(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.)
Will Smith and Margot Robbie in Focus (Photo: Warner Bros.)
FOCUS (2015). With Will Smith and The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie at the top of the ticket, we're guaranteed a movie that's easy on the eyes, even if its inconsistencies render it occasionally taxing on the brain. Focus is another in the long line of tricky, sleight-of-hand yarns in which everyone is deceiving everyone else at all times, but based on the results of 2013's Now You See Me and this picture, it's obvious that Hollywood's hustlers have lost their sting since the days of Paul Newman. Smith is Nicky, a seasoned con artist who agrees to let a novice named Jess (Robbie) join his team. For none-too-believable reasons, Nicky eventually parts ways with Jess, only to bump into her again three years later in Buenos Aires. He's in the Argentinian capital to set up a scam at the behest of a race-car owner (Rodrigo Santoro), and he spots her when ... well, let's not reveal too much. There's one sharply staged sequence involving a series of bets placed on a football game — BD Wong is memorable as this segment's linchpin — but the rest of this draggy film offers nothing but surface sheen, with the supposedly riveting twists taking a back seat — make that a spot in the trunk — to the spectacle of watching two gorgeous people hungrily eye each other while engaging in flirtatious banter against luxurious backdrops. Unfortunately, that dialogue, like most of the yakking in this movie, is on the weak side, with only Gerald McRaney (as a grouchy bodyguard) accorded a few choice cracks. And as film fans know, yarns of this nature, from The Grifters to House of Games, live and die by the beautiful turn of phrase. Even David Mamet's Heist, one of the lesser entries in this field, knew enough to stack the deck with quips like, "I'm as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton." In Focus, what passes for profane poetry? "You hittin' that? You should be hittin' that." Clearly, the con is on audience members expecting more for their money.
Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes featuring Smith and Robbie; deleted scenes; an alternate opening; and a demonstration of the con game by sleight-of-hand artist and consultant Apollo Robbins.
Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (Photo: Shout! Factory)
HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991). Although released in 1991, this late-summer flop is set in 1996, and there's no discernible reason for the ever-so-slight futuristic setting aside from the filmmakers being able to show off a billboard advertising Die Hard V. At the time, scripter Don Michael Paul and director Simon Wincer doubtless thought they were being outrageous, but since there is a fifth Die Hard flick (2013's A Good Day to Die Hard), the joke's on them (actually, on us, given the wretchedness of Bruce Willis' fifth jog around the franchise). Then again, jokes that fail to snap, crackle or pop are the order of the day in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, which often has the shambling nature of something like Every Which Way But Loose except with Mickey Rourke instead of an orangutan. Rourke, topped by a buzz cut and decked out in clothes apparently rejected by Tom Cruise for Days of Thunder, plays Harley; Don Johnson, sporting a mangy beard and cowboy hat, co-stars as Marlboro. There are also characters named Virginia Slim and Jack Daniels, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Buddies from way back, Harley and Marlboro cross paths again when they reunite with some other pals to save a beloved bar from going under. They plot a heist with the intention of stealing money from the very bank that's threatening the bar; things go awry, though, when their snatch turns out to be deadly drugs instead of the expected cash. This is the sort of testosterone-soaked yahoo fare best viewed after a beer or 12; watching it sober, it's more difficult to endure the forced humor, the dull villains (Daniel Baldwin and Tom Sizemore) and the cringe-worthy dialogue (it's hard to ascertain whether lines like "Talk is cheap, and I ain't buying anything" and "Money talks, bullshit walks" are meant to be send-ups of standard macho posturing or if Paul is really that unimaginative a writer). Vanessa Williams, who has a thankless role in the film, croons a few tunes, and the opening credits sequence makes sound use of Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive."
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette and the theatrical trailer.
Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending (Photo: Warner Bros.)
JUPITER ASCENDING (2015). Sibling filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski can't seem to catch a box office break, as Jupiter Ascending proved to be their latest commercial underachiever. While the picture is an original work concocted by the pair, it feels no less a Young Adult rip than much of the fantasy crop coming out of Hollywood. The heroine is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian immigrant who discovers she possesses the same DNA as an otherworldly (and deceased) queen and thus engages in a power struggle with the royal's three bratty children (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton) for control of our planet. Helping Jupiter out is a wolfman named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), who lost his wings (that would make him a birdman instead of a wolfman had Michael Keaton not patented the concept) but hopes to gain them back at the moment that George Bailey's daughter Zuzu rings a bell in Bedford Falls. Or something. There's actually a seed of a good idea buried in Jupiter Ascending, particularly in its themes relating to class struggles, the weight of historical bloodlines, and the notion of Earth as a gambling chip (all also pondered in the Wachowskis' underrated Cloud Atlas). But the entire project suffers from a severe case of overkill, with the Wachowskis offering too much arid exposition and too many artless explosions. The film is packed with odd creatures, but few feel original: An elephant-like pilot seems to have been ported over from the Star Wars universe, while the dinosaurs serving as villainous henchmen bring to mind those ridiculous Goombas from that dreadful Super Mario Bros. movie. As for Jupiter, she proves to be far too passive a heroine, relying on the able Caine to repeatedly come to her rescue. The performances are all on the subtle side, with the notable exception of Redmayne. His turn as Balem Abrasax is risible, and it's impossible to stifle giggles whenever he speaks, whether in hushed tones or loud declarations. His performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything may have earned him an Academy Award, but in this misfire, he seems only capable of providing a brief history of ham.
Blu-ray extras consist of seven making-of featurettes touching upon the film's characters, planetary settings, effects and more.
Roger Moore in The Saint (Photo: Timeless Media Group)
THE SAINT: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1962-1969). A handful of actors have essayed the role of Simon Templar over the years, including the great George Sanders in a string of programmers back in the late 1930s and early '40s and Val Kilmer in an ill-fated film version in 1997. But no actor is more identified with the character created by British author Leslie Charteris than Roger Moore, who essayed the part in a popular television series that lasted six seasons and totaled 118 episodes. Originally a black-and-white U.K. series that was syndicated stateside for its first four seasons, the show was picked up by NBC, which then produced color episodes for the final two seasons. Moore (who along the way would direct nine episodes) provides the proper mix of charm and wit as Templar, the self-described Robin Hood who fights against crime and corruption, usually on behalf of those wronged in some way (as befits his good-guy image, each episode's pre-opening credits sequence ends with an animated halo appearing over Templar's head). Impeccably well-groomed, loved by the ladies and always quick with a quip, the role served as an effective stepping stone for Moore as he would inherit the iconic James Bond from Sean Connery a mere four years after the series ended its run. Interestingly, at least eight performers who would later turn up in the 007 franchise guest-starred on The Saint — among this bunch are Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger's ill-fated Jill Masterson), who would appear as different characters in three separate episodes over the years (including the very first one, "The Talented Husband"), and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny in the first 14 Bond films), seen in two episodes. Other notable up-and-comers to appear on the series included Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Oliver Reed and Star Wars' Darth Vader, Dave Prowse. The classic theme music has been credited to both Edwin Astley (Danger Man) and Charteris himself, with variations appearing throughout the six-season run.
DVD extras include audio commentary on nine select episodes, with Moore participating in six of them.