Simon Wiesenthal). The polished direction by Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton) and the presence of a strong supporting roster (James Mason, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Walter Gotell; even Steve Guttenberg isn't bad) lend stature to the farfetched proceedings. Peck earned a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination for his work, although it was Olivier who snagged the Best Actor Academy Award nomination for an engaging (if occasionally ham-filled) turn. The movie garnered additional Oscar nods for Best Original Score (the great Jerry Goldsmith) and Best Film Editing. Trivial Pursuit: As a young lad living in Portugal, Peck was already my favorite actor (still is!), so when the production came to a neighboring suburb for some filming in early 1978, I was able to snag his autograph. It remains in my possession, and, no, I won't be selling it on eBay.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
Nicolas Cage in Left Behind (Photo: Entertainment One)
LEFT BEHIND (2014). It used to be that Hollywood made sincere religious gestures all the time — front and center in epics like Ben-Hur and King of Kings, yes, but also neatly woven into the fabric of such classics as It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. Shame on the film capital for now ignoring the faithful completely — if a mainstream movie features a Christian character in the supporting ranks, you can be fairly certain that he or she will quickly be revealed as a hypocritical, Bible-thumping rube. Because of this Tinseltown vacuum, smaller outside outfits have rushed to fill the void by creating motion pictures targeted exclusively for Christian audiences. That's all well and good, but do the vast majority of these films have to be godawful? And the low quality goes beyond the lame performances and technical merits: It also applies to the themes themselves, which are presented in such simplistic, sledgehammer terms that it's obvious the shysters — excuse me, filmmakers involved know exactly what buttons to push to convince fearful viewers that it's an Us Against Them world, and best to take no prisoners. That brings us to Left Behind, the amateurish adaptation of the first in a neverending series of novels written by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye and the latest anything-for-a-paycheck project for Nicolas Cage. This isn't a movie for progressive Christians any more than it's a movie for people who appreciate top production values, convincing acting or superlative dialogue, as only those with a cowed, Fox News version of religion will subscribe to this film's odious view of the world. This is the sort of prejudiced pablum that makes the most liberal leaps from Biblical text and ineptly runs them into the ground, but, like the pseudo-spiritual Atlas Shrugged, it does more damage to the Christian cause than good.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette; cast and crew interviews; and the theatrical trailer.
Ann Savage and Darcy Fehr in My Winnipeg (Photo: Criterion Collection)
MY WINNIPEG (2007). Canadian writer-director Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg finds a character named Guy Maddin (played by Darcy Fehr, though the film's ongoing narration is spoken by the real Maddin himself) trying desperately to escape from his hometown on a train that never seems to make any real tracks. As he sits there, he reflects back on what the city means to him, even as the oversized face of his mom (87-year-old Ann Savage, best known as the femme fatale in the 1945 film noir classic Detour) peers through the boxcar window, not unlike the manner in which the looming visage of King Kong peeks through that New York skyscraper window at a terrified Fay Wray. To understand his childhood, Maddin (the character) goes so far as to hire actors to portray not only Mother but also his siblings (since Dad was already dead at this point, he's represented by a body shoved under the living room carpet). Through both these scenes and ones involving the history of this city, Maddin creates a rich tapestry weaving together fact and fiction: Though his somber narration is delivered as if everything he says is true, it's obvious he's having great fun not only with experimental shooting techniques but with taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to the fluidity of memory and the fallacy of historical accuracy. Anyone who saw Maddin's mesmerizing 2002 film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary might recall how the filmmaker particularly enjoys utilizing silent cinema techniques and black-and-white film stock. My Winnipeg goes even further, resulting in a wistful, melancholic movie that might be draggy in spots but never relinquishes its idiosyncratic grip.
Blu-ray extras include a conversation between Maddin and art critic Robert Enright; the 2008 featurette "My Winnipeg" Live in Toronto; and five short films (dates ranging from 2008 to 2014) by Maddin.
Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond (Photo: Shout! Factory)
ON GOLDEN POND (1981). Henry Fonda delivers a marvelous, career-capping performance in this modest seriocomedy that proved to be a commercial smash (it was second only to Raiders of the Lost Ark as the highest grossing film of 1981). He's paired for the first time with the equally legendary Katharine Hepburn, as the screen icons play the long-married couple Norman and Ethel Thayer. Staying at their New England summer home, the cantankerous Norman and the vivacious Ethel receive a trio of houseguests in the form of their daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda), her fiancé Bill (Dabney Coleman) and his young son Billy (Doug McKeon). Long estranged from her father, Chelsea holds great resentment over past wrongs, leaving Ethel to act as peacekeeper even as she and Norman try to show young Billy that there's enjoyment to be found away from the big-city life. The sequences concerning the strained father-daughter relationship aren't nearly as potent as the bracing and poignant moments when Norman worries about his advanced age or the scenes in which the elderly couple express their devotion to each other. On Golden Pond earned 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Fonda) and Best Original Score for Dave Grusin's lovely mood music. Henry Fonda deservedly won Best Actor after a lengthy and tremendous career in film (he would pass away four months after the Oscar ceremony); less worthy was Hepburn winning her fourth Best Actress statue (after all, this was the year of Diane Keaton in Reds). Ernest Thompson's adapted script (based on his own play) also copped an Oscar.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Mark Rydell; a making-of featurette; and a piece on Hepburn.
James Spader in Supernova (Photo: Shout! Factory)
SUPERNOVA (2000). It's not often that a movie with a reported budget of $90 million opens theatrically in the graveyard month of January, but then again, Supernova was a film whose production history was so botched, it had no chance of making money in any of the 12 calendar months. The accomplished Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 HRS.) was so disgusted by the way he and the film were being treated by MGM that he ended up quitting the picture, leading to Jack Sholder — the director of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, a professor at Western Carolina University and, incidentally, my fellow judge at the 2006 Asheville Film Festival — being hired to assemble the ample footage. The picture ended up being credited to the pseudonymous "Thomas Lee" and earned a paltry $14 upon its release, yet for all its faults, I've choked on far worse sci-fi flicks in my moviegoing diet. Set in the distant future, this stars a buff James Spader as the pilot and newest member of a medical ship whose crew also includes the captain (Robert Forster), the chief medical officer (Angela Bassett), her staffers (Lou Diamond Phillips and Robin Tunney) and a computer tech (a good performance by Wilson Cruz). Answering a distress signal in deep space, they pick up a man (Peter Facinelli, Daddy Cullen in the Twilight series) who's more duplicitous than initially assumed. Derivative in the extreme, the film borrows heavily from the likes of Event Horizon and especially Alien (right down to killing off an ostensible hero — and highly billed actor — during the early going), and Facinelli's character makes for a feeble villain. But some of the relationships are more developed than expected (including one between a crew member and the ship's computer!), and the visuals remain interesting throughout.
Blu-ray extras include new interviews with Forster, Phillips, Sholder and producer Daniel Chuba; deleted scenes; an alternate ending; and the theatrical trailer.