Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Photo: Lionsgate)

(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.)

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Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep (Photo: Warner)

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019). Writer-director Mike Flanagan has stated that Doctor Sleep, which follows The Shining’s Danny Torrance as an adult (Ewan McGregor), is meant as a combination of the finer qualities of Stephen King’s two novels and Stanley Kubrick’s film. Regardless of his best intentions, his cinematic endeavor turns out to be a flavorless stew. Its only noteworthy ingredient is Rose the Hat — she’s an original and unsettling villain, memorably brought to life by Rebecca Ferguson. The other members of her group of psychic vampires are far less threatening, coming across less as avatars of unspeakable evil and more as burned-out roadies still loyally following their favorite ‘70s band after all these decades. There’s nothing wrong with McGregor’s performance as Dan except that he doesn’t deep-dive far enough into the character’s tortured mind — he feels more like a visitor to the role than an actual occupant. Meanwhile, the decision to recreate scenes from the 1980 movie prove to be disastrous, and the picture finally jumps the tracks during its final stretch, when the action moves to the Overlook Hotel. These sequences, which feel like an afterthought when compared to the rhythm established throughout the earlier chunk of the film, are not only completely devoid of tension, they’re also missing something even more crucial: the palpable atmosphere that in The Shining was so thick, it was practically a character unto itself. In Doctor Sleep, there is no comparable atmosphere. It’s been replaced with a thin veneer of flop sweat, ably demonstrating that all work and no coherent vision makes for a movie that, if not exactly dull, could still use a little more shine.

The Blu-ray edition contains both the theatrical version as well as a director’s cut that runs an additional half-hour. Extras include a making-of featurette and a discussion with King and Flanagan.

Movie: ★★

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Henry Fonda in Fail-Safe (Photo: Criterion)

FAIL-SAFE (1964). Stanley Kubrick insisted that Columbia Pictures release his nuclear-powered picture first, which spelt doom for the studio’s other movie in this vein. Indeed, with its outrageous black-comedy trappings, 1964’s Dr. Strangelove was an instant (albeit controversial) hit and quickly came to be considered a movie masterpiece; conversely, Fail-Safe, which played the same scenario straight, has long fallen by the wayside. In truth, both movies are superb, and while Dr. Strangelove is admittedly the superior picture in practically every regard, Fail-Safe bests it when it comes to nerve-wracking tension — a dynamic that in the Kubrick flick is rendered irrelevant in the face of so much comic potency. Directed by Sidney Lumet from a script by Walter Bernstein, Fail-Safe details the nightmare that unfolds when a computer glitch results in a group of American bombers being ordered to drop its cargo on Moscow. When efforts to recall the planes lead nowhere, the U.S. President (Henry Fonda, Lumet’s 12 Angry Men star), with the aid of an interpreter (a young Larry Hagman), must convince the dubious Russian premier that the impending attack is an accident. Seeking to avoid World War III, the nations’ leaders decide to work together, a truce that’s met with skepticism and anger by the more hawkish members of each country’s military. Fonda is excellent as the liberal leader who’s calm, collected, and angling for peace over war (a far cry from the vile madman currently soiling White House sheets), while Walter Matthau is interestingly cast as a civilian advisor who believes in striking while the iron is hot. The fact that Lumet relates the story with minimal fuss only enhances the realism of this fictional situation, which in turn accentuates the sweat-inducing suspense.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary (from 2000) by Lumet; the 2000 documentary short Fail Safe Revisited; and a new interview with critic J. Hoberman about Cold War films.

