Liam Neeson in Honest Thief (Photo: Universal)

(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.)

Deborah Kara Unger and James Spader in Crash (Photo: Criterion)

CRASH (1996). An exercise in “exploitation chic” that has divided filmmakers as well as film critics (Scorsese loves it, Coppola hates it), this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel finds director David Cronenberg spinning his wheels as he returns to some of his favorite themes with diminishing returns. James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger star as a bored couple who find renewed purpose in their amorous escapades after joining a group of people who get sexually aroused by horrific car accidents. For a film that inspired so much controversy upon its release, it’s ultimately too mechanical and too surface-skimming to either disgust or delight.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 1997) by Cronenberg; a 1996 Q&A with Cronenberg and Ballard; and behind-the-scenes footage.

Movie: ★½

Richard Benjamin and Carrie Snodgress in Diary of a Mad Housewife (Photo: Kino)

DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE (1970). Another winner from the husband-and-wife team of director Frank Perry and screenwriter Eleanor Perry (see The Swimmer, reviewed here), this earned Carrie Snodgress an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She’s cast as Tina Balser, an unhappy wife saddled with a loutish husband (Richard Benjamin) who constantly bullies and berates her, even in front of their two bratty daughters. She embarks on an affair with a charming yet casually cruel writer (Frank Langella) who proves to be as repellent as her spouse. This searing seriocomedy is distinguished by its astute insights and wry dialogue.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by screenwriter Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, American Crime Story) and film historians Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell, and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★½

Liam Neeson in Honest Thief (Photo: Universal)

HONEST THIEF (2020). That dopey title suggests not so much a Liam Neeson actioner as much as a parody of a Liam Neeson actioner, perhaps to be followed by Kindly Assassin or Benevolent Torturer. But it’s actually the genuine article, a grim thriller in which his character once again possesses a particular set of skills that can be generously applied to those anger him. Here, he’s Tom Carter, a successful bank robber who decides to come clean and return all the money after he falls in love (Kate Walsh plays his sweetheart). He sends two FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) to retrieve the money because, you know, all law officers are honest, trustworthy people who would never be tempted by $9 million in cash. Someone gets murdered, Tom gets framed, and the rest alternates between gripping suspense and boneheaded plotting.

There are no extras on the Blu-ray.

Movie: ★★½

Nadine Nortier and Jean-Claude Guilbert in Mouchette (Photo: Criterion)

MOUCHETTE (1967). French writer-director Robert Bresson followed 1966’s Au hasard Balthazar with another film equally as unlikely to top anyone’s list of “feel-good” movies. Whereas Balthazar focused on the miserable life of a donkey, Mouchette centers on the miserable life of a girl. Living with a drunken father and a sickly mother, teenage Mouchette (Nadine Nortier) has to deal with mean classmates, aloof neighbors, and a thieving peasant (Jean-Claude Guilbert) who sexually assaults her. Even if it doesn’t quite reach the artistic heights of Au hasard Balthazar, Mouchette is still an affecting piece about the commonality of rural tragedy.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 2006) by film scholar Tony Rayns; the 1967 documentary short Au hasard Bresson; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★

Raining in the Mountain (Photo: Film Movement)

RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN (1979). Set during the Ming Dynasty, this Hong Kong import by director King Hu concerns itself with the efforts of various disreputable folks to lift a MacGuffin-esque scroll from a desolate monastery. As the warring factions of villains plot their strategies, the elderly abbot prepares to name his successor. A repetitive nature dings the film — why watch people constantly traverse the grounds or lurk in the shadows for one minute when five are available? — but vivid characters and robust action set-pieces help overcome any lulls.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film scholar and Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns; a video essay by author Stephen Teo (Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition); and theatrical trailers.

Movie: ★★★

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner (Photo: Warner Archive)

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940). In the same year in which they appeared in The Mortal Storm (reviewed here), James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Frank Morgan co-starred in this delightful romantic comedy that was later reconfigured as 1998’s You’ve Got Mail. Two bickering employees (Sullavan and Stewart) at a Hungarian retail store don’t suspect that they’re actually each other’s lovestruck pen pal. Morgan plays the shop owner, just one of the many characters brought to vibrant life by director Ernst Lubitsch, scripter Samson Raphaelson, and a peerless cast. Set just before Christmas, it’s a sound selection for holiday viewing.

Blu-ray extras consist of two radio adaptations, one with Sullavan and Stewart, the other featuring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche; the 1940 live-action short The Miracle of Sound; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★½

2 Comments »

  1. My poor addled mind instantly conflated and confused ‘Honest Thief’ with Neil Jordan’s ‘The Good Thief’. Though I’ve greatly enjoyed every other Jordan film I’ve seen, I’ve never bothered with that one — I mean… how could it improve upon Melville’s ‘Bob le flambeur’? (no need to answer that!).

    Your sequel ideas have potential! When I hear ‘Benevolent Torturer’, I can’t help but fondly picture Vincent Schiavelli’s ‘Dr. Kaufman’ from ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Schiavelli’s irreplaceable, though. 😦

    • Happy New Year!

      I recall enjoying THE GOOD THIEF when I saw it back in the day, but I haven’t seen it since. But I tend to think Nick Nolte (almost) always makes any project interesting.

      As a HUGE Bond fan, I consider TOMORROW NEVER DIES the worst of all 007 features (Bond vs. Rupert Murdoch hardly seems like a fair fight), edging out A VIEW TO A KILL. But the ONE bright spot was indeed Schiavelli; he’s so great in the film that I wish his role had been much larger.

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