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.
Yifei Liu in Mulan (Photo: Disney)
(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.)
CONTINENTAL DIVIDE (1981). Although Continental Divide was the first film released under Steven Spielberg’s Amblin banner, it’s best known as that movie where John Belushi plays a totally normal guy. And he’s quite good at it, delivering an easygoing turn as a Chicago newspaper columnist who hightails it to the Rockies to interview an ornithologist. But when Ernie Souchak and Nell Porter (Blair Brown) first meet, it’s clear they have nothing in common: He prefers city life, cigarettes, and booze; she prefers nature, animals, and tranquility. Naturally, they fall in love. It may be true that opposites attract, but there is so little common ground between these characters — none, in fact — that their romance is never believable. The film is at its best when it ignores their relationship and concentrates on other matters (Ernie tackling big-city corruption, Nell studying American bald eagles). Regardless of what’s happening in Lawrence Kasdan’s schematic screenplay, Belushi and Brown save the movie with their warmth and charm.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Daniel Kremer and Nat Segaloff, and the theatrical trailer.
D.C. CAB (1983). “Why are women so uptight? They’ve got half the money and all the pussy!” And so it goes with D.C. Cab, the sort of disreputable comedy that could only have been made during the 1980s. Like many faves of the period, it’s lewd, crude, and rude, but it deserves a salute for featuring as eclectic a cast as can be found this side of Otto Preminger’s Skidoo. Its plot is nothing more than the usual nonsense: Various misfits — in this case, taxi drivers — earn no respect until a crisis forces them to band together and save the day. Harold (Max Gail, Wojo on Barney Miller) runs the place, Albert (Adam Baldwin) is the new kid on the job, and the excitable Tyrone (Charlie Barnett) has a crush on Irene Cara (who appears as herself in a brief cameo). There’s also Mr. T as a conscientious cabbie, Gary Busey as a foul-mouthed joker, Bill Maher (yes, that Bill Maher) as a sensitive sort, Paul Rodriguez as a ladies’ man, The Barbarian Brothers (using up 5 of their 15 minutes of fame) as rowdy drivers, Whitman Mayo (Grady on Sanford and Son) as Mr. Rhythm, and Timothy Carey as the Angel of Death. Whew! Despite that roster, the movie’s not particularly funny, but a few six-packs could help.
Blu-ray extras include radio spots and the theatrical trailer.
MULAN (2020). While 2019’s photorealistic remake of 1994’s The Lion King felt like Disney staging its own invasion of the body snatchers — everything looks the same, only stiff and emotionless! — this live-action Mulan thankfully avoids frigid fealty to its animated 1998 predecessor. Instead, it jettisons all of the songs, most of the knockabout humor, and even Mushu the scene-stealing dragon (Eddie Murphy in basically a test drive for Shrek), leaving behind a durable drama told with sweep and style. As before, Mulan (Yifei Liu) is a headstrong young woman who, learning that her frail father (Tzi Ma) must join the Imperial Army in a time of war, disguises herself as a man and takes his place on the battlefield. The silly scenes (e.g. Mulan, the matchmaker, and a tea set) are played too broadly and should have been removed, and the picture’s view of the Chinese notion of “chi” leans so heavily on Hollywood ideals that it’s surprising no one ever says, “May the Chi be with you.” But the story is inspiring, the action scenes are rousing, and cinematographer Mandy Walker’s shot selections are dazzling. All this plus the great Gong Li as a sympathetic villainess.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes piece; deleted scenes; and music videos.
THE NEW MUTANTS (2020). Despite all the production upheavals, all the conflicting visions, and all the false starts (when it comes to release dates, the film’s been bounced more than a ping pong ball), this middling X-Men entry is still superior to Dark Phoenix (reviewed here), the depressing dud that managed to kill off a once-proud franchise. Setting up a new series of X-rated adventures — but mangling the assignment so thoroughly that follow-ups are unlikely to materialize — this centers on five troubled teens confined to a remote hospital. The newcomer is the Native American Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt), who becomes the instant BFF of the Scottish Rahne (Maisie Williams), gets along with the hickish Sam (Charlie Heaton) and the Brazilian Bobby (Henry Zaga), and runs afoul of the Russian Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy). All are mutants with unique powers, but it isn’t until they pool their resources that they’re able to conquer their inner (and some outer) demons. Even with most of the film devoted to exposition, this feels unformed and unfinished, with half-baked YA interludes, ill-defined villains, and ungainly action sequences.
Blu-ray extras include a piece on the film’s genesis; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
POPEYE (1980). It’s easy to see why many critics viewed Popeye as an abomination upon its initial release; it’s also easy to understand why select reviewers declared it an unqualified winner. Those who can get on its wavelength will appreciate its eccentricities; those who cannot will find its whimsy the equivalent of waterboarding. Those who detest it will insist that the choice of Robert Altman as director was a horrific one; those who love it will insist his hiring was a stroke of genius. The overacting by all involved might be suitable for the project, but it’s uncured ham nevertheless. Robin Williams (Popeye) mumbles, Shelley Duvall (Olive Oyl) frets, Paul L. Smith (Bluto) roars, and I have no idea what Ray Walston (Poopdeck Pappy) is doing. The suitably dilapidated sets are certainly more impressive than the wince-inducing tunes by Harry Nilsson (I much prefer his charming tunes for 1971’s The Point, reviewed here).