Movie: ★★★★

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Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren in The Good Liar (Photo: Warner)

THE GOOD LIAR (2019). Here’s the thing about The Good Liar, the adults-only movie featuring the dynamic duo of Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen. If you’ve seen the trailer, you probably know the twist. If you sit through the first half-hour, you probably can deduce where it’s heading. But like many a sturdy thriller, there’s more than meets the eye, and before it’s over, the film will have deepened into something more than just a story about a con man trying to bilk an elderly woman out of her money. McKellen plays Roy Courtnay, a seasoned con man whose latest target is Betty McLeish (Mirren), a widow whose assets are worth close to a staggering three million pounds. Only this con proves to be a bit more complicated, largely due to the presence of Betty’s suspicious grandson Steven (Russell Tovey). Although McKellen has played villains before, few have been as dark and dangerous as the one he essays in The Good Liar. The expected easy charm and twinkly demeanor are very much in evidence in the scenes in which Roy is courting Betty, but they disappear the nanosecond they part company, melting away to reveal a stone-faced sullenness and a casual air of evil usually associated only with serial killers and Gestapo officers. The story takes a few hairpin turns as it heads toward its denouement, and, admittedly, some of it veers into preposterousness. In other words, this is the sort of movie where certain situations must unfold in a precise manner for everything to work out as the script requires. That’s often a crippling deficiency in a thriller, but not here. With formidable performances by Mirren and especially McKellen and a plot that intensifies in meaning and motive, The Good Liar takes a gamble that pays off handsomely.

Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of piece and deleted scenes.

Movie: ★★★

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Kevin Smith and Harley Quinn Smith in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Photo: Lionsgate)

JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT (2019). The eighth film set in writer-director Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse contains a few awkward and even embarrassing scenes as well as numerous hilarious sequences — in other words, it’s the typical Jay and Silent Bob feature. Newcomers need not apply; fans of the series, however, will find much to appreciate in this typically raucous outing. In 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the plot involved the title stoners (Jason Mewes and Smith) heading to Hollywood to stop the production of a movie based on their comic-book alter egos Bluntman and Chronic. In Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, the plot involves — well, it’s the same plot, with the boys again heading to LA to block the film from ever seeing the light of day. The major new development is that Jay learns he has a teenage daughter named Millennium “Milly” Falcon (Harley Quinn Smith, Kevin’s real-life daughter). The rest is business as usual, consisting of the expected marijuana-motivated gags, shout-outs to various pop culture staples, and actors from past View Askewniverse flicks reprising their roles: Ben Affleck as Chasing Amy’s Holden McNeil, Matt Damon as Dogma’s Loki, Jason Lee as Mallrats’ Brodie Bruce (not, alas, Chasing Amy’s Banky Edwards), Brian O’Halloran as Clerks’ Dante Hicks, and so on. A major Marvel/Avengers star turns up in the scenes set at Chronic-Con, although it’s the end-credits cameo that might lead to eyes tearing up (nuff said). There’s also an amusing monologue from Brodie about the difference between remakes and reboots, and a surprisingly poignant speech from Holden about the truly important things in life. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is frequently sloppy and sophomoric, but it can also be smart, sentimental and sincere.

Blu-ray extras include cast interviews and bloopers.

Movie: ★★★

Film Title: Last Christmas
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas (Photo: Universal)

LAST CHRISTMAS (2019). Dismissed by those moviegoers whose idea of romance is watching Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck lovingly stroke a handgun, Last Christmas is a charming seriocomedy that manages to survive its rather obvious twist. Emilia Clarke is aces as Kate, a cynical woman who works in a unique shop that specializes in offbeat Yuletide items. Ever since a major operation the previous Christmas, Kate hasn’t been the same. She gets along with her laid-back father (Boris Isakovic), but it’s rare when she’s not arguing with her successful sister (Lydia Leonard) or her overbearing mother (Emma Thompson), and it’s even rarer when she allows herself any semblance of happiness. That gradually starts to change when she meets Tom (Henry Golding), an affable chap who’s perpetually insisting that she look at the bright side of life. Thompson, who won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Sense and Sensibility, here shares story credit with her husband (and S&S co-star) Greg Wise and screenplay credit with performance artist Bryony Kimmings. Together, the trio have concocted a disarming piece that, in true Scrooge and Grinch fashion, witnesses the slow and steady thawing of a heart in the midst of holiday festivities. The movie is so adept at capturing the spirit and warmth of the season that the big twist honestly wasn’t even needed to stick the landing. And since it’s far more obvious than the ones in, say, The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, it threatens to potentially derail the picture as it heads toward its finale. Instead, director Paul Feig and his writers have by this point so thoroughly allowed us to invest in their characters that this narrative gotcha ultimately doesn’t seem excessive and might even strike some as unavoidable.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Feig and Thompson; an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; and bloopers.

