(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
- The Boss Baby (Photo: DreamWorks & Fox)
THE BOSS BABY (2017). Signing Alec Baldwin to voice a toddler who dresses up in business suits and speaks like a character straight out of Glengarry Glen Ross (which, incidentally, co-starred Baldwin) qualifies as a no-brainer, and the actor is supported by some genuinely clever moments in this animated smash. Alas, there’s just not enough of these choice bits to sustain the story, which becomes less interesting as it grows more convoluted. The protagonist is Tim (Miles Bakshi), an imaginative 7-year-old boy who’s aghast when his parents (Lisa Kudrow and Jimmy Kimmel) bring home a baby brother (or, as Tim’s fertile mind sees it, when the baby arrives by himself in a taxi). Tim is the only one who realizes that the Boss Baby isn’t an ordinary infant, and an intense sibling rivalry develops between the two. But once Tim learns of the Boss Baby’s true purpose, he grudgingly elects to assist him, thus setting the stage for some authentic bonding. The film is at its best in the early passages detailing the feuds between the kids – once the narrative expands to include humdrum villains, fanciful backstories, and plans for world domination, the film loses its charm and, more importantly, its breeziness.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes; a piece on the supporting baby characters; a discussion with cast and crew members about sibling rivalries; mock promotional pieces for BabyCorp. and the Forever Puppy; and the new animated short The Boss Baby and Tim’s Treasure Hunt Through Time.
- Woody Allen in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * (* But Were Afraid to Ask) (Photo: Twilight Time)
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX * (* BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK) (1972). David Reubens’ sex manual was a gargantuan smash when it appeared in 1969, but when it came to making the unlikely film adaptation, Woody Allen had no use for the book aside from co-opting a few chapter headings. The result remains one of his biggest successes — when adjusted for inflation, it’s his fourth largest hit, only under the titanic trio of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters. The film also remains one of his most shocking, vulgar and sophomoric efforts, yet there’s no denying its potent comic quota. While “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” with Woody as a court jester trying to score with the queen (Lynn Redgrave), is hit-and-miss, there’s only one true dud among the seven vignettes: “Are Transvestites Homosexuals?” in which a married man (Lou Jacobi) reveals that he likes women’s clothing. The other five segments are solid: “What Is Sodomy?” features a terrific performance by Gene Wilder as a doctor who falls in love with a sheep; “Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching an Orgasm?” is a note-perfect takeoff on the era’s arty Italian imports, with Woody trying to sexually fulfill his wife (Louise Lasser); “What Are Sex Perverts?” wittily centers on the mock TV game show What’s My Perversion?; “Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?” finds Woody tangling with a mad scientist (John Carradine) and his fearful creation, a giant breast roaming the countryside; and “What Happens During Ejaculation?” is like an R-rated Inside Out, set inside the human body and focusing on the brain center (repped by Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds) as well as the sperm hoping for a successful launch during intercourse (as the one played by Woody worries, “I don’t want to end up on the ceiling!”).
Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer and an isolated music track.
- Debra Winger and Tracy Letts in The Lovers (Photo: A24 & Lionsgate)
THE LOVERS (2017). An alternative for older viewers not particularly interested in the usual cinematic summer shenanigans, The Lovers stars Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as Mary and Michael, an unhappily married couple both enjoying affairs with other people. Mary is seeing a writer (Aidan Gillen) while Michael is dallying with a dance instructor (Melora Walters), and both are repeatedly being given ultimatums by their respective lovers: Tell your spouse that you’re leaving them, or else. While Mary and Michael each try to build up the courage to confess, they unexpectedly locate a burning ember among the cold ashes of their marriage. Suddenly, they’re in no real rush to seize that divorce, although a visit from their college-age son (Tyler Ross) and his girlfriend (Jessica Sula) throws additional kinks into their confusion. Winger and Letts are excellent in the central roles, and writer-director Azazel Jacobs does a rather remarkable job of making all four of these colorless and not particularly likable adulterers interesting. The film loses its potency in the third act, though, with every action leading to a gotcha ending that’s too obvious, too facile and too clever for its own good. Too bad.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Jacobs; a making-of featurette; and a piece on the music score.
- Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac in The Promise (Photo: Universal & Open Road)
THE PROMISE (2017). The historical epic was once a staple of cinema, and superb motion pictures like Lawrence of Arabia, Reds and The English Patient had the ability to effortlessly sweep viewers away with their passion and their grandeur. The Promise attempts to emulate those ambitious endeavors, but it falls well short — that’s a shame, because the topic at hand is worthy of cinematic awareness and enshrinement. Writer-director Terry George, previously responsible for 2004’s powerful Hotel Rwanda, here examines another shocking case of mass genocide: the systematic extermination of approximately one-and-half million Armenians during the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and in the midst of World War I. George turns to historical record to fill in the background of his narrative, and he shows as much atrocity as a PG-13 will allow. What sinks the picture, though, is the soggy romance that’s shoved into the spotlight. Creating fictional characters to place at the forefront of a historical tale is, of course, a tried and true tradition – and one that often works spectacularly. But the trio dominating this picture is a lackluster one, with Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon unable to bring much dimension to their threadbare characters of, respectively, an Armenian medical student, an American journalist, and the Paris-raised Armenian woman loved by both. Isaac fares best, largely because his character feels like an actual person rather than a stand-in for the story’s themes; poor Bale, on the other hand, has no chance with his vague and ill-defined role.Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by George and producer Eric Esrailian; a trio of making-of featurettes; and deleted scenes.
- Yvette Mimieux, Dolores Hart and Paula Prentiss in Where the Boys Are (Photo: Warner Bros.)
WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960). A key film in jumpstarting the glut of beach flicks that washed over the sixties, Where the Boys Are remains one of the best examples from this often derided subgenre. A lighthearted romp with one disturbing subplot thrown in to provide some dramatic heft, this follows four college girls who head to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break. Sensible Merritt (Dolores Hart) becomes involved with dapper preppie Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), self-conscious Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) hooks up with talkative TV Thompson (Jim Hutton), and fun-loving Angie (singing star Connie Francis) settles for a myopic jazz musician named Basil (Frank Gorshin). As for Melanie (Yvette Mimieux), she bears the brunt of the story’s tragic developments, as her desire to land a husband by any means necessary places her in compromising positions. The slang is even more outdated than the sexual politics, but all of the performers shine with colorful characterizations, particularly Hart, Prentiss, and Gorshin (who later that decade would become famous for playing The Riddler on TV’s Batman). Incidentally, Hart made only 10 films before deciding to quit the business and become a nun (she's still alive and well and serving God in Connecticut). A box office hit, Where the Boys Are was remade in 1984, although that version flopped with audiences and landed on several critics’ year-end “10 Worst” lists.
Blu-ray extras, all imported from the 2004 DVD edition, include audio commentary by Prentiss; retrospective interviews with Francis and Prentiss; newsreel footage of the movie’s Fort Lauderdale premiere; and the theatrical trailer.
- Jessica Chastain in The Zookeeper’s Wife (Photo: Universal)
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017). Based on the bestselling book by Diane Ackerman, this harrowing World War II drama tells the true-life story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain), a married couple in charge of the Warsaw Zoo during the 1930s. The zoo’s stellar reputation throughout Europe of course doesn’t help it when the Nazis come a-calling, and even the benevolence of Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), the head of the Berlin Zoo, is curtailed once he becomes Hitler’s chief zoologist and begins to care more about killing Jews than saving animals. The Zabinskis, on the other hand, want to save all types of lives. Using the remains of their bombed-out zoo as cover, they become an integral part of the underground movement, hiding Jews within their house for indeterminate amounts of time and moving them to safety when possible. The Zookeeper’s Wife is rated PG-13, but don’t be fooled into thinking that designation means the movie is two hours of Chastain pulling a Doctor Dolittle and talking to the animals while blissfully unaware of the atrocities surrounding her. On the contrary, the picture is brutal in its implications if not always in its visuals, and director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) is able to fully telegraph the horrors of the conflict without exploiting them. The picture only loses its footing during the final chunk, when the steady pace and believable scenarios give way to a woefully truncated timeline and a few narrative glitches. For the most part, though, The Zookeeper’s Wife is an accomplished picture, offering a fascinating history lesson even as it remains wholly topical. With its unique zoo setting, it should appeal to animal lovers all over the world. And with its narrative involving the fight against Nazis, it should appeal to at least 48.2% of this nation’s population.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.
- Tom Hanks in The Circle (Photo: Lionsgate)
THE CIRCLE (2017). This film version of Dave Eggers’ dystopian novel — with the author adapting his own work alongside director James Ponsoldt — is the sort of movie that’s convinced of its own urgency and importance, even as viewers only see something that’s obvious and overbearing. The evils of social media are clumsily examined in this haphazard thriller in which young Mae Holland (Emma Watson) lands a job at The Circle, a tech company whose leaders (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) believe in absolute transparency in the world. Mae initially embraces this philosophy, only to have doubts once it affects those she loves. A mouthwatering cast (other players include John Boyega, Karen Gillan, the late Bill Paxton, the late Glenne Headly, and Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane) is rendered impotent by a graceless script.
