View from the Couch: Dark Phoenix, Mirage, Polyester, 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.
Gregory Peck in Mirage (Photo: Kino)
(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.)
DARK PHOENIX (2019). And so it ends, not with a bang and not even with a whimper. Instead, the once-proud X-Men franchise ends in muted repose, rendered comatose by the shockingly bland and startlingly bad Dark Phoenix. In comic lore, the Dark Phoenix saga is one of the greats, but this dud mangles the material even more horribly than X-Men: The Last Stand. This is basically Muppet Babies X-Men, as Sophie Turner (Phoenix), Tye Sheridan (Cyclops) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm) fail to capture the essence of their iconic characters (only Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler succeeds). As before, Jean Grey is exposed to extra-terrestrial elements that transform her from the heroic Phoenix into the villainous Dark Phoenix, and it’s up to the others to either save her or destroy her. Turner is a colorless Phoenix, and with little built-up backstory, nothing’s really at stake. Alas, Jean isn’t the only character to receive rough treatment. Inexplicably, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has been refashioned as a self-centered glory hound; honestly, this reading of the character is only slightly less offensive than the one in Logan, the dotty old man forced to sit in his own piss and vomit as his brilliant mind faded away. As for Mystique, she’s largely a non-entity here, although that’s more on Jennifer Lawrence than even on the scripters (rarely have I seen a performer so bored with her role). On the plus side, there’s Michael Fassbender (Magneto), who’s probably just as disinterested as Lawrence and McAvoy but does a better job of masking it. There’s also an extended battle aboard a train that provides the expected action in satisfactory style. Otherwise, Dark Phoenix is a dour and depressing disappointment. The X-Men franchise may yet rise again from the ashes, but for now, it’s still being administered its last rites.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Simon Kinberg; a making-of featurette; and deleted scenes.
MIRAGE (1965). Gregory Peck, whose character in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 classic Spellbound suffered from amnesia, gets struck with another pronounced case of forgetfulness in Mirage, a twisty thriller that might very well have been made by Hitchcock himself. Instead, the director is reliable Edward Dmytryk (Warlock, recently reviewed here), and the noir-tinged atmospherics he brings to the film fall right in line with the script by Peter Stone (Charade), adapted from Howard Fast’s novel Fallen Angel. Peck plays David Stillwell, a cost accountant who, following a blackout in the office building in which he works, slowly discovers that he can’t remember anything from the past two years. An enigmatic woman (Diane Baker) appears friendly but offers no clues, the two men (Jack Weston and George Kennedy) tailing him look to harm him, and a pompous psychiatrist (Robert H. Harris) throws him out of his office. Desperate, he turns to a novice detective named Ted Caselle (Walter Matthau) to help uncover the mystery surrounding him. Mirage is the type of thriller where viewers only know as much (or as little) as the hero, meaning that the plot remains admirably dense for much of the running time — the denouement might seem comparatively weak, but the pleasure here is the journey. Matthau is a standout as the jovial private eye — the banter-filled scenes between Stillwell and Caselle are the movie’s best — while the interesting score comes courtesy of Quincy Jones.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; an interview with Baker; an image gallery; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other thrillers on the Kino label.
POLYESTER (1981). Only John Waters would think of marrying Douglas Sirk melodrama to William Castle showmanship. For his first attempt at a mainstream studio picture, the shock auteur took a standard Sirk plot from the ‘50s — the trials and tribulations of a housewife — and had it released in theaters enhanced(?) by the magic of Odorama, a gimmick which involved handing scratch-and-sniff cards out to audience members (I originally caught this film when it screened at my college in 1984 and still vividly recall the smells of dirty shoes, a wandering skunk, and flatulence). Waters brought along his regulars from his underground pictures, so while other 1981 releases featured such marquee-friendly stars as Burt Reynolds and Jane Fonda, Polyester countered with the singular likes of Divine and Edith Massey. Divine stars as Francine Fishpaw, who’s constantly being tortured by a husband (David Samson) who runs a porno theater, a flighty daughter (Mary Garlington) who’s dating a violent punk (Stiv Bators), and a surly son (Ken King) whose shoe fetish leads him to stomp on women’s feet. Her only friend is the sympathetic Cuddles (Massey), although she unexpectedly lands a dreamy suitor in Todd Tomorrow (Tab Hunter). Waters’ subversive streak is tested by the boundaries of an R rating, and the picture works better in the margins (such as a drive-in theater showing Marguerite Duras films, or the sexagenarian Cuddles planning a coming-out debutante ball) than with its central storyline.
