(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.)
COLETTE (2018). Not unlike 2014’s Big Eyes, here’s another engaging and energetic biopic about an artistically minded woman having to contend with her husband receiving credit for her creations. There, it was Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as painters Margaret and Walter Keane; here, it’s Keira Knightley and Dominic West as writers Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and Henry Gauthier-Villars. Colette would of course go on to pen Gigi later in life, but this film focuses on the early years in which she wrote the series of Claudine novels but saw them all published under her husband Henry’s already established nom de plume of “Willy.” The picture is as frisky as her lifestyle, following her progression as she seeks to break away from his influence while also engaging in various lesbian trysts.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a photo gallery focusing on the film’s costume design.
A DRY WHITE SEASON (1989). With A Dry White Season, Euzhan Palcy not only became the first black woman to direct a major-studio film but she also coaxed Marlon Brando out of a nine-year retirement to appear as a liberal South African barrister. His participation — he earned a dubious Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination — at the time overshadowed what remains a potent picture about the horrors of apartheid. An excellent Donald Sutherland stars as a naïve Afrikaner — a history teacher, no less — who slowly becomes awakened to the atrocities occurring around him, while South African actors (and Tony Award winners) Zakes Mokae and Winston Ntshona are excellent as two of those involved in the brutal struggle on the ground level.
Blu-ray extras include a new interview with Palcy; a 1989 interview with Sutherland; and an excerpt from a 1995 interview Palcy conducted with Nelson Mandela.
NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER (1991). This fact-based drama focuses on the ordeal of Betty Mahmoody (Sally Field), an American who accompanies her husband (Alfred Molina) to his Iranian homeland for a two-week vacation. He then decides that he wants to permanently remain in Iran, and his refusal to allow his wife and their young daughter (Sheila Rosenthal) to leave the country forces Betty to plot an escape. Controversy has long dogged this real-life tale (the film was based on Betty Mahmoody’s 1987 novel), but it’s nevertheless fairly engrossing thanks to its emotional pull and the strong performances by Field and Molina.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
SLEEPOVER (2004). Four nice girls (Spy Kids’ Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Scout Taylor-Compton and Kallie Flynn Childress) on the verge of entering high school are challenged by four mean girls to an all-night scavenger hunt, with the prize being the best seats in the school’s outdoor lunch area (losers have to sit next to the smelly dumpsters). Utterly harmless but also utterly forgettable, Sleepover is only fascinating when it comes to poring over its cast list 14 years down the road: Steve Carell as a bumbling security guard, Jane Lynch as Vega’s mom, Evan Peters (X-Men’s Quicksilver) as a doofus skateboarder, Sara Paxton as the meanest mean girl, Scoot McNairy as a club DJ, and, most startling of all, an unrecognizable Brie Larson as the meanest mean girl’s second-in-command.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Joe Nussbaum, Vega, Boorem, Taylor-Compton and Childress; a making-of featurette; a gag reel; and a photo gallery.
STARMAN (1984). The E.T. in Starman doesn’t need to phone home since he thoughtfully planned ahead for his fellow aliens to pick him up at a predetermined location. Until then, he takes the human form of a deceased guy (Jeff Bridges) whose widow (Karen Allen) is understandably rattled by the sorta-reappearance of her husband, stays a step ahead of a nasty military man (Richard Jaeckel), and even brings a dead deer back to life. One of the few titles in the John Carpenter filmography that’s lacking any of his signature touches, this gentle fantasy-cum-love story offers little that’s fresh but skates by on the strength of the lovely turns by Allen and especially Bridges (the latter earning a Best Actor Oscar nomination). Incidentally, a TV spin-off appeared in 1986, starring Airplane!’s Robert Hays in the Bridges role; it lasted one season.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Carpenter and Bridges; a retrospective piece; and a vintage making-of featurette.
WHITE BOY RICK (2018). I can’t think of a sleepier proposition than sitting through yet another movie about low-level criminals seeking to strike it rich against the backdrop of a battered big city, yet White Boy Rick mostly delivers on its true-life tale. As Rick Wershe Jr., a 14-year-old Detroit kid who becomes both an unlikely drug dealer and an even more unlikely police informant, Richie Merritt doesn’t exactly command the viewer’s attention but gets the job done; carrying the more emotional end of this often unwieldy story is Matthew McConaughey as his well-meaning if often ineffectual father and Bel Powley as his drug-addled sister.
DVD extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a look at the real Rick Wershe Jr.