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.
Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam in The Gentlemen (Photo: Universal & STX)
(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.)
BAD BOYS FOR LIFE (2020). If 1995’s fairly entertaining Bad Boys ranks as one of Michael Bay’s best movies and 2003’s truly repulsive Bad Boys II ranks as one of his worst, then where does that leave Bad Boys for Life? Certainly not on Bay’s filmography, as his name is nowhere to be found in the behind-the-camera credits (he does, however, make an unbilled cameo). Make of this what you will, but the Bay-less Bad Boys for Life turns out to be the best picture in this high-energy franchise. The first film came out during the Bill Clinton years and the second during the Bush Jr. regime, so that’s been plenty of time for Miami detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) to mature. But while Marcus has indeed calmed down and embraced his advanced age, Mike still imagines himself as an unstoppable cop: bold, bulletproof, and possessed by youthful vigor. So even though he expects Marcus to honor their enduring commitment of “We ride together, we die together,” his partner has other plans — namely, retirement. Directed by Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (billed as Adil & Bilall), Bad Boys for Life is a frequently funny and furiously fast-paced picture that nevertheless finds time to slow down and smell the consequences. Hardly a mindless action flick, this one has a real feel for its two heroes and the personal dramas they endure. This thoughtfulness also extends to the principal villains (a mother-and-son team played by Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio), whose backstories expand in interesting ways as the film progresses. The chemistry between the stars is stronger than ever, and while one expects Smith to play to his strengths as a cool and charming stud, the real surprise is Lawrence. He grounds this film with unexpected gravitas, and he even contributes several moving moments amidst all the gunplay.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece and alternate scenes.
CATTLE ANNIE AND LITTLE BRITCHES (1981). Cattle Annie and Little Britches is one of those movies that was basically thrown away by its studio, nationally playing in only a couple hundred theaters and disappearing from sight with only a half-million in the till. As such, the film has been hailed in some quarters as a buried treasure, yet while it bears a certain measure of charm, it isn’t quite as accomplished as its reputation might suggest. Annie (Amanda Plummer) and Jenny (Diane Lane) are teenage girls fending for themselves out in the Wild West. Admirers of the famed Doolin-Dalton gang, they eventually encounter the outlaws and basically become team members. The taciturn Bill Dalton (Scott Glenn) doesn’t give much thought to the kids, but the kindly Bill Doolin (Burt Lancaster) grows fond of them and even becomes a father figure to the introverted Jenny (nicknamed Little Britches by Doolin). Meanwhile, the more assertive Annie falls for spiritual gang member Bittercreek Newcomb (John Savage, flailing in a poorly written part). Cattle Annie and Little Britches is a more gentle version of the type of Western in which aging outlaws rue the passing of their way of life (The Wild Bunch chief among them); in this respect, the movie has nothing fresh to offer. Better is the angle of how these young girls cause old-timers to reflect on their current lot in life and decide whether it’s time to rally or retire. Plummer received rave reviews for her film debut, but time has shown that she has since always played variations of this character; still, she provides the movie with most of its energy. The real surprise is Rod Steiger, cast as the lawman in perpetual pursuit of the outlaws. At this point in his career, Steiger was prone to hamming it up, so it’s nice to see him deliver a restrained and dignified performance.
Blu-ray extras include an interview with producer Rupert Hitzig and the theatrical trailer.
THE GENTLEMEN (2020). Guy Ritchie is best known for his patented brand of films featuring tough guys, criminal enterprises, and snazzy dialogue that moves so fast, even Speedy Gonzalez and The Road Runner would be hard-pressed to keep up. After making his mark with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, it’s been sad watching him flounder. Aside from the surprisingly engaging The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (which at least shares some DNA with his trademark), he’s been lost at sea with such efforts as Swept Away, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and those hyperactive Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. With The Gentlemen, Ritchie has finally returned to his own corner of the jungle. Sharing scripting duties with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, the helmer has finally made a movie that recaptures the energy and eccentricity of his earliest pictures. Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Pearson, an American who runs the largest drug (only marijuana) empire in England. Once word gets out that Mickey is planning to retire, various figures hope to either buy his enterprise or take it outright. Squarely on Mickey’s side is his right-hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam); squarely against him is sleazy tabloid editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan). And seemingly playing both ends against the middle is seedy private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant). Since this is Guy Richie in Default Mode, expect lots of explosive violence, codes of conduct among some of the criminals, and various double-crosses, triple-crosses and, heck, maybe even quadruple-crosses. No one misses a beat in this film — that includes Michelle Dockery, sharp as Mickey’s wife, and Colin Farrell, stealing a few scenes as a likable coach who retains his patience, morals and manners even in ugly situations.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes piece; a look at the nicknames given for marijuana in the film; and a photo gallery.
