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.
Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love (Photo: Criterion)
(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.)
CÉLINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (1974). How to describe this unique cinematic contribution from French New Wave practitioner Jacques Rivette? Writing the script in collaboration with his four leading ladies, Rivette starts with a smattering of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, employs Henry James as an interior pillar, and then proceeds to tinker with (and, in some instances, destroy) the very act and the very art of narrative storytelling. Céline (Juliet Berto), a stage magician, and Julie (Dominique Labourier), a librarian, are best buddies and roommates who tag-team on a number of bizarre adventures, none more wacky than the one which finds them visiting a strange mansion from another time period. There, they watch as the residents — two women (Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier), one man (Barbet Schroeder), and a little girl (Nathalie Asnar) — become embroiled in a murder; eventually, our heroines decide to partake in the drama themselves. An overextended running time (three hours and 13 minutes) is the film’s greatest sin; an unfettered imagination is its greatest strength.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film critic Adrian Martin; “Jacques Rivette: Le veilleur,” a 1994 feature-length interview/episode from the French TV series Cinema, de notre temps, directed by Claire Denis; new interviews with Ogier and Schroeder; and archival interviews with Rivette, Berto, Labourier, Ogier, and Pisier.
EVENT HORIZON (1997). Considering the overall wretchedness of director Paul W.S. Anderson’s output (credits include Mortal Kombat, Pompeii, and four entries in the deathless Resident Evil franchise), it should be noted that this critical and commercial underachiever has over time emerged as the best of his films. (Faint praise, I know.) Set in 2047, it finds the members of a rescue team sent deep into space to scope out the Event Horizon, a spaceship that’s been missing for seven years. Leading the mission is Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), with Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson) ably serving as his second-in-command; joining the seven-person team is Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), the designer of the AWOL ship. With the Event Horizon aping the Overlook Hotel by housing an evil force within its walls, it’s understandable that scripter Philip Eisner’s studio pitch was “The Shining in space”; what he failed to mention was that it also owes allegiance to Alien and Hellraiser. Still, its derivative nature and a handful of risible moments are often forgotten in the wake of its impressive production design and its solid cast.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt; a making-of piece; deleted and extended scenes; and no less than 11 new interviews with various cast and crew members, including Anderson, Eisner, and co-stars Kathleen Quinlan and Jack Noseworthy.
GODZILLA (2014). Godzilla (birth name: Gojira) has been such a popular commodity over the decades that even the Yanks elected to take a crack at the Japanese superstar: The result was 1998’s hopeless Godzilla vs. Ferris Bueller, with the oversized monster no match for Matthew Broderick’s shtick. This version is better, as various scientists and soldiers witness the arrival of gargantuan creatures that destroy everything in their path. It’s clear that Earth needs a hero to vanquish them, and that’s where The Big G comes in. After an hour in which he’s been noticeably MIA, we’re ready for the remaining 65 minutes to offer wall-to-wall Godzilla … only it doesn’t work out that way. With continued emphasis on the humans (particularly Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s solemn soldier, the least interesting of the protagonists) and much of the discussion (and action) centering around the other creatures, Godzilla ends up becoming a supporting player in what’s ostensibly his movie. The visual effects are excellent (although they’re still often on the dark side on the 4K), but I must confess a bit of disappointment in the design of Godzilla in his latest incarnation. Stockier than normal, one gets the feeling he’s spent the past few years guzzling Kirin Ichiban or Sapporo Draft while lounging on the ocean floor — how else to explain that sizable beer belly?
Extras in the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray edition include a behind-the-scenes featurette; pieces on the effects; and a three-part examination that offers further expansion of the film’s mythology.
RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985). A rare quality credit for The Cannon Group, the ’80s outfit responsible for a sizable number of junky action films, Runaway Train is based on an unused screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, which right there gives it a sizable shot of class and import. Director Andrei Konchalovsky and a trio of scripters do right by Kurosawa, delivering an exciting yarn in which two cons (Jon Voight and Eric Roberts) break out of an Alaskan prison and hop aboard a train whose engineer has just fallen off the transport, dead from a heart attack. Barreling toward oblivion, the pair must figure out how to stop the out-of-control machine, with a menial train employee (Rebecca De Mornay) as the only other passenger. Roberts is overly mannered yet still effective, but it’s Voight who’s the powerhouse here, delivering one of his best performances as a hardened convict who’s equal parts man and beast. Look for Danny Trejo in his film debut in a small role; this also marked the first film appearance of Tommy “Tiny” Lister (who passed away this past December). Runaway Train earned a trio of Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Voight), Best Supporting Actor (Roberts), and Best Film Editing.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Roberts and film historians David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner; the Trailers from Hell segment on the film; and the theatrical trailer.
