Film » View from the Couch

The Goodbye Girl, Hell or High Water, To Live and Die in L.A. among new home entertainment titles

This week's reviews of what's new on Blu-ray and DVD

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(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.)

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Photo: Criterion)
  • Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Photo: Criterion)

AKIRA KUROSAWA'S DREAMS (1990). One of Akira Kurosawa's first loves was painting, and his affinity for art has arguably never been more apparent than in this late-career entry he helmed at the age of 80. He uses the movie screen as a giant canvas, filling it with a dazzling array of colors and images. The film is split up into eight segments: "Sunshine Through the Rain" and "The Peach Orchard" concern childhood encounters with, respectively, human foxes and human dolls; "The Blizzard" and "The Tunnel" deal with ghostly apparitions; "Crows" offers a meeting with Vincent Van Gogh (entertainingly played by Martin Scorsese); "Mount Fuji in Red" and "The Weeping Demon" provide nightmarish visions of the future; and the final episode, "Village of the Watermills," is a nostalgic piece that serves as the calm after the storm. Akira Kurosawa's Dreams certainly comes nowhere near matching his earlier accomplishments, masterpieces like Rashomon and Ran, and that's largely because his abilities as a storyteller are placed on the backburner here, with the filmmaker content to offer a series of fractured musings. Still, despite an occasional aloofness, there's more than enough to recommend it, from its visual splendor to its thoughtful embrace of the natural world.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film scholar Stephen Prince; a 150-minute making-of documentary from 1990; the 2011 documentary Kurosawa's Way; new interviews with assistant director Takashi Koizumi and production manager Teruyo Nogami; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***

Mila Kunis in Bad Moms (Photo: Universal)
  • Mila Kunis in Bad Moms (Photo: Universal)

BAD MOMS (2016). In such efforts as The Hangover and The Change-Up, screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have allowed boys to be bad boys, engaging in all manner of lewd, obscene and even illegal behavior. With Bad Moms, the pair (who also co-direct) attempt to flip the script: Why not showcase women being as awful and irresponsible as the dudes? It's an interesting angle — although certainly not unprecedented (see Bridesmaids, with its terrific, Oscar-nominated script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo) — but a large degree of timidity and (maybe?) an unfamiliarity with the subject at hand combine to produce a soft film that, a few R-rated hijinks aside, might as well be playing as part of a primetime sitcom lineup. Mila Kunis portrays the main mom, feeling crushed by the expectations placed upon her by society at large and by a dictatorial PTA head (Christina Applegate) in specific. She finally feels she's had enough, severing ties with her cheating-via-Internet husband, forcing her bratty kids to do their own homework, drinking to excess, and (gasp!) walking out on a PTA meeting. She's joined in her bad — make that mildly naughty — behavior by two other had-it-up-to-here moms (Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn), and together they decide to take on Applegate's harridan, who not only runs the PTA but seemingly the entire school. Aside from a sincere performance from Kunis and a funny one by Hahn, there's not much to recommend Bad Moms, which brings up parental challenges in the modern age but doesn't do any digging beneath the surface (for starters, the villains are paper-thin and easy to knock down). Certainly, many will appreciate the film in the same manner as they would any given episode of, say, Modern Family or New Girl. But our dear mothers deserve better.

Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Movie: **

Marsha Mason, Richard Dreyfuss and Quinn Cummings in The Goodbye Girl (Photo: Warner)
  • Marsha Mason, Richard Dreyfuss and Quinn Cummings in The Goodbye Girl (Photo: Warner)

THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977). From The Odd Couple to The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon penned plenty of screen hits to go along with his Broadway smashes, although The Goodbye Girl might have to be considered the biggest one of all. A gargantuan critical and commercial hit back in 1977 — only Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Smokey and the Bandit grossed more — it's classic Simon, full of sophisticated New Yorkers tossing witty banter and zesty comebacks at each other with reckless abandon. Marsha Mason (Simon's wife at the time) plays Paula McFadden, a former dancer whose actor boyfriend abandons her and her precocious daughter Lucy (Quinn Cummings) for a job in Italy. Worse, he sublets their apartment to Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss), an actor newly arrived in the Big Apple. So that no one gets tossed out onto the street, Paula and Elliot agree to share the apartment, although each has strict ground rules that the other will be hard-pressed to follow. The scenes in which Elliot clashes with a pretentious director (Paul Benedict, The Jeffersons' beloved Bentley) who wants him to tackle the role of Richard III like a "queen who wanted to be king" are among the movie's most uproarious. This earned five major Oscar nominations (including Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay), with Dreyfuss winning Best Actor for his amusing and energetic turn.

