View from the Couch: Dreamgirls, Kill, Baby … Kill!, Superman, etc.
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.
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.
Christopher Reeve in Superman (Photo: Warner)
(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.)
DREAMGIRLS (2006). The Cinderella story of 2006 belonged to Jennifer Hudson, who went from American Idol loser to Academy Award winner thanks to her knockout performance in the box office hit Dreamgirls. Hudson proved to be a revelation in the role of Effie, the lead singer for the R&B outfit the Dreamettes who’s relegated to backup vocals once savvy yet sleazy manager Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) decides that the noticeably thinner Deena (Beyoncé Knowles) would better help the Supremes-like group hit it big. (The third member, well-played by Anika Noni Rose, is content to remain in backup mode.) On the narrative level, this adaptation of the Broadway smash is only too happy to wallow in its show biz clichés, content to let other ingredients (the music, the acting) carry it along. As for Hudson, she’s so powerful that the film suffers whenever we’re left with just Beyoncé or Foxx — luckily, Eddie Murphy is also on hand, providing some prickly tension as fading star James “Early” Thunder. Dreamgirls received a field-leading eight Academy Award nominations (including a supporting bid for Murphy), but Best Picture wasn’t among them — however, it did end up winning a pair of Oscars for Best Sound Mixing and, of course, Best Supporting Actress for Hudson.
Paramount has released a Blu-ray/DVD Digibook of Dreamgirls that contains the Director’s Extended Edition as well as the original theatrical cut. The discs also include footage from Hudson’s auditions and screen test, while the accompanying booklet features photos and song lyrics.
DUDES (1987). Barely released to theaters in 1987, Dudes has since become something of a minor (very minor) cult fave among devotees of director Penelope Spheeris, punk rock and/or oddball cinema. Three New York City punks — Grant (Jon Cryer), Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck) and Milo (Flea) — decide to start a new life across the country in California, only to be bushwhacked along the way by a group of vile and moronic rednecks (or, in modern parlance, the Trump base). Milo ends up murdered by gang leader Missoula (Lee Ving), leaving his two friends to vow vengeance. A woefully miscast Cryer is about as punk as a McDonald’s Happy Meal, and his romance with a lovely local (Catherine Mary Stewart) is scarcely convincing. Throw in sloppy character development, nondescript villains, and some daft dream sequences featuring Native American warriors and a mythical cowboy, and the whole project collapses in a heap of inanity. On the plus side, three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK, Hugo) nicely captures the spacious Western vistas, and there’s an engaging performance by Elvis impersonator Pete Willcox as — yes — an Elvis impersonator named Daredelvis.
While the movie might be poor, some of the Blu-ray special features are quite entertaining — specifically, the trio of separate interviews that Spheeris conducts with Cryer, Roebuck and Flea. Other extras include an interview with Stewart; an interview with scripter J. Randall Jahnson and producer Miguel Tejada-Flores; a vintage making-of featurette; and the theatrical trailer.
THE HOUSE (2017). It’s not unusual to see Will Ferrell turn up in something as dreadful as The House, but it’s downright disheartening to see Amy Poehler chained to this disaster. Ferrell and Poehler play Scott and Kate Johansen, who are counting on the annual scholarship provided by the city council to pay for their daughter’s (Ryan Simpkins) college tuition. But once the sleazy council head (Nick Kroll) yanks the funds, Scott and Kate must find another way to raise the money. Teaming up with their pal Frank (Jason Mantzoukas), a sad sack whose gambling addiction is threatening his marriage, they open a Vegas-style casino in Frank’s house. Their friends and neighbors enthusiastically pack the joint, but a suspicious cop (Rob Huebel) starts sniffing around. Even movies like Requiem for a Dream and Midnight Express contain more laughs than The House, the sort of smarmy comedy in which all the performers basically play stand-up comics rather than actual people. Mantzoukas isn’t bad, but Ferrell trots out his usual tiresome man-child shtick, Poehler seems bored out of her skull, and most of the supporting characters (particularly a soccer mom played by Lennon Parham) are obnoxious rather than amusing. Jeremy Renner shows up late in the game as a gangster, begging the obvious question: Why bother?
Blu-ray extras include a pair of making-of featurettes; deleted and extended scenes; and a gag reel.
KILL, BABY … KILL! (1966) / ROY COLT AND WINCHESTER JACK (1970). While Italian filmmaker Mario Bava is primarily known for his horror films, he also dabbled on occasion in other genres. Kino has released two of his pictures on Blu-ray — one from column A, the other representing column B.
Known as Operation Fear in its Italian homeland — and given the rather generic title Curse of the Living Dead upon one of its U.S. re-releases — Kill, Baby … Kill! remains one of the most popular of all Bava films, and for viewers unfamiliar with his work, it’s about as good a place to start as any. Around the turn of the century, Dr. Paul Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is summoned to a small village to perform an autopsy on a young woman who died under mysterious circumstances. Dr. Eswai and Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) look for logical clues to explain the death, but everyone else is convinced that the woman was merely the latest victim of the ghostly child who haunts the town. Kill, Baby … Kill! provides a master class in directorial prowess, with Bava employing inventive color schemes and unique camera angles to help punch across many of his startling set-pieces.
