(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD.)
Amanda Seyfried in Gone (Photo: Summit)
GONE (2012). Let's give this much credit to Gone: It plays it straight. In an era in which filmmakers come up with increasingly convoluted ways to trick audiences with all manner of daft plot pirouettes, this thriller respects viewers enough to present the whodunit aspect in a manner that isn't insulting. (Semi-Spoiler Alert!) While its mystery proves easy to peg (it only takes one lingering and oddly angled shot to establish the identity of the villain), at least it's a break from the sort of dorky fare that has ensnared the likes of Johnny Depp and Halle Berry in the past - unbelievable yarns in which the protagonist had a split personality or imagined the whole film or started channeling Genghis Khan or what-have-you. This isn't to say that Gone is a brainy flick; on the contrary, the narrative leaps taken by scripter Allison Burnett are head-smackingly stupid. Her story, primarily culled from Kiss the Girls and The Silence of the Lambs, centers on Jill (Amanda Seyfried), a Portland, Oregon, resident who became the only person to successfully escape from a psychopath who likes to kidnap, torture and murder women. Unfortunately for Jill, there was never any evidence that she had been snatched or tortured, so the cops locked her up in a loony bin for a short period. Now a year later, she's convinced that her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) has been nabbed by the same madman; since the police still believe that she's merely a delusional nutjob, it's up to her to save her sibling. Seyfried does solid work as a damaged woman who's fearful of the world around her, but Burnett's script is laughable in the manner in which Jill's search develops: This is the sort of film that relies on its heroine behaving exactly as necessary for the story to progress, and if she doesn't pick up on every single clue (some really reaching), then the plot would grind to a halt.
There are no extras on the Blu-ray.
Jamie Bell and Elizabeth Banks in Man on a Ledge (Photo: Summit)
MAN ON A LEDGE (2012). For a flick whose theatrical release ended up getting shoved to this past January, Man on a Ledge sure sports a cast that would look right at home on a year-end release date. Move past thudding lead Sam Worthington (still flailing about in his bid to become The Next Big Thing; dude, if Avatar and a Terminator sequel couldn't do it for ya...) and filmgoers will find the likes of Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell and more. And it's a good thing for this film's makers that all concerned signed on the dotted line, since it gives considerable heft to a movie that otherwise might have gone straight to Blu-ray and DVD. Worthington plays Nick Cassidy, a wrongly incarcerated ex-cop who manages to escape from prison, thereby enabling him to put into motion a complex scheme in which his role is to ... well, check out the title. Banks stirs sympathy as a guilt-ridden police negotiator, Bell and Genesis Rodriguez make a cute couple as Nick's brother and his feisty squeeze, and Harris brings a dash of classy menace to his too-few scenes as a ruthless titan of industry. It's all fast-paced nonsense, easy to take but not quite engaging enough to have warranted a night out at the movies. So, yeah, good call on waiting for this home release.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Banks, and a making-of featurette.
MATINEE IDOLS: Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting (Photo: Universal)
THE STING (1973). Few movies offered me as much pure pleasure during my teen years as The Sting, and while the picture has lost a bit of its luster over the ensuing years, it's still a highly entertaining lark - and miles ahead of the overrated Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Reuniting the principal team from Butch - stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford and director George Roy Hill - The Sting proved to be an even greater success, nestling near the top of the all-time biggest moneymakers list alongside Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music and The Godfather (not a fantasy film among them; how times have changed!). Redford, earning the only Best Actor Oscar nomination of his lengthy career, stars as Johnny Hooker, a small-time con artist in 1930s Chicago who teams up with master hustler Henry Gondorff (Newman) to swindle ruthless mob kingpin Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). A great pick for repeat viewings, The Sting offers opulent period detail courtesy of production designers Henry Bumstead and James W. Payne, snazzy outfits by legendary costume designer Edith Head, Marvin Hamlisch's adaptation of Scott Joplin's ragtime tunes (leading to renewed popularity), and a marvelous script (by David S. Ward) packed with a dizzying array of twists and turns. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, this won seven, including statues for Hill, Ward, Head (her eighth and final one), Hamlisch, the team of Bumstead & Payne, film editor William Reynolds, and Best Picture.
Blu-ray extras include a three-part making-of documentary; the theatrical trailer; and three featurettes tied to Universal's 100th anniversary: Restoring the Classics, The '70s, and The Lot.
Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly in We Need to Talk About Kevin (Photo: Oscilloscope)
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011). Of all the nomination flubs made this past January by the Academy of Harvey Weinstein Arts and Sciences - no Michael Fassbender; only two nominated songs; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close absurdly in the running - the most egregious mistake was arguably the lack of a Best Actress nod for Tilda Swinton. Her performance in this chilling drama was the best given by a female in either category, lead or supporting. It's a subtle turn in a muted movie, but the low-simmer setting of the project is precisely why it stays with you. Although based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, it seems to be a direct descendant of The Bad Seed, the 1956 thriller with Patty McCormack as a murderous moppet. Here, the bad seed is the titular boy, son of Eva (Swinton) and Franklin (John C. Reilly, even more miscast here than in Carnage) and older brother to sweet Celia (Ashley Gerasimovich). From the moment he popped out of his mother's womb, Kevin's been an absolute terror. But it's when Kevin becomes a teenager (played at this point by Ezra Miller) that he becomes especially surly - and dangerous. None of this is related in chronological order, as part of the film's power rests in the fragmented manner in which writer-director Lynne Ramsay (co-adapting with Rory Kinnear) presents her story, dropping us into the narrative stream whenever and wherever she sees fit. And because of this structure, she scatters the thematic seeds (bad seeds?) all over the premise, challenging us to decide whether Kevin was born evil, whether he's the victim of a pampered lifestyle (the Scottish Ramsay doesn't appear to find much of interest in American suburbia), whether Eva or Franklin are rotten parents, or, most intriguingly, whether Kevin is merely a mirror image of his chilly and distant mother. I won't reveal whether the movie answers the question or merely checks off "None of the Above," but regardless, We Need to Talk About Kevin is one motion picture that invites post-film conversation.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette; an interview with Shriver; and a Q&A session with Swinton.