(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD.)
Jason Bateman in Bad Words (Photo: Universal)
BAD WORDS (2014). Jason Bateman makes his feature directorial debut with the acidic comedy Bad Words, and it must be noted that he does yeoman's work on the picture. His helming is competent but colorless, which in turn places more of a burden on the screenplay by first-timer Andrew Dodge. Despite its promising premise, Dodge's script is also merely perfunctory, not really adding much to the framework of a 40-year-old man who manages to anger everyone surrounding him. But this is where matters take a turn for the positive, since Bateman is not only sitting in the director's chair but also tackling the central role. And for those not averse to insult comedy, watching Bateman employ his deadpan demeanor, frosty stares and impeccable timing to amusingly berate others isn't a bad way to spend a brief 90 minutes. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, an aloof individual who has discovered a loophole that allows him to legally take part in The Golden Quill, a national spelling bee for young kids. Taking the stage alongside scores of 8th graders, he breezes through the words thrown his way, further ensuring his continued success by railroading his top challengers through despicable means. While a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) tries to ascertain Guy's reason for embarking on such a ludicrous venture, he's busy dealing with outraged parents, aggravated administrators and the offended creator of the venerable bee (Philip Baker Hall). Only one person, a perpetually cheerful lad named Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand), manages to chip away at his hardened exterior. Bad Words is clearly jockeying to be another Bad Santa, but because it frequently pulls back from going too far, it lacks that picture's killer instinct. But many of Guy's R-rated retorts draw laughs, whether aimed at irritating moms, doofus dads or impressionable children. As for young Chand, he's absolutely charming, stealing ample scenes as the friendless Chaitanya (naturally nicknamed "Slumdog" by Guy). It's hard for a comedy to be truly merciless and mean when one of its stars is about as hard-edged as a basket of kittens.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Bateman; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and deleted scenes.
Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (Photo: Twilight Time)
HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957). John Huston's 1951 The African Queen may continue to receive the lion's share of the attention and acclaim, but pound for pound, I actually prefer (by a thin margin) the director's thematically comparable Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. The dynamics are largely the same, including a slovenly macho man, a prim Christian woman and a major world war as the backdrop. But here, the leads are more restrained and the relationship is handled in a more believable and affecting manner. Based on Charles Shaw's novel, this World War II yarn finds Robert Mitchum cast as Corporal Allison, a U.S. Marine who finds himself the only survivor of a Japanese attack out in the South Pacific. Allison manages to wash up on an island that's inhabited by one other person: Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), a nun who ended up stranded after her only companion, an elderly priest, passed away. Allison and Sister Angela treat each other with nothing but kindness and respect, but as time passes, the increasingly smitten soldier starts to curse his luck that his female companion has given herself to God. Even more troublesome, though, is the fact that the Japanese have landed on the island and decide to stay, forcing the Yank and the Brit to spend much of the time hiding out in a cave. A Top 20 box office hit in 1957 — it was number 13 for the year, nestled between Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Jailhouse Rock — Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is so much the minimalist two-character piece that it's a wonder no enterprising Broadway producer has ever tried to turn it into a stage hit. Yet it's this very intimacy that makes the film a success, relying almost entirely on the chemistry between two stars who, incidentally, would go on to make a few more films together. Kerr earned an Oscar nomination for her performance (as did Huston and John Lee Mahin for their adapted screenplay), but Mitchum is every bit as good.
Blu-ray extras include vintage Fox Movietone News footage; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated track of Georges Auric's score.
Jodorowsky's Dune (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (2014). It's the mid-1970s. Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky has never even read Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel Dune, and his filmography contains nothing but movies that ruled the midnight circuit (El Topo, The Holy Mountain and Fando and Lis) but were virtually ignored by the moviegoing masses in this country. But thanks to a strong following overseas (Jodorowsky claims that The Holy Mountain was number two at the Italian box office in its year, just under "James Bond") and a shared vision with French producer Michel Seydoux, the avant-garde writer-director is set to make a film version of Dune that he believes will turn cinema on its head. Yet as is often the case with visionaries, they discover that more financially conservative types don't often share their enthusiasm; thus, with no Hollywood studio willing to pony up the dough, Jodorowsky's film never gets made. This entertaining and informative documentary makes the case that filmgoers were cheated out of a cinematic masterpiece. That may or may not be the reality — after all, David Lynch's 1984 version of Dune was a disaster, but had it also never have been made, would we not be salivating over the promise of a Dune that combined the talents of Lynch, actors Patrick Stewart and Max von Sydow, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis and other notables? Yet the evidence presented in this new film does suggest that, at the very least, Jodorowsky would have made a hallucinatory, one-of-a-kind epic that, for better or worse, would still be heavily discussed to this day. The star of Jodorowsky's Dune is, naturally, Jodorowsky himself, and he's a sprightly octogenarian, full of life and only too happy to talk at length about the tortured history of his non-movie and all the talents he reportedly had lined up to participate in his film (Orson Welles, Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger, among others). This engaging picture offers a behind-the-scenes peek at a possibly megalomaniacal filmmaker employing cinema as his own grandiloquent celebration, and in that respect, it nicely aligns with 1993's It's All True, about an unfinished Welles project (a documentary about Brazilian laborers), and 2002's Lost in La Mancha, about an unfinished Terry Gilliam project (a feature film about Don Quixote). We'll never get to see Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dune, but Jodorowsky's Dune stands as the next best thing.
