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.
Charlton Heston and George Kennedy in Earthquake (Photo: Shout! Factory & Universal)
(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.)
BROKEN FLOWERS (2005). This gem from writer-director Jim Jarmusch (whose films Stranger Than Paradise and Night on Earth were recently reviewed here) takes Bill Murray’s accidental tourist from Lost In Translation and drops him into About Schmidt Americana territory. Here, Murray plays Don Johnston, whose seemingly catatonic existence receives a much-needed jolt — not so much from the departure of his fed-up girlfriend (Julie Delpy) as from the arrival of an anonymous letter claiming that he has a son who’s been kept hidden from him for the past two decades. He embarks on a road trip to locate the mother, and his former squeezes represent a wide cross-section: a NASCAR widow (Sharon Stone) with a nympho daughter appropriately named Lolita (Alexis Dziena); a businesswoman (Frances Conroy) with a thriving real estate practice and a doltish husband (Christopher McDonald); a pet psychologist (Jessica Lange) who claims she can understand what animals are saying; and a biker (Tilda Swinton) who lives in a dilapidated shack with two roughnecks at her side. As Don moves from woman to woman, the mystery of the son becomes almost incidental; more prominent is the manner in which the hostilities increase the farther he travels, as if by opening the door to his past ever wider, he risks permanent damage to the roiling emotions he’s kept bottled up. This is a movie of wry humor and wry observations, and because Jarmusch never feels the need to spell out every character nuance or tie up every narrative thread, it’s certain to strike many viewers as much ado about nothing. But for those who appreciate the delicacy with which the auteur can spin a tale, the film will seem like that proverbial rose by any other name.
Blu-ray extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette; an extended scene; outtakes; and the theatrical trailer.
EARTHQUAKE (1974). One of the most noteworthy of all short-lived theatrical fads was Sensurround, commissioned by Universal to accompany its motion pictures in the mid-1970s. Basically an aural assault that could be felt as well as heard, it was impressive enough to earn its makers a special Academy Award. But the added expense to theaters combined with the structural damage it sometimes caused led to its rapid demise, and, ultimately, only four films were released employing the format. I caught all four during my youth, and the movie that most benefited from its inclusion was this undeniably dopey yet admittedly entertaining disaster flick (the others were 1976’s Midway, 1977’s Rollercoaster, and 1978’s Battlestar: Galactica). One of three all-star idiocies to rank among that year’s top 10 box office hits (along with The Towering Inferno and Airport 1975), this centers on the lives of various Los Angelenos immediately before, during and after an earthquake destroys the city. Charlton Heston as a heroic architect and George Kennedy as a heroic cop are the leads, while a pre-Dallas Victoria Principal, a post-Shaft Richard Roundtree, and an in-his-prime Walter Matthau (amusingly billing himself in the credits as “Walter Matuschanskayasky”!) also take part. Notoriously, 51-year-old Ava Gardner plays 59-year-old Lorne Greene’s daughter, a casting decision that continues to live in infamy. Earthquake earned Oscars for Best Sound and Best Visual Effects.
The Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory contains the 122-minute theatrical cut as well as the 144-minute TV version featuring additional scenes mostly shot long after the original film wrapped (the majority of these added sequences are awful). Extras include engaging featurettes centering on John Williams’ score, Albert Whitlock’s superb matte work, and Sensurround; vintage audio interviews with Heston, Greene and Roundtree; and photo and poster galleries.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD (2019). Going for the threepeat, the How to Train Your Dragon series ends on a high enough note that fans won’t be feeling a discernible letdown. In this installment, Berk has blossomed into a paradise for human and dragon alike, with Hiccup (again voiced by Jay Baruchel) constantly rescuing dragons imprisoned elsewhere and adding them to his village’s population. For his part, Toothless catches sight of a female Light Fury and becomes smitten; unfortunately, the Light Fury is a prisoner of the ruthless dragonslayer Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), and he plots to use her as bait to capture Toothless. Desperate to save not just Toothless but all the dragons in his domain, Hiccup convinces everyone to pack up their belongings to begin the long journey to The Hidden World, a place where he hopes Berkians and beasts can continue to live in peace. What made the first two Dragon installments pop is that the themes of responsibility and sacrifice — often only given insincere lip service in animated features — were carefully woven into the fabric of the stories, thus raising the emotional stakes when the characters were confronted with hard decisions or even the specter of death itself. That continues in full force in this latest picture, with the best moments saved for the last act. Indeed, the final stretch is what provides this entry with its power and makes it a worthy companion piece to its predecessors. In other words, don’t be too surprised if lumps suddenly develop in the throat.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by writer-director Dean DeBlois, producer Bradford Lewis and head of character animation Simon Otto; an extended opening; deleted scenes; and two animated shorts.