Criterion’s Blu-ray edition of Polyester helpfully contains a scratch-and-sniff Odorama card. Extras include audio commentary (from 1993) by Waters; a new conversation with Waters; archival interviews with Waters, Divine, and Massey; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
REAP THE WILD WIND (1942). Master showman Cecil B. DeMille is at the helm of Reap the Wild Wind, a grandly entertaining motion picture about (of all things) ship salvagers. Unfolding in the 1840s and dividing its time between Charleston and the Florida Keys, this stars Paulette Goddard as Loxi Claiborne, an honest salvage operator who finds her livelihood threatened by the machinations of the unscrupulous salvager King Cutler (Raymond Massey). Cutler’s latest act of thievery indirectly leads to a romance between Loxi and ship captain Jack Stuart (John Wayne), but the love story becomes complicated once a cheerful lawyer named Stephen Tolliver (Ray Milland) enters the picture and sets his sights on Loxi. Meanwhile, Loxi’s cousin Drusilla (Susan Hayward, shortly before stardom struck) enters into a forbidden relationship with King Cutler’s brother Dan (Robert Preston). It all leads to a courtroom confrontation as well as a deadly skirmish with a menacing squid. Goddard lands one of her juiciest roles as the headstrong Loxi while Milland is effortlessly charming as her devil-may-care suitor. Yet the film’s most interesting element is seeing Wayne cast in a role with unexpectedly dark shadings, a far cry from the spotless heroes he played during this period but a hint at the complex characters he would later essay in The Searchers and Red River. Earning Academy Award nominations for Best Color Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, this box office smash won the Oscar for Best Special Effects, doubtless given primarily for the convincing mechanical squid at the center of the film’s climax.
Blu-ray extras consist of an image gallery; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other Kino titles starring Wayne or Milland.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969) / SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1971). James Garner was one of those stars who was able to move between cinema and television with ease, headlining such long-running shows as Maverick and The Rockford Files while also appearing in A-list movies like The Great Escape and The Americanization of Emily. The actor enjoyed one of his biggest theatrical successes with Support Your Local Sheriff!, an absolutely riotous Western in which he plays Jason McCullough, a personable Easterner newly arrived in a Wild Wild West town rampant with lawlessness. McCullough agrees to become the new sheriff for a hefty fee and immediately appoints Jake (Jack Elam), the local bum, as his deputy. Garner is excellent as the soft-spoken man who’s smarter than everyone around him, and he receives stellar support from Elam, Joan Hackett as the klutzy Prudy Perkins, Walter Brennan (spoofing his My Darling Clementine villain) as Pa Danby, and Bruce Dern as Joe Danby. The running gag involving the jail cell without bars never grows stale, a condition indicative of the entire picture.
Garner, director Burt Kennedy, and numerous co-stars (including Elam and Harry Morgan) reunited for the in-name-only sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter, which displays the same sort of comic sensibility but has to work harder to uncover the laughs. In this one, Garner plays Latigo Smith, a con man who’s mistaken for a ruthless gunfighter. Not wanting to find himself in the line of fire but still hoping to profit from the gullible townspeople, he convinces them that his bumbling friend Jug May (Elam) is really the murderous gun-for-hire. This follow-up has trouble getting out of the gate but eventually hits its stride, and Elam is as hilarious here as in the previous film.
Blu-ray extras on Support Your Local Sheriff! consist of audio commentary by film historian Michael Schlesinger; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other Westerns on the Kino label. Blu-ray extras on Support Your Local Gunfighter consist of audio commentary by Schlesinger; two deleted scenes; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other Westerns on the Kino label.