SHOOT OUT (1971). Director Henry Hathaway, writer Marguerite Roberts, and producer Hal Wallis had previously collaborated on 1969’s True Grit, starring John Wayne as a grouchy cowboy saddled with a young girl. The film was an enormous hit and won Wayne a Best Actor Oscar, so the trio decided to make, yup, another film about a grouchy cowboy saddled with a young girl. Brilliant! Unfortunately, the ingredients that worked so well in True Grit are nowhere to be found in Shoot Out, a standard revenge flick with a moppet added to the formula. Gregory Peck plays Clay Lomax, a bank robber who’s released from prison with only one thing on his mind: Locate and kill Sam Foley (James Gregory), the partner who betrayed him. Foley hires three disreputable characters to keep tabs on Lomax, but the jailbird has his hands full taking care of a six-year-old girl (Dawn Lyn) who may or may not be his daughter. Peck offers his usual conviction to the project, but the supporting cast is an awfully weak one, with most either overacting or underplaying. Despite its familiarity, the revenge aspect of the script is far more entertaining than the soppy material involving the precocious child.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film critic Nick Pinkerton; the theatrical trailer; and theatrical trailers for four other Westerns available on the Kino Lorber label.
WORLD OF WONG KAR WAI (1988-2004). For a filmmaker whose works have often been acknowledged as style over substance, Hong Kong writer-director Wong Kar-wai has done quite well for himself. Considered one of the leading masters of international cinema, he often finds his films included on not only lists of the best movies of the year or even the decade, but of all time. This handsome box set from Criterion brings together seven of his 10 feature films to date (the missing three: 1994’s Ashes of Time, 2007’s My Blueberry Nights, and 2013’s The Grandmaster).
Just as Mean Streets brought attention to Martin Scorsese, As Tears Go By (1988) did likewise for Wong by establishing him as a filmmaker to watch. The comparison is apt, as As Tears Go By plays like a so-so variation of the Scorsese flick. Instead of Charlie and Johnny Boy, though, there’s the small-time criminal Wah (Andy Lau) constantly trying to keep his misfit friend and wingman Fly (Jacky Cheung) out of trouble.
Days of Being Wild (1990) is a moderately interesting drama in which the womanizing Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) successively breaks the hearts of the gentle Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and the brassy Mimi (Carina Lau).
Chungking Express (1994) is an intertwined two-parter about cops in love. The first story, in which a policeman (Takeshi Kaneshiro) gets involved with a mysterious woman (Brigitte Lin) in a blonde wig, is sturdy enough, but the real keeper is the second vignette. That’s primarily because of the performance of Faye Wong, a real delight as a food-shop employee who finds herself attracted to a cop (Tony Leung, soon to become Wong’s MVP) still pining away for his ex-girlfriend.
Fallen Angels (1995) is another picture that can be sliced into two pieces. The first tale involves the professional relationship between a hit man (Leon Lai) and the woman (Michelle Reis) who arranges his kills. The second is a disarming yarn about a mute misfit (Kaneshiro) with some decidedly antisocial tendencies.
A key entry in LGBT cinema, Happy Together (1997) earned Wong the Best Director prize at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. Leung (in a great performance) and Leslie Cheung star as a homosexual couple who travel to Argentina hoping to reinvigorate their relationship; instead, the trip turns out to be the beginning of the end.
In the Mood for Love (2000) is Wong’s best picture, a richly textured and deeply moving saga about star-crossed lovers. Leung and Maggie Cheung are gorgeous and glorious together, as two neighbors who learn that their respective spouses are having an affair with each other. They determine that they will remain platonic friends, a decision that proves torturous as time marches forward.
2046 (2004) is the ambitious sequel to In the Mood for Love, adding unexpected sci-fi elements to the story. Leung returns (as does Cheung, ever so briefly), with his character this time getting involved with three radically different women (Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong, and the great Gong Li).
Blu-ray extras include a piece in which Wong answers questions posed by various celebrities, including Sofia Coppola and Nomadland writer-director Chloé Zhao; an extended version of Wong’s 2004 short film The Hand; Wong’s 2000 short film Hua yang de nian hua; deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and trailers for various titles; and interviews with many of Wong’s stars, including Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung.
As Tears Go By: ★★½
Days of Being Wild: ★★½
Chungking Express: ★★★
Fallen Angels: ★★★
Happy Together: ★★★
In the Mood for Love: ★★★½