ISN”T IT ROMANTIC (2019). Just as 2003’s largely forgotten Down with Love — you know, the one with Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor — attempted to spoof those Technicolor-saturated romantic comedies from the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Isn’t It Romantic opts to spoof the romcoms from the 1980s through today. It goes about it by tackling the material from within, with young Natalie being told as a child that Pretty Woman and movies of its kind are fantasy and not indicative of what happens to real people who don’t look like Julia Roberts. Thus, Natalie (played as an adult by Rebel Wilson) frowns upon all romcoms, an attitude that disappoints the office mate (Adam Devine) who pines for her from across the room. But after Natalie bumps her head during an attempted mugging, she imagines herself living an actual romantic comedy, complete with a fabulous apartment, a hunky leading man (Liam Hemsworth), a colleague (Devine) who might actually be “the one,” and a way-gay BFF (Brandon Scott Jones). Wilson is an immense talent and it’s clear that she had a lot of fun making this movie — it’s just a shame that mirth couldn’t have been shared with viewers. As a comedy, the laughs are fleeting, and, as a musical, the numbers are flat-footed. More to the point, as a romance, the love story is utterly banal and predictable — to the degree that the movie becomes the very thing it’s mocking. This in turn reveals a cynicism by the filmmakers that exists beneath the surface cheeriness, a smug and self-satisfied attitude that knocks this beneath last year’s stridently average Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty (a film similar in many ways to this one).
Blu-ray extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette examining the movie’s musical moments, and deleted scenes.
THE SEDUCTION (1982). After a few years of guest-starring on hit series like Happy Days and Kojak, Morgan Fairchild became a household name thanks to her starring role on TV’s popular if short-lived Flamingo Road (1980-1982). This inspired producers to cast her in a major motion picture, but The Seduction did her silver-screen aspirations no favors and instead added her to the still-growing list of TV actors who were unable to make the transition to movie stardom (see also David Caruso, Melissa Joan Hart, and any male who starred on Friends). It’s not entirely Fairchild’s fault: While her performance in the movie isn’t particularly good, she’s still better than the material provided by writer-director David Schmoeller. In short, this is one dreadful thriller, crippled by a lack of suspense, a lack of originality, and a lack of smarts. Fairchild plays Jamie Douglas, an L.A. anchorwoman who’s being stalked by Derek (Andrew Stevens), a fan who spends his time photographing her from the privacy of his own home. (Yes, Derek’s her neighbor, a fact that nobody ever figures out — even the cop who visits both victim and villain at their homes!) When Derek does contact her in person — say, by showing up at the TV station or even in her bedroom — Jamie gets mildly upset while her boyfriend (Michael Sarrazin) gets slightly more upset. But according to a dim-witted detective (Vince Edwards), there’s not a single law that could protect her, so she’s forced to defend herself. Nothing about this dud makes much sense: not the title (since when is stalking the same as seducing?), not the tagline of “She’s fighting back with the only weapon she has … Herself!” (actually, [semi-spoiler] she has to be saved in the final reel), and not the actions of all concerned.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Schmoeller and producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis; new interviews with Fairchild, Stevens and Curtis; and a retrospective featurette.
SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS (1968). Another season, another Herschell Gordon Lewis film being released on Blu-ray via the Arrow Video label (see 1965’s Color Me Blood Red, reviewed here, and 1970’s The Wizard of Gore, reviewed here). After the smashing success of Roger Corman’s 1966 The Wild Angels, nearly everyone decided to make a low-budget biker flick, and that included Lewis. But what made Gordon’s film different was that it elected to focus on female bikers rather than their male counterparts (an angle also taken by two other 1968 offerings, The Mini-Skirt Mob and the MST3K favorite The Hellcats). With real-life bikers cast in most roles, this centers on The Man-Eaters, an all-female outfit whose members spend their days riding their motorcycles and their nights treating men as disposable commodities. Queenie (Betty Connell) is the leader, Whitey (Pat Poston) is her right-hand woman, Honey Pot (Nancy Lee Noble) is the jailbait sexpot, and Karen (Christie Wagner) is the “good girl” whose loyalty to the gang is eventually tested by Queenie. She-Devils on Wheels is as poorly acted and directed as most HGL features, but its off-kilter sensibilities provide it with a modicum of interest. For the most part, Gordon keeps the gore in check (though there is a decapitation scene), but while there’s no T&A nudity, there are plenty of scenes focusing on sex — hints of lesbian activity occasionally make their presence known, and, in the movie’s most innovative twist, each bike race is followed by an orgy in which the winner gets first pick from the line-up of guys hanging around the clubhouse.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Lewis and Something Weird Video founder Mike Vraney; Lewis’ 1968 feature Just for the Hell of It; introductions to both films by Lewis; and Lewis discussing his 1968 film The Alley Tramp.