DVD extras include a four-part making-of featurette and a tribute to Paxton.
- Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta in The Crimson Kimono (Photo: Twilight Time)
THE CRIMSON KIMONO (1959). Promoted upon its original release with such lurid and misleading lines like, “Yes, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy! What was his strange appeal for American girls?” The Crimson Kimono is actually a thoughtful drama in which two L.A. cops — one Caucasian (Glenn Corbett), one Asian-American (James Shigeta) — both fall for the same woman (Victoria Shaw) while investigating the murder of a burlesque dancer. Employing a standard murder-mystery plot as the foundation, writer-director Samuel Fuller looks at issues of racism (or, notably, the lack thereof) while allowing cinematographer Sam Leavitt to capture L.A.’s Little Tokyo district in all its distinctiveness.
Blu-ray extras include a piece on Fuller, featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Curtis Hanson, and others; theatrical trailers; and an isolated music track.
- Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty in Lost in America (Photo: Criterion)
LOST IN AMERICA (1985). Albert Brooks wrote, directed and stars in this perceptive comedy about a married couple (Brooks and Julie Hagerty) who quit their jobs, buy a Winnebago, and travel across the country in the spirit of the protagonists of Easy Rider (just replace that film’s “hippies” with this picture’s “yuppies”). A stop at the Desert Inn Casino in Las Vegas ruins all their plans — significantly, it also results in a fantastic scene in which Brooks’ ad man pitches his desperate idea to the casino manager (a hilarious turn by director Garry Marshall). At 91 minutes, the film is too short for such a loaded and intriguing premise, but what’s on view is nevertheless prime material.
Blu-ray extras include a conversation with Brooks; interviews with Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas, and filmmaker James L. Brooks (who directed Albert Brooks in his Oscar-nominated turn in 1987’s Broadcast News); and the theatrical trailer.
- Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford in Night People (Photo: Kino)
NIGHT PEOPLE (1954). An Academy Award nominee for Best Motion Picture Story, Night People is an intelligent Cold War thriller that kicks into gear when a young American corporal (Ted Avery) stationed in West Berlin gets kidnapped by Soviet agents. As the officer in charge (Gregory Peck) tries to ascertain the reason behind the snatch, the soldier’s father (Broderick Crawford) arrives from the U.S. flaunting his political connections and demanding action. Crawford is in his element as a blustery blowhard, while Peck gets to play a more assertive and even more ornery character than usual. Some well-placed twists keep this one percolating nicely.
Blu-ray extras include interviews with Peck’s children, Cecilia Peck, Carey Peck and Tony Peck, and trailers for several Peck vehicles.
- Jennifer Garner and Bryan Cranston in Wakefield (Photo: Shout! Factory)
WAKEFIELD (2017). Penned by E.L. Doctorow for a 2008 issue of The New Yorker, the short story “Wakefield” has been so faithfully brought to the screen by writer-director Robin Swicord that “transcribed” might be a better word than “adapted.” At any rate, Swicord has fashioned a compact drama about Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston), a disillusioned businessman who, unbeknownst to everyone, moves into the attic over the garage, where he’s able to watch his wife (Jennifer Garner) and daughters carry on without him. Cranston is excellent in the central role, with Garner (who deserves a more vibrant career) offering solid support. The ending is unsatisfactory, but it’s the same conclusion as Doctorow’s story, so what can you do?
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
(Recommended films currently available on streaming services)
- Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown (Photo: Miramax)
JACKIE BROWN (1997). Pulp Fiction, the most influential film of its day, would be a tough act to follow, so that probably explains why Quentin Tarantino spent a few years putzing around (TV show appearances with friends, contributing to schlock projects like Four Rooms and From Dusk Till Dawn) before finally unveiling his feature-film follow-up. Even arriving three years after Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown couldn't quite step out of the shadow of that gangbusters effort, but now it can be seen as a solid effort that reinforces Tarantino's standing as one of the most exciting cinematic discoveries of the 1990s. This adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch stars two 70s survivors, blaxploitation star Pam Grier and Robert Forster (who, beyond his film work, I fondly recall from the short-lived cop series Banyon), as a stewardess who tries to bilk a murderous gunrunner (Samuel L. Jackson) out of a half-million dollars and the smitten bail bondsman who agrees to help her out. The cast also includes Robert De Niro (as a scuzzy bank robber), Michael Keaton (as an ATF agent) and Bridget Fonda (as Jackson's perpetually stoned "surfer girl"), but neither their performances nor their roles are as interesting as those of the three stars. Grier and Jackson are excellent, while Forster steals the entire picture with his understated turn — he earned the film's sole Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor. (Netflix Streaming)