Movie: ★★★

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Natalie Wood and Ian Bannen in Penelope (Photo: Warner Archive Collection)

PENELOPE (1966). The Penelope of the title is played by Natalie Wood, and she’s certainly at her most animated and effervescent. That’s a good thing, since the movie itself is forgettable fluff that’s only marginally buoyed by the efforts of its leading lady and one particular supporting player. That would be Peter Falk, who was an excellent (and twice Oscar-nominated) character actor in the movies before becoming a superstar on television. Here, he’s cast as a detective who, as someone notes, doesn’t look or act like a detective and who seems to have figured out the mystery almost from the start — all that’s missing is his character uttering, “Just one more thing.” As for Wood, she throws herself into the part of Penelope Elcott, who’s frustrated that her husband James (Ian Bannen) spends more time doting on his bank than on her. Having always had an inclination to steal, she decides to rob James’ bank disguised as an old woman (the impressive makeup comes courtesy of Oscar-winning maestro William Tuttle of 7 Faces of Dr. Lao and Young Frankenstein). She relates all of this to her psychiatrist Gregory Mannix (Dick Shawn), who’s in love with her. Meanwhile, the bank robbery is being investigated by a police lieutenant with the great name of  Horatio Bixbee (Falk); he, too, has fallen for the perky Penelope. Jonathan Winters is wasted as a lecherous college professor, although it’s always nice to see Fritz Feld — he of the famous “mouth pop” (everything from an episode of TV’s Lost in Space to Mel Brooks’ History of the World — Part I) — turn up just long enough to execute his trademark sound.

Blu-ray extras consist of a featurette on legendary costume designer Edith Head (who worked on this picture) and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★½

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John Gordon Sinclair and Dee Hepburn in Gregory’s Girl (Photo: Film Movement)

Short And Sweet:

GREGORY’S GIRL (1981). Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth, whose 1983 gem Local Hero was recently reviewed here, fashioned a sweet and disarming teen comedy that was more mature and less raunchy than all its like-minded American counterparts that would end up blanketing the decade. When gawky Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is replaced at his position on the school soccer team by ace player Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), he’s smitten rather than smarting. Taking womanly advice from his 10-year-old sister (Allison Forster), the inexperienced Gregory attempts to woo Dorothy, only to learn that his classmates have something else in mind. The performances are lovely and the dialogue is bright — all that’s missing are more scenes between Gregory and Dorothy, since those are among the movie’s best.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Forsyth, and interviews with Forsyth and co-star Clare Grogan.

Movie: ★★★

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Connie Stevens in Two on a Guillotine (Photo: Warner Archive Collection)

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965). Inspired title, uninspired movie. William Conrad (yes, the Cannon / Jake and the Fatman actor) helms this ho-hum chiller in which Melinda Duquesne (Connie Stevens), the wife of stage magician Duke Duquesne (Cesar Romero, a year before beginning his stint as The Joker on TV’s Batman) and the mother of little Cassie, disappears without a trace. Decades pass, Duke passes on, and the grown-up Cassie (also Stevens) will inherit her dad’s fortune only if she can spend a week in his creaky and creepy mansion. With a reporter (Dean Jones) at her side, Cassie accepts the challenge, but the stay forces her to wonder whatever happened to her mother and if her father might actually still be alive. All of the ingredients are there for a memorable “haunted house” yarn on the order of 13 Ghosts or House on Haunted Hill, but the direction is flat, the mystery is anemic, and the shudders are as MIA as Melinda Duquesne.

The only extra on the Blu-ray is the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★

 

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