LIKE A BOSS (2020). In lieu of an actual review, it’s sometimes tempting to quote a representative line or two from the movie being critiqued and leave it at that. This way, readers who hate the sample dialogue and want to wash their eyes out with soap will know to skip the film while those who think the words compare favorably to those spoken in, say, The Philadelphia Story or Double Indemnity will know that the Blu-ray should be purchased ASAP. With that in mind, here’s a choice bit of dialogue from Like a Boss. Upon someone mentioning that a particular man smells especially nice, one of the employees (Jennifer Coolidge) at the beauty shop Mia & Mel’s chirps, “Oh, he does smell fresh and clean, like a thermometer before it goes in your butt!” Somehow, I can’t quite picture Katharine Hepburn uttering such a line, but I digress. Like a Boss is a truly terrible movie that wastes the talents of a good cast in material that would be beneath everyone with the exception of Rob Schneider. It presents itself as being about female solidarity and feminine strength, as lifelong friends Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) sell 49% ownership of their cosmetic company to industry giant Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) and then fall victim to Claire’s efforts to tear them apart so she can gain control of the business. Really, though, it’s about finding obnoxious ways to demean its characters through witless situations and infantile quips. One could fill a dozen bingo cards with the insipid dialogue and moronic sight gags that saturate this film, from a discussion about rubbing a dog’s penis against one’s lips to a shot of a cake that’s shaped like a baby’s bloody head coming out of a vagina. Haddish and Byrne, usually exemplary comediennes, will need something superior to bounce back from this — heck, even an Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel might have to do.
Blu-ray extras include cast interviews and deleted scenes.
THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER (1935). For a stretch of five years during the 1930s, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw fit to hand out awards for Best Assistant Director before deciding to discontinue the category. For 1935, the winners were Clem Beauchamp and Paul Wing for their efforts on The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. The movie’s primary helmer, Henry Hathaway, was nominated for Best Director but did not win. The assistants receiving awards while the main man didn’t seems rather queer, but regardless of who deserves the credit, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer is a rousing adventure yarn laced with generous dollops of humor. Set during the lengthy period when the British Empire laid claim to India, the film stars Gary Cooper (just fine, although about as British as Kentucky Fried Chicken) as Lieutenant McGregor, an impulsive officer who has to contend with two newcomers to the ranks: Lieutenant Forsythe (Franchot Tone), whose dashing demeanor and wisecracking ways irritate McGregor, and Lieutenant Stone (Richard Cromwell), the greenhorn son of the unit’s commanding officer (Sir Guy Standing). Their collective camaraderie takes center stage until all three are taken prisoner by the notorious Mohammed Khan (Douglass Dumbrille). Incidentally, this movie marked the first use (albeit in a slightly different form) of the classic and now-clichéd line, “We have ways of making you talk!” Also incidentally, it’s long been noted that this was one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite films! In addition to the awards for Beauchamp and Wing and the nomination for Hathaway, the movie earned five additional nods, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Eddy Von Mueller; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for a half-dozen other films available on the Kino label.
SHOW BOAT (1936). James Whale is so recognized for his quartet of horror classics — Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House — that even some film buffs might occasionally forget that he also directed films in other genres (war, swashbuckler, mystery, and more). One of his biggest successes in the non-horror field was this musical adaptation of the Hammerstein-Kern stage smash, a lively motion picture that, approximately a decade after its original release, was taken out of circulation by MGM as it prepared its own lavish Technicolor version. Released in 1951, that Show Boat remains the most recognizable — it didn’t help that the ’36 edition went unseen for nearly 50 years — yet it’s matched or surpassed in most regards by this earlier version. Importing its actors from various stage productions (including the Broadway show), this focuses on the various characters aboard the titular entertainment center, a floating theater on the Mississippi River that’s overseen by Cap’n Andy Hawks (a magnificent Charles Winninger). Among the scenarios is the budding romance between Cap’n Andy’s daughter Magnolia (Irene Dunne) and suave gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Allan Jones), as well as the marriage between Julie (Helen Morgan) and Steve (Donald Cook), considered illegal in the South since Julie is half-black. The picture’s low point is Magnolia singing a number in blackface; the high point, now and forever, is Paul Robeson (as dock worker Joe) singing his immortal rendition of “Ol’ Man River.”
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 1989) by American-musical historian Miles Kreuger; an interview with Whale biographer James Curtis; the featurette Recognizing Race in Show Boat; 1979’s Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist, an Oscar winner for Best Documentary Short; and two radio adaptations, one introduced by, directed by, and co-starring (as Cap’n Andy) Orson Welles.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
CHERZOSO THE SILENT FILM According to the press notes, the 6-minute short Cherzoso The Silent Film was envisioned as a color film with dialogue. Instead, what has emerged is a black-and-white silent movie, complete with vertical lines slicing through the image to suggest a vintage picture that hasn’t been properly restored. It’s a clever approach (although I’m not sure if a pair of typos in the subtitles were likewise intentional or not), as it allows the piece to hearken back to silent cinema and stir memories of those ample early circus flicks (particularly the celebrated Lon Chaney efforts Laugh, Clown, Laugh and He Who Gets Slapped). Cherzoso is a one-woman show for Tracy Ann Chapel, who not only stars but also wrote and directed the short. It examines a pivotal moment in the life of a single mother who balances her job as a circus clown with her activities as an escort. Armed with only a handful of minutes, Cherzoso manages to capture the runaway-train nature of emotions, as one woman experiences fear, frustration and, perhaps for the first time, a small measure of serenity. (Cherzoso The Silent Film is currently available on select screening platforms, including Amazon Prime.)