Blu-ray extras include over 45 minutes of deleted scenes.
The Raid 2 (Photo: Sony)
THE RAID 2 (2014). The 2011 Indonesian effort The Raid: Redemption hit the U.S. to much critical acclaim in spring 2012, and as I noted in my review at the time, it "works best as pure, unadulterated, uncut action — it's like cocaine for adrenaline addicts." It also works best when it dispenses with any notions of a complicated plot, deriving its forward trajectory from its bubblegum story about cops forced to fight their way up to a slum building's top floor in order to take out a heinous crime kingpin. It's 100 minutes of all-action all the time, a strategic tact not repeated in The Raid 2. Rather than require returning hero Rama (Iko Uwais) to spend the entire running time once again laying siege on another edifice, writer-director Gareth Evans adds 50 more minutes to the original's length — that comes out to a generous 2-1/2 hours, folks — in order to make room for a more intricate plot without cutting back on any of the mano-a-mano skirmishes, gun battles and car chases. Not that it's a new plot: Rama must pose as a criminal in order to infiltrate a powerful mob family. That hoary storyline has been used on countless occasions, but that's because it's both irresistible and intense, and The Raid 2 does it justice. Serving jail time as part of his cover, Rama gets close to Ucok (Arifin Putra), the spoiled son of crime lord Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). Once they're both released, Rama gets accepted by the older man into his gang, but danger is imminent for all concerned when a rival mobster named Bejo (Alex Abbad) tries to take control of the city's underworld. The Raid 2 is relentlessly gory, with Evans not always electing to cut away before the scene becomes too gruesome. One bullet piercing a body won't do when 50 more can follow; one thrust of the knife isn't enough when there's time for a dozen more. Yet the violence is so absurd and over-the-top that it's hard to take seriously — if it doesn't quite reach the cartoonish levels of an Evil Dead II, it's still miles removed from the disturbing realism of a Schindler's List.
The Blu-ray contains both the original film in Indonesian as well as an English-dubbed version. Extras include audio commentary by Evans; a making-of featurette; a deleted scene; a Q&A session with Evans, Uwais and co-composer Joe Trapanese; and a piece on the action choreography.
Burt Lancaster in The Train (Photo: Twilight Time)
THE TRAIN (1964). Anybody impressed by the seemingly unique hook of George Clooney's middling The Monuments Men earlier this year might want to pick up a copy of John Frankenheimer's The Train to see that a similar story had already been executed — and in grander fashion, to boot. Like Clooney's film, The Train spins off from a real-life incident from World War II in order to ask the age-old question: Can Art-with-a-capital-A be worth as much as a human life? With meticulous direction by Frankenheimer and a complex, Oscar-nominated script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (based on Rose Valand's book Le front de l'art), this gripping picture places that philosophical query in the context of a rousing action flick notable for its astounding use of real trains (no models or miniatures were employed) and a cunning clash of wills between two formidable adversaries. On one hand, there's Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield), an erudite Nazi who plans to leave France with a huge shipment of artistic masterpieces (by fellows like Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir and Gauguin) before the Allies arrive. On the other, there's Labiche (Burt Lancaster), a railway manager and French Resistance member who's uninterested in risking lives for paintings (despite them being tagged the nation's "pride" and "heritage") until matters take a personal turn. Crisply filmed in black-and-white and sporting small but memorable turns by French icons Jeanne Moreau (as a pragmatic innkeeper) and Michel Simon (as a crusty conductor), the film nicely delineates its central characters through grounded exposition before eventually taking off with the high-charged power of — what else? — a runaway train.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Frankenheimer; separate audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo, Paul Seydor and Nick Redman; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated track of Maurice Jarre's score.