(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD.)
Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip (Photo: Paramount)
THE GUILT TRIP (2012). Even acknowledging the hardship of finding suitable roles for women over 40 in Hollywood, it's difficult to believe that The Guilt Trip was the best that Barbra Streisand could nab for her first leading role since 1996's The Mirror Has Two Faces (with only supporting turns in two Fockers flicks in the interim). If this isn't quite as disastrous as Jane Fonda tethering her mid-2000s comeback to projects co-starring Lindsay Lohan (Georgia Rule) and Jennifer Lopez (Monster-in-Law), it's not an occasion for celebration, either. The entertainment icon plays Joyce Brewster, a widow whose favorite pastime is doting on her grown son Andrew (Seth Rogen). An inventor hoping to turn his product — the awkwardly named Scieoclean, an environmentally friendly cleaner so safe you can actually drink it — into the next big thing, Andrew travels cross-country in order to meet with marketing executives for various corporations (Costco, Kmart, etc.) who might be interested in stocking it. He elects to take his kvetching mom with him, which allows her nonstop opportunities to embarrass her son by questioning his business decisions in front of company officials, forcing him to visit an old high school flame he hasn't seen in over a decade, and asking if his penis ever turns purple as it did when he was a child. Streisand and Rogen work well together and, purple-penis gag aside, the movie is free of the coarseness that has come to define modern comedy. But it's also free of anything resembling laughs — a deadly strike since the dramatic moments prove to be even more feeble. Still, there are those who will be happy to accept this as cinematic comfort food: At the advance theatrical screening last December, a smattering of laughs was generated by the very first scene, which simply involves Joyce eating M&Ms in bed. If you find the notion of Streisand chewing on candy rife with comic genius, then knock yourself out.
Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes; an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher (Photo: Paramount)
JACK REACHER (2012). With Tom Cruise whipping off his shirt and flexing his muscles with all the eager-to-please zestiness of Taylor Lautner doing likewise in the Twilight franchise, it's clear that Jack Reacher is a vanity project of the highest order. But it's also a movie full of pleasant surprises, not the least being a key supporting role for German director Werner Herzog (Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Grizzly Man) — perhaps not since Roman Polanski turned up in Rush Hour 3 as a Parisian policeman fond of ordering anal probes on prisoners has a great European filmmaker popped up in so unlikely a place. Luckily, Jack Reacher is no cinematic cesspool like the third Rush Hour romp; instead, this adaptation of Lee Child's One Shot is more intelligent than most of today's daft murder-mysteries, with the protagonists actually involved in some genuine sleuthing rather than having all the clues conveniently dropping into their laps or cracking the case through some ludicrous coincidences. The thrust here is that a former army sniper (Joseph Sikora) stands accused of killing five random people (yes, the opening sequence featuring the shootings is indeed unsettling), and only Jack Reacher (Cruise), an ex-military investigator living off society's radar, can prove his innocence. But the twists begin right away, with the revelation that Reacher appears on the scene ready to "bury" the man, not set him free. From here, the movie refreshingly takes its time laying out the requisite groundwork in terms of characters and conspiracies (but takes too much time on a car chase that's well-executed but nevertheless overstays its welcome), with such figures as a defense lawyer (Rosamund Pike), her district attorney dad (Richard Jenkins) and a shooting-range owner (Robert Duvall) impacting the proceedings. Even as the Mission: Impossible yarns continue to roll along (a fifth is due in 2015), it's likely that Cruise also views this as a potential franchise. While its continuing fate has yet to be decided — the international haul was solid, but the stateside gross wasn't as potent as Paramount had hoped — there's certainly plenty of material: Child has written 17 Jack Reacher books so far, meaning Cruise can keep playing this guy until they pry the script from his cold, dead hands.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie; separate audio commentary by composer Joe Kraemer; a behind-the-scenes piece; and a look at the character of Jack Reacher.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook (Photo: Anchor Bay & The Weinstein Co.)
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012). One of the best films of last year, Silver Linings Playbook finds writer-director David O. Russell following The Fighter with a disarming seriocomedy about Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a former teacher who's been released after a stint in a mental facility. Pat lost it after catching his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with a fellow instructor, and no one's sure if he's quite ready to be back in the real world again. His dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), suffers from OCD, resulting in a prickly relationship between the pair. Pat eventually meets someone who's apparently as off-kilter as himself: Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who's had her own share of mood swings ever since the death of her husband. Adapted by Russell from Matthew Quick's novel, Silver Linings Playbook easily overcomes its familiar beats (a sports brawl, a missed appointment, a climactic competition) thanks to a real attention to character detail, a nonjudgmental approach to all the flaws plaguing the players, and a cast that works beautifully together. Chris Tucker, who's appeared in nothing but Rush Hour movies for the past 16 years, is a welcome addition as Pat's buddy from his institution days, while De Niro's late-career mugging actually works for a character who spends every moment fretting over the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooper and Jacki Weaver (as his mom) are fine as well, although it's Lawrence who explodes off the screen. Already an Oscar nominee for Winter's Bone and a franchise star due to both The Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class, she likewise proves herself to be solid gold in Silver and won the Best Actress Oscar in the process.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; cast interviews; and dance rehearsal footage.
Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith in The Vampire Lovers (Photo: Shout! Factory)
THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970). Sheridan Le Fanu's classic 1872 novella Carmilla has served as the basis for numerous vampire flicks, although it's probably safe to state that this blood-and-boob-filled adaptation from Hammer Films boasts the largest fan base. The first entry in the so-called Karnstein Trilogy — it was followed in 1971 by both Lust for a Vampire (not yet on Blu-ray) and Twins of Evil (released on Blu-ray last July by Synapse Films and reviewed here) — this turned Ingrid Pitt into an overnight genre star by casting her in the central role of a vampire with decidedly lesbian tendencies. With her penchant for buxomy beauties, she first overcomes Laura von Spielsdorf (Pippa Steele), the daughter of a respected Austrian general (Peter Cushing), before setting her sights on Laura's even more enticing friend Emma (Madeline Smith). There's also an attraction between Carmilla and Emma's governess (Kate O'Mara); meanwhile, the men she bloodily dispatches stir no feelings but are simply foolish enough to get in her way. Even considering the fact that it was released at a time when film taboos were being shattered left and right, The Vampire Lovers was still a rather bold undertaking for its day, and it was one of the pictures that marked Hammer's turn away from producing literate horror yarns in which the heaving bosoms were kept clothed and toward releasing more promiscuous fare in an effort to remain visible in the wake of new types of horror films like Night of the Living Dead and Rosemary's Baby. The influx of nudity and extra gore didn't help — the studio was basically done by the mid-1970s — but even Hammer's lesser efforts in this, uh, vein are generally watchable. The Vampire Lovers resides above that lukewarm designation, but some clumsy plotting works against its total success. Incidentally, with Shout! Factory now releasing this film on Blu-ray and Synapse having done likewise with Twins of Evil, can we expect Anchor Bay, which released Lust for a Vampire on DVD last year, to upgrade the movie in the near future so the entire Karnstein Trilogy can be purchased on Blu-ray?
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Pitt, director Roy Ward Baker and scripter Tudor Gates; an informative (and unfortunately short) piece in which various film scholars and critics discuss the film and its source material; an interview with Smith; audio of Pitt reading excerpts from Carmella; and the theatrical trailer.