The only Blu-ray extra on the Warner Archive Collection release is the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***1/2

Chris Pine in Hell or High Water (Photo: Lionsgate)
  • Chris Pine in Hell or High Water (Photo: Lionsgate)

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016). It's an upper-echelon compliment to state that a movie recalls the Coens' superb Oscar winner No Country for Old Men, and it's a compliment that Hell or High Water wears quite well. While not ascending to the heights of that modern milestone, this new feature nevertheless ranks as one of the best films of 2016, what with its savory mix of a compelling narrative, several complex characters, and a handful of morally ambiguous situations. Directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan (a TV actor who made a startling scripting debut with Sicario), this moody drama centers on two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster), who embark on a crime spree by knocking off a string of banks. Their escapades catch the attention of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges in the standard Tommy Lee Jones role), a crotchety Texas Ranger who plans to stop them even as he tries to figure out the reasons behind their heists. Hell or High Water is as much a character study of two dissimilar siblings as it's a tale cut from the reliable cops 'n' robbers template, and it's all set against a desolate backdrop that often mirrors the fundamental loneliness of all of the characters. The three leads are excellent, as is Gil Birmingham as Hamilton's put-upon partner.

Blu-ray extras include a pair of making-of featurettes; a filmmaker Q&A; and footage from the film's red carpet premiere.

Movie: ***1/2

Orson Welles in Macbeth (Photo: Olive & Paramount)
  • Orson Welles in Macbeth (Photo: Olive & Paramount)

MACBETH (1948). One of the most fascinating of all screen Macbeths, this gorgeously filmed rendition finds Orson Welles offering his own modifications to the Shakespearean story and casting himself as the Scottish general whose oversized ambitions — to say nothing of the presence of three cackling witches — lead to his eventual demise. Seemingly hampered yet again by a tiny budget, Welles instead makes great use of outdoor sets and locales, and everything is magnificently photographed in crisp black-and-white by cinematographer John L. Russell (Psycho). Jeanette Nolan is only so-so as Lady Macbeth, but Welles is typically powerful as the title character, and there are notable supporting turns from Dan O'Herlihy (decades before playing The Old Man in 1987's RoboCop) as Macduff and Roddy McDowall as Malcolm.

When Macbeth debuted in 1948, it was lambasted by critics who took exception to the thick Scottish accents on display. The 107-minute film was recut, redubbed in certain scenes, and re-released in 1950 in an 85-minute version. Both takes are offered on the new Olive Signature Blu-ray edition. Extras include audio commentary by Welles biographer Joseph McBride; fascinating excerpts from 1937's We Work Again, showing Welles' involvement with an all-black version of Macbeth that became known as Voodoo Macbeth; an interview with director and Welles biographer (and friend) Peter Bogdanovich; an interview with Welles expert Professor Michael Anderegg; and an essay on the movie by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Movie: ***1/2

Marilyn Chambers in Rabid (Photo: Shout! Factory)
  • Marilyn Chambers in Rabid (Photo: Shout! Factory)

RABID (1977) / DEAD RINGERS (1988). Shout! Factory is offering two titles from Canadian director David Cronenberg — the first from when he was still attempting to make a name for himself, the second after he had broken through with such hits as The Dead Zone and The Fly.

Cronenberg's fascination with illnesses, orifices, erotica and the disintegration/decomposition of the flesh was far more prominent during the earlier decades of his career, with Rabid serving as one of the more obvious examples. Part vampire yarn, part zombie flick, this stars porn star Marilyn Chambers (Behind the Green Door, Insatiable) as Rose, who requires radical surgery after a motorcycle accident. She emerges from her coma with an opening under her left armpit and an insatiable appetite for blood; soon, everyone she encounters is shambling around sporting a similar thirst. Eerily anticipating the AIDS crisis that was just around the corner, Rabid is erratic as a thriller but interesting as a testing ground for Cronenberg's themes and techniques.

Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers (Photo: Shout! Factory & MGM)
  • Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers (Photo: Shout! Factory & MGM)

Dead Ringers is more satisfying if no less icky, centering on identical twins who both work as gynecologists. Elliot Mantle (Jeremy Irons) is suave and extroverted, while Beverly Mantle (also Irons) is more awkward and introspective. The brothers share everything, including unsuspecting women — their sick setup is uncovered by their latest conquest, actress Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold), but matters get complicated once Beverly genuinely becomes attracted to her. Cronenberg turns this based-on-fact story into a genuine creep show, with Irons excellent as he does just enough to make it easy to differentiate between the siblings.

Blu-ray extras on Rabid include audio commentary by Cronenberg; separate audio commentary by author William Beard (The Artist as Monster: The Cinema of David Cronenberg); an archival interview with Cronenberg; and a video essay examining Cronenberg's earlier films. Blu-ray extras on Dead Ringers include audio commentary by Irons; separate audio commentary by Beard; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and new interviews with co-stars Stephen Lack and Heidi Von Palleske, director of photography Peter Suschitzky and special effects artist Gordon Smith.

Rabid: **1/2

Dead Ringers: ***

Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale (Photo: Criterion)
  • Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney in The Squid and the Whale (Photo: Criterion)

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005). Marital discord receives an innovative treatment in this impressive feature that earned Noah Baumbach the Best Screenplay award from all four major critics groups (NY, LA, National Board, National Society) as well as a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination (losing to, sigh, Crash). In 1986 Brooklyn, college professor Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) and his wife Joan (Laura Linney) finally reach the conclusion that their marriage is chugging along on its last fumes. Upon separating, they subject their two sons, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), to all manner of ill-advised actions and outbursts, which only serve to further confuse and alienate the boys. Walt has always felt a kinship with his father, viewing him as an intellectual (and relationship guru) worthy of emulation, while Frank has drifted more toward his mother, a woman whose sexual frankness forces the preteen to grow up quicker than he should. The Squid and the Whale is tantalizing in the way in which it presents just enough information so that we can't help but come to the conclusion that the self-absorbed Bernard and Joan are lousy parents — yet then it pulls the rug out from under us by offering peeks into previous periods of domestic bliss. Never denigrating itself by offering facile answers, it examines the difficulties of joint custody, analyzes the intrinsic flaw in favoring one parent over the other, and underscores the continued ability to wring mood out of Tangerine Dream's score for Risky Business (used to good effect here). All four lead performances are outstanding.

Blu-ray extras include a 2005 behind-the-scenes piece; new interviews with Baumbach and all four primary actors; and audition footage.

Movie: ***1/2

John Turturro and William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. (Photo: Shout! Factory)
  • John Turturro and William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. (Photo: Shout! Factory)

TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985). Looking like a Michael Mann production but bearing the name of William Friedkin as director, this stylish drama casts William Petersen (Manhunter, TV's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) as Richard Chance, a no-nonsense federal agent hell-bent on taking down Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe in full hissable mode), the counterfeiter who killed his partner (Michael Greene). There's not really much substance here, but the film looks fantastic, features an excellent soundtrack by Wang Chung (including the title track and "Wait"), offers a startling plot development toward the end, and showcases a grabber of a car chase that compares favorably with the classic one from Friedkin's The French Connection. John Pankow is fine as a Secret Service agent who becomes Chance's new partner, and look for John Turturro in one of his earliest roles, playing Masters' associate Carl Cody.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Friedkin; new interviews with Petersen, co-stars Debra Feuer and Dwier Brown, stunt coordinator Buddy Joe Hooker, and Wang Chung (Jack Hues and Nick Feldman); a deleted scene; an alternate ending that was filmed (and immediately discarded by Friedkin) after the studio balked at the gutsy original ending; and a photo gallery. Sadly, the disc does not include the music video for Wang Chung's title tune.

Movie: ***

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