Support Your Local Sheriff!: ★★★½
Support Your Local Gunfighter: ★★★
Short And Sweet:
THE BEATLES: MADE ON MERSEYSIDE (2018) / SANTANA LIVE AT US FESTIVAL (2018). Here are two new releases for the rock & roll set. The Beatles: Made on Merseyside, a better bet for newcomers rather than for knowledgeable fans, uses new interviews with those who knew The Fab Four in the beginning; these talking heads (including Pete Best) are interspersed with archival footage, but because of the usual copyright restrictions, no actual Beatles music is heard in the film. Santana Live at US Festival, meanwhile, uses interview footage of Carlos Santana sparingly, with the main focus being the sizzling performance at the US Festival in 1982. Approximately a dozen songs are performed, including “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va,” and “Hold On.”
There are no extras on Film Movement’s DVD release of The Beatles: Made on Merseyside. The only extras on Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray edition of Santana Live at US Festival are additional interview segments with Carlos Santana.
The Beatles: Made on Merseyside: ★★½
Santana Live at US Festival: ★★★
FISTS IN THE POCKET (1965). Italian director Marco Bellochio’s debut feature may have shed some of its shock value over the years, but it remains an audacious study of family dysfunction at its most extreme. Augusto (Marino Mase) is the only seemingly normal member of a clan that also includes his blind mother (Liliana Gerace), two brothers suffering from epilepsy (Lou Castel and Pier Luigi Troglio), and an incestuous sister (Paola Pitagora). Feeling sorry for his sibling, Alessandro (Castel) decides to murder the others so Augusto can have his freedom. The performances by Pitagora and especially Castel are admirably fierce and fearless. Certainly, Fists in the Pocket would make for an apt double feature alongside Jack Hill’s 1967 oddity Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told, another movie about an odd family.
Blu-ray extras include 2005 interviews with Bellocchio, Castel and Pitagora; a new interview with scholar Stefano Albertini; and the theatrical trailer.
FIRST GIRL I LOVED (2016). Coming-of-age films set among the high school set often feel like a dime-a-dozen, but here’s one that will leave audiences feeling like a million bucks. Dylan Gelula (Xanthippe on Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) stars as Anne, a student who, much to her surprise, finds herself instantly attracted to Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand, unrecognizable from her stint as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the smash hit Deadpool), the star of the school’s softball team. How does Anne’s best friend Clifton (Mateo Arias, late of the Disney TV show Kickin’ It), who of course is smitten with her, take this news? It’s not immediately known, since writer-director Kerem Sanga comes up with a unique flashback structure that works beautifully for this film, heightening character conflicts and increasing viewer tensions. The burgeoning relationship between the two girls is handled sensitively and intelligently (and both actresses are excellent), and the film’s look at the needless drama caused by societal prejudices provides it with a perpetual topicality. ★★★½
RUBBER (2011). This effort from writer-director Quentin Dupieux doesn’t live up to its fantastic — and fantastically absurd — premise. It certainly gets off to a great start, as actor Stephen Spinella breaks down the wall between the film and the audience with a hilarious monologue about how things occur in movies for “no reason. “ From there, we watch an audience armed with binoculars watching the film that is Rubber, which is the story of a killer tire named Robert. This menacing villain has telekinetic powers, which sounds cool until you realize that instead of running people over in perhaps the manner of a Corman project like Death Race 2000, Robert is merely going to blow their heads up from a safe distance. Over and over again. Rubber could have been developed in countless ways, but the path it chooses turns out to be rather redundant, and the audience-within-the-film angle, intriguing at the beginning, is milked to death throughout the course of the picture, with its employment serving as a wink-wink meta-theory on the nature of filmmaking as well as a commentary on the voyeuristic nature of audiences (a premise tackled more effectively in the festival documentary Nenette and, of course, tackled definitively in Hitchcock’s Rear Window). Rubber offers believable special effects and a fine score by Dupieux and Gaspard Auge, but it runs out of gas far too early in the journey. ★★
Leave a Reply