Released in 1970, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack owes more to the previous year’s massively successful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid than to the Spaghetti Westerns that helped define the 1960s. A few visual touches aside, there’s not much of interest in the picture, which finds combative buddies Roy Colt (Brett Halsey) and Winchester Jack (Charles Southwood) competing against each other for the attention of a gold-digging woman (Marilu Tolo) even as they set out to locate actual gold that’s been buried somewhere in the hills. The comedy is broad and boring, and even Bava devotees might find this one tough going.
Kino’s Blu-ray edition of Kill, Baby … Kill! contains both the Italian-language and English-language versions. Extras include audio commentary by author Tim Lucas (Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark); the 2007 documentary short Kill, Bava, Kill!; an interview with co-star Erika Blanc; and the international theatrical trailer. The label’s Blu-ray edition of Roy Colt and Winchester Jack contains the Italian-language edition and a partial English-language track that’s only available for some of the film (making its inclusion both interesting and odd). Extras consist of audio commentary by Lucas, and intermission cards.
Kill, Baby … Kill!: ★★★
Roy Colt and Winchester Jack: ★½
OTHELLO (1952). Immediately after mounting his 1948 screen adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Orson Welles began production on his celluloid take on the Bard’s Othello. Yet once again faced with financial difficulties, Welles had to keep interrupting production to acquire funds, eventually requiring three years to complete his picture. Othello debuted to great success, winning the top prize at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival, but, as was often the case with works by the maverick filmmaker, it bombed here in the U.S. Taking an unusual approach to the material, this Othello actually qualifies as a film noir, with its brooding, black-and-white use of shadows and — in one remarkable sequence — steam (replacing the fundamental noir ingredient of smoke). Welles makes a volatile Othello, Suzanne Cloutier a passionate Desdemona, but it’s Micheal MacLiammoir who steals the show as the conniving Iago.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition of Othello contains both the 1952 version that debuted at Cannes and subsequently played Europe and the altered 1955 cut that opened stateside. Extras include audio commentary by filmmaker and Welles biographer (and friend) Peter Bogdanovich and Welles scholar Myron Meisel; a 1978 making-of documentary created by Welles himself; the Oscar-nominated 1953 short film Return to Glennascaul, starring Welles and made by Othello cast members MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards; and separate interviews with actor and Welles biographer Simon Callow, author Ayanna Thompson (Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America), and film scholars Joseph McBride and François Thomas.
SUPERMAN (1978). Even with the explosion of comic-book films in the 21st century, director Richard Donner’s comparatively old-school Superman still remains the best superhero movie ever made. Anchored by an iconic performance from Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel, it’s full of humor and heart, paying enormous respect to the tenets of the comic-page panel while occasionally flashing a delightful tongue-in-cheek attitude. An Oscar winner for Best Visual Effects, this excellent effort also contains one of John Williams’ best scores, a rich screenplay by the heavyweight team of Mario Puzo (The Godfather), Robert Benton (Bonnie and Clyde), David Newman (ditto) and Leslie Newman, and terrific performances down the line. Gene Hackman (as Lex Luthor) and especially Margot Kidder (as Lois Lane) take top honors, but there are also notable contributions from Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), Glenn Ford (Pa Kent) and, yes, even eccentric Marlon Brando (Jor-El).
Superman has been available on Blu-ray in both its original theatrical form and in a director’s cut that’s been alternately billed as “The Expanded Edition” and “The Special Edition.” The big — make that enormous — news involving Warner’s latest Blu-ray release is that it contains the rarely seen network TV edition, billed here as “The Extended Cut.” When Superman debuted on ABC in 1982, it was as a two-night special event, with ample additional footage that didn’t make it into the original 1978 release. This version runs 188 minutes, and while the extra material may not thematically add too much, it’s still a treat to finally be able to enjoy these bonus and extended scenes.
The new Warner Archive Collection release contains not only this “Extended Cut” but also the “Special Edition.” Extras are the same ones found on the “Special Edition” disc when it was included as part of the formidable 2011 box set The Superman Motion Picture Anthology — they include audio commentary by Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz; a trio of making-of pieces; and screen tests featuring Reeve, Kidder and various Lois Lane wannabes (including Stockard Channing and Anne Archer).
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
(Recommended films currently available on streaming services)
BACHELORETTE (2012). It would be a major mistake to think that Bachelorette is simply a rip-off of Bridesmaids with a healthy dose of Mean Girls stirred into the mix. This comedy from debuting director Leslye Headland (scripting from her own play) clearly marches to its own beat, daring to offer protagonists who are frequently irresponsible and off-putting and betting that viewers will still care enough to follow their misadventures. Becky (Rebel Wilson), still stinging from her high school nickname (“Pig Face”), is about to get married, and her three friends from those long-ago days are preparing to take their places as her bridesmaids. The brittle Regan (Kirsten Dunst), who was always certain that she would be the first one to marry, nevertheless takes the lead in planning the wedding; the cynical Gena (Lizzy Kaplan) and the ditzy Katie (Isla Fisher) are too fond of booze, cocaine and sex to have time to be of any help. Yet a crisis on the evening before the wedding — specifically, the accidental tearing of the bride’s dress — forces the three friends to pull an all-nighter in order to salvage the situation. Headland’s often hilarious script is packed with all sorts of zingers and non sequitors, and all of the leading ladies are allowed to shine on numerous occasions. Headland also makes sure to write decent roles for the male co-stars: Adam Scott and Kyle Bornheimer are effective as two decent guys included in the wedding party, while James Marsden, generally cast in sensitive roles, has a blast playing a smarmy charmer with his eye on Regan. ★★★
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