Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field (Photo: Kino & MGM)

(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)

After Life (Photo: Criterion)

AFTER LIFE (1998). In a way station positioned between Earth and Heaven, benevolent employees inform the newly arrived (i.e. recently deceased) that they’ll have three days to choose one memory from their entire lives. That memory will then be recreated on film by the celestial crew and will become the only thing that these fresh souls will take with them to Heaven. This opens the floodgates for a great number of character vignettes: An elderly woman chooses a quiet respite on a park bench; a man picks his flight on a small aircraft; a teenage girl settles on a moment from her trip to Disneyland (or at least until an employee informs her that 29 other people over the past year alone — most of them teenage girls — chose Disneyland as well); a couple of characters insist they have no pleasant memories from which to draw; and so on. An intensely personal experience (I defy any viewer not to mull over their own choices after watching this), this lovely and introspective film from Japanese writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda is also a life-affirming drama that poignantly illustrates how anyone has the ability not only to reconnect with their own past but to further embrace those moments (even if they were fleeting and few) that made it all worthwhile. Knowing that many of the memories have a factual basis (Kore-eda interviewed hundreds of folks while preparing this movie) only adds to its immense appeal.

Blu-ray extras consist of film scholar audio commentary; new interviews with Kore-eda and cinematographers Masayoshi Sukita and Yutaka Yamazaki; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★½

Romy Schneider and Alain Delon in La piscine (Photo: Criterion)

LA PISCINE (1969). The 2016 release A Bigger Splash was a remake of director Jacques Deray’s La piscine, and, as I wrote in my mixed review of that film (found here), it was “yet another example of the gift of gab getting overpowered by the gift of drab.” Specifically, a gripping movie with spellbinding characters mouthing strong dialogue was ultimately dinged by a pair of lamentable late-inning turns that I didn’t buy for one nanosecond. Having now caught the 1969 French original, it’s a relief to note that those two unexpected developments are much more believable in this film’s context, thanks to a better grasp of the characters and a more measured approach to the final act. Alain Delon and Romy Schneider respectively play Jean-Paul and Marianne, lovers enjoying a blissful sojourn in a Côte d’Azur villa. Their days of continuous sex and swimming are interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Harry (Maurice Ronet), a successful record producer and Marianne’s ex-boyfriend, and his 18-year-old daughter Pénélope (Jane Birkin). What’s initially a friendly gathering eventually morphs into an awkward situation, as loyalties shift and jealousies erupt. Working from a story by Jean-Emmanuel Conil (aka Alain Page), Deray and his co-scripter — none other than the great Jean-Claude Carrière, who passed away in February at the age of 89 — have fashioned a drama that seduces with its setting, its languorous pace, and its sexy star teaming of former real-life lovers Delon and Schneider.

Blu-ray extras include the English-language version of the film (interestingly, I can’t find any evidence that it was ever called anything but The Swimming Pool and La piscine in the U.S. and Canada and The Sinners in the U.K., but the Criterion title states The Swimming Pool: “First Love Never Dies”); a 2019 retrospective documentary; archival footage; and an alternate ending.

Movie: ★★★

Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field (Photo: Kino & MGM)

LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963). Made on a micro-budget, Lilies of the Field proved to be a substantial hit with critics and especially audiences, and it went on to earn five Academy Award nominations. Four of those bids came in the categories of Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Lilia Skala), Adapted Screenplay (James Poe, adapting William E. Barrett’s novel), and Black-and-White Cinematography (Ernest Haller), but all eyes on Oscar night were on Best Actor, where Sidney Poitier stood a good chance of becoming the first black male to ever win an acting award (and second black performer overall, after Hattie McDaniel in 1939’s Gone with the Wind). As Poitier himself quipped before the ceremony, “What if eight million Negroes decide to kick in their TV screens at the moment someone else’s name is called? Besides, I want to win because they think I’m a good actor.” No worries on any of those counts: Poitier did win, TV screens remained undamaged, and the actor’s performance was certainly worthy of the prize. He’s absolutely ingratiating as Homer Smith, a drifter who reluctantly agrees to help five German nuns build a chapel out in the middle of Nowhere, USA. Homer’s joviality is often at odds with the strict demeanor of the head nun, Mother Maria (Skala), but their mutual respect is never in doubt. There’s not much dramatic urgency to the story, but that’s perfectly fine: This is the sort of picture that gives wholesomeness a good name, and its life lessons are imparted in a leisurely and unforced manner. The camerawork by Oscar-winning veteran Haller (Gone with the Wind) is more artful than might be expected, and the great Jerry Goldsmith contributes a delicate score that hits all the right notes.

Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other titles on the Kino label.

Movie: ★★★½

Live from The Double Door Inn (Photo: The Double Door Inn & Ahujadaddy Films)

LIVE FROM THE DOUBLE DOOR INN (2017). This half-hour film is more a loving tribute than a straight-up documentary, as numerous musicians, staffers, and others sing the praises of the landmark Charlotte, NC, music club that opened its doors in 1973 and permanently closed them in 2017. Until its demise, it was the second oldest blues venue in the country (the oldest is Antone’s in Austin, Texas), although almost all modes of music were welcome. Founded by brothers Nick and Matt Karres (the latter sold his share to the former in the mid-1980s), the Double Door Inn beckoned national acts but was perhaps best known for its nurturing and showcasing of all the remarkable local talent. Those who offer testimonials make up a who’s-who of names familiar to longtime Charlotteans: Gigi Dover, Lenny Federal, Bill Hanna (who passed away this past January), Gina Stewart, and many more. Various vignettes are shared, including that time in 1982 when Eric Clapton showed up after his own concert, hung out for about an hour, and then joined The Legendary Blues Band on stage. Live from the Double Door Inn is by no means a comprehensive picture — I don’t believe it’s ever stated as to why the venue had to permanently close its double doors — and some of the material could be more focused and descriptive (a bit on Hurricane Hugo goes nowhere). But this is a love letter first and foremost, and, in that capacity, it hits all the right notes.

