(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.)
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Photo: Shout! Factory & MGM)
THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) / MIDNIGHT RUN (1988). Shout! Factory announced the launch of its new product line, Shout Select, with the following statement: "Handpicked by the film buffs at Shout! Factory, Shout Select shines a light on films that deserve a spot on your shelf. From acknowledged classics to cult favorites to unheralded gems, Shout Select celebrates the best in filmmaking, giving these movies the love and attention they deserve." To be perfectly frank, Shout! Factory was already shining a light on many acknowledged classics, cult favorites and unheralded gems, but, hey, I'm not about to knock the addition of more movies on Blu. The series kicks off this month with the releases of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Midnight Run and John Carpenter's 1979 TV movie Elvis (not available for review), with September bringing the Patrick Swayze actioner Road House and a double feature of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey.
A movie that dares call itself something both as imaginative and as cumbersome as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is clearly bucking for some measure of cult status, and this picture managed to acquire it almost immediately after it bombed at the box office. It's easy to see the appeal, what with its loopy characters, its loopy plot, and its loopy dialogue — it's just a shame there's not more lurking underneath all that surface quirk. Peter Weller stars as a physicist/neurosurgeon/rocker/celebrity who combats the insane Dr. Lizardo (John Lithgow) and aliens known as the Red Lectroids (Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya all sporting heavy makeup) with the help of his team The Hong Kong Cavaliers (Lewis Smith, Pepe Serna and Clancy Brown) as well as a Black Lectroid (Carl Lumbley, later Dixon on TV's Alias). Buckaroo Banzai offers some off-kilter pleasures, but its players are maddeningly shallow: Jeff Goldblum's entire character is defined by his cowboy hat, while Ellen Barkin is given precious little to do as a suicidal woman repeatedly rescued by Buckaroo. Love the shout-out to Orson Welles' infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast, though.
- Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro in Midnight Run (Photo: Shout! Factory)
As someone notes in one of the interviews included on the Blu-ray, Midnight Run opened on the same day (July 20, 1988) as the sleeper smash Die Hard, and that helped cement the film's doom at the box office. That's a shame, because this is an extremely satisfying action-comedy, one that still hasn't fully received its due. Director Martin Brest, coming off the red-hot Beverly Hills Cop (and with the odious trio of Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black and Gigli still to come), and scripter George Gallo fire on all cylinders in presenting this uproarious tale in which bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) tries to keep accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) alive long enough to deliver him to a sleazy bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) — a near-impossible assignment since Mardukas was daft enough to embezzle from ruthless mob kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). De Niro has rarely been this loose and likable on screen, while Grodin, cast in a role for which the studio wanted either Robin Williams(!) or Cher(!!), is brilliant as his constant foil. Danny Elfman's excellent score is another asset.
Blu-ray extras on The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai include audio commentary by director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch; a lengthy retrospective documentary; and deleted scenes. Blu-ray extras on Midnight Run consist of a vintage making-of featurette; separate interviews with De Niro, Grodin, Pantoliano, co-stars Yaphet Kotto and John Ashton, and Gallo; and the theatrical trailer.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: **1/2
Midnight Run: ***1/2
- The Angry Birds Movie (Photo: Columbia)
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016). So now even social apps are being turned into feature films? At this rate, should we expect Internet Meme: The Movie next? Still, this animated effort — like Kung Fu Panda 3, a 2016 toon flick that made it to $100 million theatrically and then vanished completely from sight (and memory) before its home unveiling — comes up with some amusing ways to tap into the game's basic components, even if it never rises much above the level of mediocrity. Chuck (the yellow speedy one, and voiced by Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride) and particularly Red (Jason Sudeikis) are the outcasts on an island filled with flightless fowl, a happy haven whose residents are only too happy to greet a horde of visiting pigs with open wings. Only Red is suspicious of the true intentions of the swine brigade led by the cheerful Leonard (an amusing vocal performance by Bill Hader), and he takes it upon himself to uncover their dastardly plot. The basic requirements of the game are integrated in sometimes clever, sometimes clumsy fashion, although as characters, these birdbrains wear on the nerves in a way their apps counterparts obviously never did. Despite a few visual nods for adults, this is largely kid stuff, although the soundtrack is packed with tunes only grown-ups will recognize (Black Sabbath, Scorpions, Tone Loc, etc.). That's Peter Dinklage offering vocal duties as Mighty Eagle, Maya Rudolph as the bomb-dropping Matilda, and Keegan-Michael Key as the sputtering Judge — meanwhile, Sean Penn tackles the grunting, gargantuan bird Terence, and he has even less dialogue than Vin Diesel performing similar work as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; four Hatchlings shorts; a photo gallery; an isolated track of the score; and the music video for Blake Shelton's "Friends."
