View from the Couch: The Heiress, The LEGO Movie 2, Miss Bala, etc.
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.
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.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Photo: Warner & LEGO)
(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.)
THE HEIRESS (1949). Director William Wyler’s piercing adaptation of both Henry James’ 1880 novel Washington Square and the subsequent 1947 stage version The Heiress stars Olivia de Havilland in a superb performance as Catherine Sloper, a Plain Jane whose dowdy appearance and awkward social graces have kept men away until a dashing suitor named Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift) comes a-calling. Catherine’s delighted that he professes to love her, but her cruel yet sensible father (Ralph Richardson) is convinced that the young man is only after her money. A favorite of — as well as an influence on — Martin Scorsese (you can see this film’s DNA in his sublime period piece The Age of Innocence, reviewed here), The Heiress is a deft psychological drama powered by superlative performances from Clift, Miriam Hopkins (as de Havilland’s well-meaning aunt), and especially Richardson. Yet it’s de Havilland who owns the picture — her transformation from wronged wallflower to hardened heart is especially indicative of this actress’ incredible range. Nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Richardson, and Best Cinematography), it won four: Best Actress (de Havilland), Best Music Score (Aaron Copland), Best Black-and-White Costume Design (the legendary Edith Head), and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Blu-ray extras include a featurette on the film’s costumes; the 1950 short The Costume Designer, featuring Head; an excerpt from a Wyler tribute on a 1973 episode of The Merv Griffin Show; Wyler’s speech from the American Film Institute’s 1976 Salute to William Wyler; an appearance by de Havilland on a 1986 episode of The Paul Ryan Show; and a 1981 interview with Richardson (excerpted from the documentary Directed by William Wyler).
THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (2019). When it comes to Avengers: Endgame (reviewed here), the penalty for revealing spoilers is apparently death, so let me tread carefully when I state that there are a couple of startling plot similarities between that behemoth blockbuster and this animated sequel. As far as actual entertainment value goes, the Marvel offering represents the dollar being better spent, since this follow-up to 2014’s The LEGO Movie (with side trips to The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie, both 2017) turns out to be a disappointment. The opening is the best part, as an alien invasion results in the world being turned into a Mad Max landscape. While most characters see nothing but gloom and doom, Emmet Brickowski (again voiced by Chris Pratt) maintains that everything is (still) awesome — a declaration even he might reconsider once Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and the rest of his friends are kidnapped by an intergalactic queen (Tiffany Haddish). Fortunately, he receives help in his rescue operation from a galaxy guardian known as Rex Dangervest (also Pratt). What largely made The LEGO Movie so popular was the unexpected twist at the end — and the unexpected poignancy it provided. With that cat (Unikitty?) out of the bag, the film has to work overtime to manufacture a similar scenario and similar sentiments, ultimately failing to gain much traction on this front. And while the animation remains eye-popping, the story’s shift to outer space — and away from the post-apocalyptic landscape — results in a film that’s frantic without ever really connecting.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Mike Mitchell, writer-producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, and animation director Trish Gum; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and the animated short Emmet’s Holiday Party.
MISS BALA (2019). A remake of a 2011 Mexican movie, Miss Bala centers on Gloria (Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez), a Latin-American makeup artist who returns to Tijuana for a visit and ends up falling into the hands of cartel leader Lino (Ismael Cruz Córdoba). To survive, she must perform dirty deeds for her captor, including running drugs across the border. While the masterful Sicario revealed the complexities of the US-Mexico drug wars, Miss Bala is content to toss aside all sociopolitical context and serve up a straightforward thriller. That would be fine if the movie actually got the job done, but Miss Bala registers as no more than a formulaic action yarn. Part of the problem rests in its central character. While director Catherine Hardwicke and scripter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer take great pains to give Córdoba’s Lino all the great angles and all the detailed backstory, Gloria remains a flat and colorless character throughout. She’s a girl who’s less power and more puff, and her continued status as a naïve and helpless hostage hardly makes her a feminist heroine — if anything, the film repeatedly goes out of its way to insult her looks and her intelligence through dialogue provided by insignificant secondary characters. While all this might conceivably make sense in the context of the story about an innocent caught in an unfamiliar world, it also renders her last-minute, late-inning transformation unbelievable and illogical, a decision that feels more geared toward building a potential franchise than anything else. Rodriguez handles all of her assignments well enough, and it’s nice to see an unlikely actress going the Liam Neeson route. But when it comes to Miss Bala itself, the film is likely to leave viewers feeling taken.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Hardwicke; a making-of featurette; and deleted scenes.
MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979). One of the key films of the Australian New Wave of the 1970s, My Brilliant Career represented breakthroughs for both director Gillian Armstrong, who would later direct the best cinematic version of Little Women (the one with Winona Ryder), and star Judy Davis, who would later nab Oscar nominations for her work in David Lean’s A Passage to India and Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives. In this adaptation of feminist author Miles Franklin’s 1901 novel, Davis is excellent as Sybylla Melvyn, a young woman whose fierce independence and love of literature is at odds with the provincial life she’s expected to carve out for herself. Sam Neill, long before taking on dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, co-stars as her primary suitor, while Patricia Kennedy steals scenes as the droll Aunt Gussie. This earned an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary (from 2009) by Armstrong; a new interview with Armstrong; a 1980 interview with Davis; a new interview with the film’s production designer, Oscar winner Luciana Arrighi (Howards End); Armstrong’s 1973 short film, One Hundred a Day; and the theatrical trailer.
Incidentally, the Criterion label has not only released My Brilliant Career on Blu-ray but has also recently re-released 1975’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, an even more crucial film from the Aussie New Wave. Set on Valentine’s Day 1900, Peter Weir’s heavily atmospheric and erotically charged drama centers on the disappearance of three schoolgirls and a teacher on the titular edifice. Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of piece; a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; an interview with Weir; an introduction by film scholar David Thomson; Weir’s 1971 directorial feature Homesdale; and the theatrical trailer.
My Brilliant Career: ★★★
Picnic at Hanging Rock: ★★★½
SUMMER STOCK (1950). After making millions for MGM over the course of a decade-plus, Judy Garland was finally released from the studio after her personal problems and drug dependency (largely caused, infuriatingly, by the studio working her to the point of exhaustion) resulted in Summer Stock emerging as a troubled production plagued by a prolonged shooting schedule. Fortunately, friend and co-star Gene Kelly had Judy’s back, and their mutual admiration shines through in this engaging musical. Garland’s a hard-working farm owner who’s so busy trying to bring in the crops that she doesn’t even have time for her nerdy fiancé (Eddie Bracken). Then her flighty sister (Gloria De Haven) unexpectedly arrives with a theatrical troupe in tow, stating that their barn will be the perfect place to stage a musical. Amid all the ensuing madness, the show’s director (Kelly) does his best to keep matters civil. Phil Silvers (as an eccentric actor) lays on the shtick pretty thick, and his bumpkin routine with Kelly is hardly a (pardon the expression) barn-raiser. The other musical sequences are better, including “You Wonderful You” (with Gene incorporating a squeaky floorboard and a newspaper into his dance routine). Still, the classic number belongs squarely to Judy, as she’s nothing less than sensational as she belts out “Get Happy.” Interestingly, this climactic set-piece was filmed two months after the rest of the picture, which explains why the actress looks healthier in this sequence — she had lost approximately 20 pounds in the interim. It would be four years before Garland appeared on screen again, returning in 1954 for her career-best performance in A Star Is Born.
Blu-ray extras include a retrospective behind-the-scenes featurette; the audio-only outtake song “Fall in Love”; the 1950 Tex Avery cartoon The Cuckoo Clock; the 1950 live-action short Did’ja Know?; and the theatrical trailer.
WHAT MEN WANT (2019). The 2000 Mel Gibson hit What Women Want undergoes a sex-change operation and emerges as What Men Want, a rousing if rocky remake-of-sorts that proves to be no better and no worse than its predecessor. A high-powered sports agent, Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) is repeatedly passed over for partnership at her firm, even as she witnesses the usual mediocre white males ascending ever higher. Interestingly, though, she’s not any less selfish or thoughtless than her dude-bro co-workers. A well-timed bump on the head changes all that — at least eventually. Once she’s able to read the thoughts of all men, she is able to stay one step ahead of her colleagues yet still refuses to treat others with respect. Clearly, Ali needs to become a better person while subjugating the louts around her, and that she does with clockwork precision in a film that, like the Gibson version, never takes full advantage of its intriguing premise but instead goes for the obvious gags and the obvious reads on too many occasions. The inner thoughts heard throughout are rarely anything challenging — it’s not that they’re inaccurate but rather they’re incomplete, resulting in a film that remains frustratingly on the surface when there are some tantalizing depths to be mined. Henson is in typically fine form, although the film piles on her character flaws to such a high degree at the start that her eventual thaw is a stretch even in the context of the outlandish premise. As Joe “Dolla” Barry, an overbearing client, Tracy Morgan is as broad as ever and thus not particularly amusing; in the overacting sweepstakes, the better option is Erykah Badu, who’s a riot as a particularly peculiar psychic.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Adam Shankman; deleted and extended scenes; and a gag reel.
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