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.
Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet (Photo: Criterion)
(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 BEDROOM WINDOW (1987). The spirit of Alfred Hitchcock can be seen hovering around the edges of The Bedroom Window, a vastly entertaining thriller that only loses its bearings (and its credibility) during the final half-hour. Adapted from Anne Holden’s novel The Witnesses by writer-director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), this finds lowly company man Terry Lambert (Steve Guttenberg) inviting his boss’ wife, Sylvia Wentworth (Isabelle Huppert), back to his apartment for some late-night whoopie. While standing at his bedroom window, she spots a creep (Brad Greenquist) attacking a young woman named Denise (Elizabeth McGovern) before he’s scared off. After learning that another woman was raped and murdered just hours after that assault — but knowing that Sylvia can’t come forward without exposing their affair — Terry calls the police and informs them that he was the witness to the assault. Of course, the holes in Terry’s version of events lead to the investigating detectives (Carl Lumbly and Frederick Coffin) eventually suspecting him of being the killer, and he’s ultimately forced to team up with Denise to set matters straight. Like Craig Wasson in Brian De Palma’s superior Body Double (another movie from the era involving a witness and a window), the bland Guttenberg doesn’t make for the most compelling hero, although the other roles are all exceedingly well-cast (look for Wallace Shawn in a terrific bit as a crafty defense attorney). But until the story turns sloppy with its plotting — and its plotholes — during the home stretch, this proves to be rousing entertainment.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Peter Tonguette, and the theatrical trailer.
BLUE VELVET (1986). At the end of the 1980s, American Film magazine polled 54 critics to determine the best movies of the decade. Placing third, just under Raging Bull and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and just above Hannah and Her Sisters, Atlantic City and Raiders of the Lost Ark, was David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, which went unnoticed by the masses (it grossed a mere $7 million) but was certainly on the radar of critics, cultists, and Lynch’s fellow filmmakers. Woody Allen declared it the best movie of 1986, critics’ groups honored it with various awards (mainly for Lynch and supporting actor Dennis Hopper), and even the timid Academy nominated Lynch for Best Director (Hopper was nominated that year for his less threatening turn in Hoosiers). Still, not everyone was enamored: Roger Ebert famously gave the movie one star while Leonard Maltin managed to give it two, although my favorite blurb came from Rex Reed, who fumed, “It should score high with the kind of sickos who like to smell dirty socks and pull the wings off butterflies, but there’s nothing here for sane audiences.” Decades later, the film continues to stir healthy debate, often within the same individual. I’ve seen the picture at least six times since its debut, and unlike most great movies, this one loses some of its power with each subsequent viewing. Scenes that were once shocking now seem silly (most involving Hopper’s turn as the deranged Frank Booth, who says “Fuck” about as often as the rest of us blink), while much of the story doesn’t even make sense. But Kyle MacLachlan is still appealing as the clean-cut youth whose discovery of a severed ear exposes the seedy underbelly of picket-fence America, the symbolic gestures (love those bugs!) still resonate, and Lynch’s directorial choices retain their demented edge.
Blu-ray extras include 53 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes; a 2002 making-of documentary; and a 2017 interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti. Sadly not brought over from MGM’s 2011 Blu-ray edition is the original Siskel & Ebert review.
THE BOSTONIANS (1984). After bringing Henry James to the screen with their 1979 adaptation of The Europeans, the tony team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala returned to the author’s oeuvre for this astute drama set in 1875. Focusing on the feminist movement, it stars Vanessa Redgrave as Olive Chancellor, a dedicated suffragette who has taken the young and beautiful Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter) under her wing. Like many others, Olive believes that Verena is a gifted orator who can serve as a magnetic front for the cause — unfortunately, Olive’s plans for Verena are made more difficult by the arrival of her Southern cousin Basil Ransom (Christopher Reeve), a conservative chauvinist who falls for Verena and wants her to give up her public life and solely serve him in marriage. The film muddies what would seem a cut-and-dry situation not only by accentuating Olive’s humorless tendencies and Basil’s immense charm but by also painting Verena as an enigmatic figure who doesn’t even know what she most wants from her life. Reeve is earnest if not entirely believable in a pivotal role, but Redgrave and Potter are excellent, and the supporting cast is peppered with colorful turns by Jessica Tandy, Linda Hunt, Wallace Shawn, and, as Verena’s shyster dad, a grandly amusing Wesley Addy. The Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team returned to the Henry James bibliography in 2000 with their adaptation of The Golden Bowl (featuring Potter in a supporting role). The Bostonians earned a pair of Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Redgrave) and Best Costume Design.
Blu-ray extras include a new interview with Ivory; the original theatrical trailer; and the 2018 re-release trailer.