- Burl Ives, Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Photo: Warner)
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958). Although Tennessee Williams was no stranger to writing for the screen — the noted playwright earned Oscar nominations for penning the scripts for both A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll — director Richard Brooks nevertheless took it upon himself to whip up (with James Poe) the screenplay for this adaptation of Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Williams was understandably upset with the changes from his original text, but Brooks nevertheless knocks it out of the park: While the stage show's homosexual content was removed since it never would have gotten past the censorious Hays Code prudes, there are still enough pointed allusions in this celluloid version to allow viewers to fill in the blanks themselves. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, both gorgeous beyond measure, strike sparks as the sexually unfulfilled Maggie and her tortured husband Brick, while Burl Ives is sensational as the family patriarch Big Daddy, debating with Brick about the "mendacity" that surrounds all the characters. A sizable box office hit, this earned six major Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Color Cinematography. For his part, Ives was nominated for (and won) Best Supporting Actor for his turn in another 1958 hit, The Big Country. Another version appeared as a made-for-TV movie in 1984, this one starring Jessica Lange as Maggie, Tommy Lee Jones as Brick, and Rip Torn as Big Daddy.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Donald Spoto; a retrospective making-of piece; and the theatrical trailer.
- Dark Horse (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
DARK HORSE (2016). An underdog tale about an overachieving equine, the unassuming documentary Dark Horse centers on a magnificent animal named Dream Alliance and his triumphs and travails both on and off the racetrack. Yet even though this horse is the marquee draw, the movie is as much about the humans backing him all the way. In a small Welsh town, a group of working-class citizens led by bartender Jan Vokes elects to pool its meager financial resources and purchase a mare for the purpose of breeding a racehorse. As various subjects note, only the rich can afford to race horses, so when these ragtag folks show up with every intention of entering their decidedly non-thoroughbred (the product of their initial investment) in equestrian events, the whole affair has a Caddyshack-esque "snobs against the slobs" vibe to it. And as if ripped from the frames of a fictional feature like Rocky or The Bad News Bears or any other sports saga where the little guy (or, in this case, little foal) comes out on top, this documentary takes some unexpected turns that keep the saga percolating. It's a cinch to be made into a Hollywood yarn, with Helen Mirren cast as Jan and Brendan Gleeson tapped to play her husband Brian. And for the pivotal role of Dream Alliance? I predict Oscar #4 for Daniel Day-Lewis.
DVD extras consist of a photo gallery.
- A shot from Ingrid Bergman’s screen test, as seen in Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Photo: Criterion)
INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS (2015). A great actress as well as a great beauty, Ingrid Bergman soldiered through a life marked by ample successes but also rocked by major tragedies. This documentary from Swedish filmmaker Stig Björkman analyzes that life in perhaps the most intimate manner possible, by turning to photos, film footage, letters and diary entries personally shot or written by Bergman herself. This isn't the usual cine-doc that relies heavily on movie clips — instead, the screen scenes are more like a couple of minutes from Autumn Sonata, a few seconds from Casablanca, a solitary still from Spellbound. And Hollywood trivia is also placed on the backburner: For instance, we see footage of Bergman winning her first Oscar (Best Actress for Gaslight) and discussing her second victory (Best Actress for Anastasia), but there's no mention of her third statue (Best Supporting Actress for Murder on the Orient Express). The focus is mostly on her private life, including her marriages (and affairs) with various men (including the scandalous tryst with Roberto Rossellini that briefly derailed her career) and her relationships with her four kids, all of whom wanted to see more of their mother during their childhoods. That's Alicia Vikander providing the principal narration, with Sigourney Weaver and Liv Ullmann among the interviewees.
Blu-ray extras include an interview with Björkman; deleted and extended scenes; a clip from 1932's Landskamp, showing Bergman's first screen appearance; outtakes from Bergman's 1936 film On the Sunny Side; and the theatrical trailer.
- Greta Gerwig and Bill Hader in Maggie’s Plan (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
MAGGIE'S PLAN (2016). Greta Gerwig has always struck me as an acquired taste, an It Girl for the art-house crowd for essentially playing variations of the same type: quirky, intelligent, headstrong, and slow to grasp her own foibles and limitations. Maggie's Plan offers yet another facsimile of this character, yet thanks to the exquisite script by writer-director Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur Miller, wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, and a veteran filmmaker in her own right), Gerwig is allowed to blossom in newfound ways. She stars as the titular Maggie, who has given up on ever finding love and elects to have a baby on her own, with the sperm helpfully provided by a casual acquaintance (Travis Fimmel). But then she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), a professor experiencing marital difficulties with his wife Georgette (Julianne Moore), an academic with a brusque, take-no-prisoners manner. Maggie and John fall in love, but there's no Happily Ever After for the pair, since their relationship woes make Maggie wonder if Georgette was a more suitable partner for John after all. Many have compared Maggie's Plan to earlier works by Woody Allen, though I was reminded more of the output of Noah Baumbach (who, incidentally, has made three films with Gerwig and has cast Miller in his next project) — at any rate, either comparison works, given this delightful picture's balance of comedy and drama (but mostly comedy) in the service of a story about smart people trying to synchronize their hearts with their heads. Bill Hader, the most memorable of the voice actors in The Angry Birds Movie (see above), is similarly excellent here as Maggie's acerbic best friend.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Miller; a making-of featurette; footage from a Q&A session at Sundance with Miller and Gerwig; and outtakes.
- Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys (Photo: Warner)
THE NICE GUYS (2016). The Russell Crowe-Ryan Gosling pairing at the center of writer-director Shane Black’s The Nice Guys — a film which deserved to do much better than $36 million at the summer box office — might stir unhappy memories of such past what-were-they-thinking? twofers as Pat Morita and Jay Leno (Collision Course), Ted Danson and Howie Mandel (A Fine Mess) or Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds (R.I.P.D.), but the truth is that they turn out to be a dynamic duo, going together as well as peanut butter and chocolate. Their characters, the bearish Jackson Healy (Crowe) and the bumbling Holland March (Gosling), are private dicks who pool their hot-and-cold talents to track down a missing woman while subsequently investigating the murder of a porn star. And because it's set in 1977 Los Angeles, unfortunate clothing and hairstyle choices abound, although Healy and March aren't about to let sartorial suckiness and grotesque grooming stand in their way. Like practically all of Black's scripts, the one employed here is cold and steely to the touch, with little warmth or sympathy to be found anywhere. And while his convoluted plot aspires to stir memories of the likes of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, it's really not much more complicated or polished than any given episode of Magnum, P.I. Instead, Black's strengths rest elsewhere, particularly his facility with clever dialogue and his ability to set up hilarious gags. The picture also has a secret weapon in newcomer Angourie Rice, cast as March's brainy daughter Holly. This 15-year-old Australian actress is excellent in a key role — she's as integral to the action as the two stars — and comparisons to the teenage Reese Witherspoon are not inappropriate. Whether she ends up enjoying a similarly vibrant career remains to be seen, but she's off to a great start.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette.
- Henry Thomas and Olivia Hussey in Psycho IV: The Beginning (Photo: Shout! Factory)
PSYCHO IV: THE BEGINNING (1990). Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film received a surprisingly strong sequel in 1983, 23 years after the original masterpiece's startling debut, but the third entry in the series, popping up in 1986, revealed that the thrill was gone. Nevertheless, a fourth picture appeared a mere four years later, although this one wisely was relegated to premiering on Showtime (where it scared up decent ratings) rather than bombing in theaters. Opting to ignore much of what transpired in the second and third installments (both reviewed here), director Mick Garris and scripter Joseph Stefano place Norman Bates (again played by Anthony Perkins) in the unusual position of husband, having married one of the doctors (Donna Mitchell) who took care of him while he was being treated in a mental asylum. But Norman places an on-air call to radio show host Fran Ambrose (CCH Pounder) to inform her that he plans to kill again; during their lengthy chat, he reveals how he grew up under the thumb of a hateful and domineering mom, keying ample flashbacks in which we see the young Norman (Henry Thomas) having to contend with "Mother" (Olivia Hussey). Stefano also wrote the 1960 classic (adapted from Robert Bloch's novel), but lightning unfortunately didn't strike twice: This is a feeble addition to the Norman Bates canon, with little in the way of interesting character development and even less in the way of genuine thrills. The cast is OK, though it's startling to see Thomas (the wholesome Elliott in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial) as Norman and Hussey (the Virgin Mary in Jesus of Nazareth) as Mother!
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Hussey, Thomas and Garris; an interview with makeup effects artist Tony Gardner; behind-the-scenes footage; and a photo gallery.
- Mandy Moore in Saved! (Photo: Olive Films)
SAVED! (2004). By trying to be all things to all people, Saved! is the sort of movie that ends up not completely satisfying anybody. Hard-line Christians will think it goes too far; open-minded Christians will think it doesn't go far enough; and non-Christians will think it doesn't go anywhere at all. The odd thing is that there's probably some measure of truth in all these viewpoints. Set at American Eagle Christian High School, the film casts Jena Malone (Johanna in The Hunger Games franchise) as Mary, a kind-hearted teenager whose act of religious charity ends up leaving her pregnant. Now ostracized by her best friend Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), the most popular girl in school as well as the most vocal in her adoration of God, Mary finds herself hanging around with the outcasts, including Hilary Faye's paraplegic brother (Macaulay Culkin) and a rebellious Jewish girl (Eva Amurri). The cast couldn't have been better chosen, and the movie clearly has its heart in the right place with its message that the best Christians — indeed, the best people — are those who are able to accept the imperfections in their fellow sinners. Yet all too often, writer-director Brian Dannelly and writer Michael Urban don't bother to make it clear that their rough draft of a script is attacking sanctioned hypocrisy rather than religious devotion. As for the comedy quotient, it runs hot-and-cold — in fact, the funniest thing in the picture isn't a line of dialogue but a bumper sticker that reads, "Jesus Loves You; Everyone Else Thinks You're An Asshole."
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and bloopers.