Blu-ray extras consist of interview excerpts with Nick Karres and appreciations of Karres by various musicians and others.

Movie: ★★★

Luca (Photo: Disney & Pixar)

LUCA (2021). What initially appears to be merely a modest deviation from The Little Mermaid quickly blossoms into an original piece offering no small measure of wide-eyed wonder. Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is a sea monster who’s constantly being warned by his parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) to stay away from the human world even though once he sets foot on land he will himself look human. Luca reluctantly obeys until he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a bold lad who spends more time out of the water than in it. Luca joins Alberto in his earthbound activities, and they eventually befriend a girl named Giulia (Emma Berman). But since all the townspeople fear sea monsters, Luca and Alberto must do their best to hide their true identities (don’t let the morning dew get you wet, and definitely stay out of the rain!), a task made even more daunting given the fact that Giulia’s father (Marco Barricelli) is a noted hunter of sea monsters. Although it doesn’t rank in the upper echelons of the Pixar output, Luca is nevertheless a tender and touching tale that cannily uses its fantasy elements to represent real-life struggles that affect all children: the awkward stages of friendship, the ugliness of bullying, and the anxiety of breaking away from the parental units. The animation is gorgeous — it doesn’t hurt that the story takes place on the Italian Riviera — and the attention to detail extends to the background (love the movie posters advertising Roman Holiday and La Strada). Sacha Baron Cohen is a hoot providing the voice of the darkness-dwelling Uncle Ugo, and more of this character would not have been unwelcome.

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

Movie: ★★★

Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram and Owen Campbell in My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To (Photo: Dark Sky)

MY HEART CAN’T BEAT UNLESS YOU TELL IT TO (2021). A clunky title harbors a meditative drama in which the horror feels more real-life than reel-life. Yes, it’s a vampire film, but that’s merely the metaphoric stance taken in order to actually relay a familial story about the ties that bind. Dwight (Patrick Fugit, the young journo in Almost Famous, recently reviewed here) and Jesse (Ingrid Sophie Schram) have always taken care of their sickly brother Thomas (Owen Campbell), who is confined to the house and spends most of his time ill in bed anyway. Thomas needs blood to survive, which means that his siblings must frequently kill and drain people who theoretically won’t be missed: the homeless, the sex workers, and the illegal immigrants. Jesse will do anything to ensure that Thomas doesn’t die, but Dwight is tired of having no life to call his own and yearns to be free from this terrible responsibility. As for Thomas, he’s awfully lonely, a prisoner with no friends, no outside interests, and really no reason to live. This is an impressive feature-film debut for writer-director Jonathan Cuartas, who makes sure that none of his morally compromised characters — even the vampire — come off as complete monsters. Jesse is the harshest and most heartless member of this family, but every awful deed she commits is only because she loves her ailing brother so much. Thomas is a complete figure of pity — his bloodlust isn’t presented as something evil but as something unfortunate and unavoidable, no different than cancer or a brain tumor. And Dwight is a fundamentally decent man (at least as far as a murderer can be decent) who loathes the gruesome deeds he’s expected to carry out and seeks an exit from this lifestyle. The film is rushed in spots and doesn’t linger in the mind as much as one might expect, but it’s just the ticket for those who don’t always need their horror hardcore.

The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★

Angelina Jolie and Finn Little in Those Who Wish Me Dead (Photo: Warner)

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021). Had Those Who Wish Me Dead been written by Joe Schmuck, it would make sense. But this sloppy action thriller counts Taylor Sheridan among its scripters, and he’s the guy who went 3-for-3 out of the gate with his excellent screenplays for Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River. Perhaps Sheridan’s only contribution on the writing end (he also directed) was changing the printer ink, and he left the vast majority of the pecking to Charles Leavitt, whose track record includes Warcraft, Seventh Son, and the truly abysmal K-PAX. Based on the novel by Michael Koryta (with the author tapped as the movie’s third scripter), this stars Angelina Jolie as Hannah, a smokejumper who still feels guilty for not being able to save three boys from a raging forest fire. She’s offered a shot at redemption when she encounters Connor (Finn Little), a kid on the run from a father-and-son assassin team (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult) that has just murdered his dad (Jake Weber) for vague reasons — something to do with “secrets” and Tyler Perry (they never elaborate much beyond that). The killers start a forest fire as a distraction, meaning Hannah and Connor must contend with both the elements and the assassins. This is paint-by-numbers moviemaking, with nothing but recycled components (such as the “save a person to make up for the one you failed to protect” trope, familiar from films as wide-ranging as In the Line of Fire to The Call), a few wide brushstrokes passing for character complexity (Hannah is sad! But she’s also a rebel! And one of the guys!), and a plot that doesn’t unfold as much as stagger forward with all the grace of a wino with a broken foot. Good performances by Gillen, Hoult, Jon Bernthal and Medina Senghore (the latter two playing a survivalist couple) help immeasurably, but it’s a fatal flaw when the least interesting character in a movie is the lead.

The only Blu-ray extra is a making-of featurette.

Movie: ★★

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