CLIMAX (2019). Professional provocateur Gaspar Noé is back with another hyperactive assault on our senses, but in this instance, it feels as if the emperor no longer has any clothes. A largely improvisational piece (the script was reportedly only five pages), it centers on the members of a French dance troupe who gather to practice and party in an abandoned building, only for everyone to turn into raving lunatics after someone spikes the sangria with LSD. Make that almost everyone — a Middle Eastern man doesn’t drink alcohol, so he’s suspected of being the spiker and is subsequently thrown out into the freezing cold to die, and a pregnant woman doesn’t drink for obvious reasons, so she then becomes the accused and gets repeatedly kicked in the belly. And then there are some who drink the sangria but don’t become quite as bloodthirsty as the others — among these would be Selva (Sofia Boutella), who spends much of the time weeping at the inhumanity surrounding her. Clearly, Noé means for Climax to disturb viewers, but it’s ultimately as shocking as a fifth grader making armpit noises. If the director’s nihilistic message is that the world is a horrible place and human beings are just the worst, that’s hardly a revelatory stance. There’s one pre-LSD sequence that’s absolutely stunning, and it’s when the troupe performs a full-out dance number that’s staggering to behold. But this scene also points out one of the film’s limitations. Aside from Boutella, there are few professional actors in this movie since Noé chose to cast actual dancers. That works for the dance sequences but for little else — even with subtitles, it’s clear that many of these folks aren’t trained to emote, and the early scenes in which they’re required to improvise their own banal dialogue are painful. Ultimately, Climax is too predictable in its supposedly horrific reveals to ever catch us off-guard.
The only DVD extra is a making-of featurette.
THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF (1970). Roger Moore had just ended his seven-year stint as TV’s The Saint when he starred in this British production, one of his first as a leading man in the movies. Amusingly, one of his lines in the picture is, “Come on, Charles. Espionage isn’t all James Bond and Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It’s a prophetic piece of dialogue since, three years later, he would be taking over the role of Agent 007 from Sean Connery for Live and Let Die. The Man Who Haunted Himself, however, is a far cry from the Bond flicks — instead, it’s a somber drama in which pent-up businessman Harold Pelham (Moore) briefly dies on the operating table after smashing up his automobile. Pelham is quickly revived and all seems like it’s back to normal, except for the fact that he learns that his friends and associates have been seeing him all around town, whether playing billiards, holding secret meetings behind the backs of the other board members, or cheating on his wife (Hildegarde Neil) with another woman (Olga Georges-Picot). Pelham begins to think he has a doppelgänger — one who happens to be less rigid and more carefree. The Man Who Haunts Himself maintains interest throughout with its intriguing storyline, although the final moments avoid the perfect ending for one that’s slightly less satisfying. If the plot sounds familiar to fans of vintage TV series, that’s because the original story also served as the basis for an episode (“The Case of Mr. Pelham”) of the classic show Alfred Hitchcock Presents — in fact, one of only 17 episodes (out of 268) directed by The Master of Suspense himself.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Moore and uncredited writer-producer Bryan Forbes; a discussion of the film by directors Joe Dante (The Howling) and Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator); and the theatrical trailer.
THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1975). The laughs are bitter and brittle in this adaptation of Neil Simon’s Broadway hit, with the playwright himself handling screenwriting duties. Jack Lemmon is Mel Edison, an ad executive who has just been laid off after two-plus decades. Anne Bancroft is his wife Edna, who’s forced to get a job to make ends meet. Along the way, Mel complains, their apartment gets robbed, Mel complains some more, they visit his successful brother (Gene Saks) in the country, and Mel complains even more. It’s not that Mel doesn’t have reason to gripe (well, except for when he berates Edna for having a job while he doesn’t); it’s just that the incessant whining renders the character annoying rather than endearing. There’s relatable, universal material in this property, but it often gets buried beneath a template that teeters uneasily between awkward pathos and obvious one-liners. Lemmon and Bancroft are ever the consummate pros (and she’s better at finding both the humor and the heartache that’s tucked in the crevices), but I would love to have seen this story made into a movie with the performers who originated the roles on stage: Peter Falk and Lee Grant. Sylvester Stallone makes an early-career appearance as a guy accused by Mel of stealing his wallet; other familiar faces include F. Murray Abraham as a taxi driver and M. Emmett Walsh as a doorman. For a far superior 1975 Neil Simon film, catch the magnificent comedy The Sunshine Boys, starring Lemmon’s friend and frequent co-star Walter Matthau.
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage making-of featurette; Bancroft’s appearance on Dinah! to discuss the film, her husband Mel Brooks, her friendship with host Dinah Shore, and her unflappable professionalism (the latter actually a set-up for a reel of bloopers from the Prisoner set); and the theatrical trailer.
TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (1995). Life was a drag in the cinema of the mid-1990s, as a number of popular releases centered on the comic antics of drag queens. Sandwiched in between the 1994 art-house hit The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the 1996 multiplex hit The Birdcage was this moderately amusing effort with a marquee-challenging moniker. En route to Los Angeles for a drag queen pageant, Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes), Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Chi-Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) find themselves stranded in a small hick town in flyover country. There, they befriend the local ladies (played by Stockard Channing and Blythe Danner, among others) and force the menfolk to behave properly. Meanwhile, a bigoted sheriff (Chris Penn) who was embarrassed by the trio frantically covers the territory in an attempt to find and arrest them. This offers a nice inversion of the usual Doc Hollywood premise of a city slicker learning valuable lessons from good-natured rubes — here, it’s the metropolitan outsiders who teach the rural locals about life, liberty and the pursuit of fashion sense — but otherwise it’s just another tame picture about culture clashes. Leguizamo (who’s believable as a woman) and Snipes (who isn’t) are both fine, although the standout performance comes from Swayze as the most compassionate of the three. Not surprisingly, Julie Newmar appears as herself, and you don’t need me to tell you that it’s an uncredited Robin Williams portraying Vida’s flamboyant friend John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
Blu-ray extras consist of a retrospective making-of piece; deleted scenes; the theatrical trailer; and TV spots.
THE UPSIDE (2019). In these United States of America, it may be all about The Avengers and Avatar and animation, but in the rest of the world, where subtitles aren’t viewed as a national threat but as a fact of life, there’s also been room for 2011’s The Intouchables on the all-time box office champs list. A middling “feel-good” effort that nevertheless emerged as a global word-of-mouth smash, this French seriocomedy earned an astonishing $426 million, a hefty figure that allowed it to become the highest grossing non-English-language film in history (since passed by a handful of titles, including the new #1, 2017’s Wolf Warrior 2). Based on a true story, it centers on the relationship between a millionaire who’s been a quadriplegic ever since a paragliding accident and his caretaker, an ex-con who reluctantly accepts the position even though he had planned on continuing to collect those welfare checks. This American remake retains many of the elements that made the original such a smash and, as such, proves to be no better or worse than its predecessor. In this version, Bryan Cranston is the have and Kevin Hart is the have-not — the former is cultured, reserved, and ofttimes cranky, while the latter is boisterous, crude, and willing to joke about anything. While shallow and simplistic, the film’s examination of class differences isn’t as heavy-handed and condescending as in The Intouchables; on the downside, the performances by Cranston and especially Hart are sound but don’t connect to each other as well as those by François Cluzet and especially Omar Sy in the original. Nicole Kidman is largely wasted as the quadriplegic’s friend and assistant, although Julianna Margulies has one potent scene set inside a restaurant.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes; a piece on the chemistry between the two male leads; a gag reel; and the theatrical trailer.
Short And Sweet:
LET THE SUNSHINE IN (2017). Juliette Binoche is typically terrific in what proves to be a middling effort from esteemed writer-director Claire Denis. Binoche is cast as Isabelle, a divorced artist who’s looking for love in all the wrong faces. Two of her lovers are married men who won’t leave their wives, while other blokes are sabotaged by their own flaws as well as her lofty expectations. In its sly way, Let the Sunshine In sneers at the traditional romantic comedy with even more bite (and certainly more honesty) than Isn’t It Romantic (reviewed last week here), and this is best exemplified in a late scene featuring Gerard Depardieu as a rambling fortune teller. But Denis keeps us too distanced from Binoche’s Isabelle, and while it’s believable that a smart woman would nevertheless end up with some real creeps, it becomes wearying to witness after a while.
Blu-ray extras consist of new interviews with Denis and Binoche; the 2014 short film Voila l’enchainement, directed by Denis; and the theatrical trailer.
LINK (1986). Link is the name of the orangutan who works as a valet for Dr. Steven Phillip (Terence Stamp), a nutty professor who hires American college student Jane Chase (Elisabeth Shue) to help him do experiments on the chimps living at his isolated English estate. The aging Link overhears the prof planning to do away with him and, faster than Clint Eastwood can mutter, “Right turn, Clyde,” the primate turns primeval and begins killing any creature (man, dog, chimp) that crosses him. Richard Franklin, director of the surprisingly competent Psycho II, can’t muster any suspense from Everett De Roche’s hokey script. Don’t miss the scene where Link apes (ouch; sorry) James Cagney in the fiery finale from White Heat.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and film critic Jarret Gahan; deleted workprint scenes; an audio interview with Franklin; and American, French and British theatrical trailers.
A VIGILANTE (2019). Olivia Wilde, currently earning raves for her directorial debut with Booksmart (see review here), delivers a riveting performance in this drama that largely plucks the heroine from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and places her more firmly in The Equalizer territory. Wilde plays Sadie, who escaped from an abusive marriage and has refashioned herself as an avenging angel who frees other women shackled to abusive men (and, in one scenario, rescues a tortured child from a sadistic mom). The first half is fascinating because it provides catharsis for viewers but not for its heroine, who has lived too close to the fire to derive satisfaction from her heroic actions. Unfortunately, the picture loses its momentum in its second half, when it exclusively centers on a tedious cat-and-mouse game between Sadie and the cruel ex (Morgan Spector) who has reentered her life.
The only Blu-ray extra is a making-of featurette.