Blu-ray extras include archival interviews with Altman and Williams, photos from the movie’s 1980 premiere; and the option to cut to all the songs featured in the film.
POSSESSOR UNCUT (2020). David Cronenberg’s first films were intriguing but also messy, muddled, and cold to the touch — they featured pawns rather than people, and the ideas often threatened to overpower the execution. His son Brandon Cronenberg might be offering a generational déjà vu, as his sophomore effort (I haven’t seen his first picture, Antiviral) unspools in similar fashion. Brandon has swiped his dad’s recurring obsessions — betrayal by one’s own body; loss of identity; the relationship between man and machine; the allure of sexual perversities — and applied them to this thriller about an outfit that employs brain-implant technology to place its agents inside the bodies of innocents to perform assassinations. As the group’s top killer (Andrea Riseborough) tries to carry out her latest assignment, she finds her subject (Christopher Abbott) unexpectedly fighting back. Some heady ideas are ultimately buried under the film’s lack of specificity and surplus of gore.
Blu-ray extras consist of behind-the-scenes material; deleted scenes; and theatrical trailers.
TRADING PLACES (1983) / BEVERLY HILLS COP (1984) / THE GOLDEN CHILD (1986) / COMING TO AMERICA (1988). Beginning with his dynamic film debut in 1982’s 48 Hrs., Eddie Murphy headlined nothing but hits for a full decade, marking him as one of the most reliable box office draws of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Sadly, 48 Hrs. hasn’t been treated to a deluxe new release, but four other flicks from this robust period are being offered in newly remastered editions, two in 4K Ultra HD (Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America) and two as part of the Paramount Presents series (Trading Places and The Golden Child, the latter also making its Blu-ray debut).
A variation on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, Trading Places teams Murphy with fellow Saturday Night Live player Dan Aykroyd for a sharp comedy in which a bet made by sleazy millionaires Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) results in snobbish executive Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) being left homeless and penniless while street-smart hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) is given Winthorpe’s house, job and finances. The two stars (especially Murphy) are terrific, and the supporting cast provides additional flavor: Bellamy and Ameche as the insidious Duke brothers and Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis as, respectively, the butler and the hooker who assist our heroes.
Murphy’s biggest hit, Beverly Hills Cop also remains noteworthy as the film that best makes use of his explosive comic instincts. He’s sensational as Detroit cop Axel Foley, sniffing out his best friend’s killers in swanky Beverly Hills with the help of by-the-book LA detectives Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Taggart (John Ashton) and the hindrance of stern police captain Bogomil (Ronny Cox). This high-octane action-comedy was originally conceived as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, who (thankfully!) dropped out after many cast and crew members were already in place. Daniel Petrie Jr. and Danilo Bach earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, although so much of the dialogue was ad-libbed by Murphy that he probably deserved credit as well. This was followed by a pair of lamentable sequels.
With The Golden Child, Murphy unfortunately (if unsurprisingly) morphs from Explosive Comic Talent to Narcissistic Action Star. No one else could have played Axel Foley, Billy Ray Valentine or 48 Hrs.’s Reggie Hammond quite like Murphy, whereas a dozen other actors could have tackled The Golden Child’s Chandler Jarrell in exactly the same preening, paycheck-cashing manner. After a Tibetan boy (J.L. Reate) with mystical powers is kidnapped by a demonic emissary (Charles Dance), those responsible for the child’s safety determine that Chandler, a Los Angeles social worker who specializes in finding missing children, is “The Chosen One” and thus the only person who can rescue the tyke. The Golden Child offers lots of special effects but little else that can be deemed special.
Trading Places director John Landis reteams with Murphy five years later for Coming to America, a sweet-natured comedy with an R-rated edge. Murphy delivers one of his most gratifying performances as Prince Akeem, who, with his reluctant aide (Arsenio Hall) at his side, travels from his African homeland of Zamunda to New York City in the hopes of falling in love. Naturally, he elects to look for his future queen in Queens. James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair play Akeem’s parents, King Jaffe Joffer and Queen Aoleon; six years later, the pair would reunite to portray another royal couple, Mufasa and Sarabi, in the animated smash The Lion King. Added bonus: The clever cameos that loop back to Trading Places.
All four films are sold separately. Extras on Trading Places include a new discussion with Landis; a making-of featurette; and deleted scenes. Extras on Beverly Hills Cop include audio commentary by director Martin Brest; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a piece on the music. Extras on The Golden Child include a new making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer. Extras on Coming to America (which is also available as a steelbook containing a bonus poster) include a making-of featurette; pieces on the contributions by makeup artist Rick Baker and costume designer Deborah Nadoolman, both of whom earned Oscar nominations for their work on the film; and a chat with Murphy and Hall.
Trading Places: ★★★
Beverly Hills Cop: ★★★½
The Golden Child: ★★
Coming to America: ★★★