View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
The Suicide Squad (Photo: Warner)
[For those planning to watch past James Bond films before catching No Time to Die, now in theaters, be sure to check out the ranking of all the 007 films from worst to best here.]
(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.)
AUDREY HEPBURN 7-MOVIE COLLECTION (1953-1964). Paramount’s home entertainment division has opted not only to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with a Blu-ray reissue but to surround it with six other titles starring the incomparable Audrey Hepburn.
A star was born with Roman Holiday (1953), as the unknown Hepburn became a household name with the release of this utterly disarming romantic comedy. She’s cast as Princess Ann, who, bored with her lot in life, escapes during a goodwill tour to Rome and takes in the sights of the city. She’s accompanied in her escapades by an American reporter (Gregory Peck) who feigns ignorance as to her true identity in the hopes of landing a great story. Naturally, the pair fall in love. The chemistry between Peck and Hepburn is palpable (they remained lifelong friends), and there’s a riotous supporting turn by Eddie Albert as the newspaper photographer who aids Peck’s journo in his covert assignment. The “Mouth of Truth” scene is a genuine classic, but the film is packed with equally delightful interludes. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Albert), this earned three statues: Best Actress for Hepburn, Best Motion Picture Story for Dalton Trumbo (blacklisted at the time of the film’s release), and Best Black-and-White Costume Design for the legendary Edith Head.
One year after Roman Holiday, Hepburn teamed up with writer-director Billy Wilder for the delightful comedy Sabrina (1954). Based on Samuel Taylor’s play Sabrina Fair (with Taylor sharing scripting duties with Wilder and Ernest Lehman), this casts the actress as the daughter of the proper British chauffeur (John Williams) who works for the filthy rich Larrabee family at their Long Island estate. Sabrina’s in love with irresponsible playboy David Larrabee (William Holden), but he doesn’t notice her until she returns from a Paris pilgrimage in a refined state. Older brother Linus Larrabee (Humphrey Bogart), an all-work-and-no-play sort, fears that this relationship might interfere with the family’s business assets, so he tries to remove Sabrina from the equation by wooing her himself. Hepburn’s typically effervescent while Holden exudes mischievous charm, but it’s Bogart’s atypical portrayal that stands out. Nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Screenplay), this won for Best Black-and-White Costume Design (Edith Head … again).
Not surprisingly, it took the Russians to make the definitive screen version of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with a massive 1967 production that ran six hours in its U.S. cut (seven in the U.S.S.R.) and won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. For its part, Hollywood had teamed with Italy during the previous decade to fashion its own interpretation, but that War and Peace (1956) leaves much to be desired. It took six credited writers (including director King Vidor) and several uncredited ones (including Irwin Shaw) to slice and dice Tolstoy’s gargantuan novel until it became a 3½-hour film showcasing a few impressive battle scenes but focusing most of its attention on a dreary love triangle coming into shape as Napoleon (Herbert Lom) storms the country. Hepburn is passable as Natasha, but Mel Ferrer, ever the dullard as an actor, reportedly only got the part of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky because his wife at the time was the leading lady. As for Henry Fonda, he possesses the mettle to fill the shoes of Pierre Bezukhov, but no amount of squinting will camouflage the sight of this 50-year-old American playing a 20-something Russian. This earned a trio of Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.
Funny Face (1957) is another irresistible musical from Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), and even the age difference between Fred Astaire and Hepburn can’t diminish the wonderful rapport they share. He’s Dick Avery, the easygoing photographer at the ritzy fashion magazine Quality; she’s Jo Stockton, a mousy intellectual working in a bookstore. When Quality editor Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson) decides she wants to shoot a spread in a “sinister” Greenwich Village bookshop, she receives resistance from Jo, who’s employed at said bookstore and rails against everything represented by a fashion rag. But Dick spots the beauty hidden under Jo’s pouty countenance, and he convinces her as well as Maggie that she can become the next top model. This offers more than just the usual thrill of watching Astaire hoofing it: The Gershwin score is lively, the designs are eye-catching, the jibes at beatniks (a term that wouldn’t even become official until the following year) are wicked, and the Technicolor is absolutely stunning. This earned four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Original Screenplay; it also nabbed legendary fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy a nod for Best Costume Design, shared with, yup, Edith Head.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) finds Hepburn in one of her most iconic roles: Holly Golightly, the sensual sophisticate described by one character as “a phony … but a real phony!” Escaping from a shameful past, Holly employs her feminine wiles on “rats” and “super-rats” to always get ahead, but her best-laid plans run into interference after she meets a genuinely nice guy (George Peppard). On the down side, this adaptation of Truman Capote’s story features the worst racial stereotype ever to disgrace a Hollywood film, with Mickey Rooney simply abysmal as Holly’s Japanese neighbor, a bucktoothed nerd who’s constantly bumping into objects in his own apartment. Barring this, director Blake Edwards makes the most of George Axelrod’s richly detailed screenplay, and the film will forever be linked to its smash single, the enchanting “Moon River” (by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer). Nominated for five Oscars (including Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay), this won for Best Original Song and Best Original Score (also Mancini).
Ten years after co-starring in Sabrina, Hepburn and Holden found themselves paired in Paris When It Sizzles (1964), but the result this time was far from a classic. Sporting the sort of Hollywood-insider, film-within-a-film structure that can lead to glorious dividends (see Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., reviewed here), this is instead a labored and mirthless dud that features neither star in peak position. Hepburn plays Gabrielle Simpson, a temp hired to type up the latest project of screenwriter Richard Benson (Holden), a piece of fluff titled The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower. But when Gabrielle arrives at his hotel room, she discovers he hasn’t even begun writing the script, which needs to be delivered in two days to a powerful producer (Noël Coward). So the pair spend the next 48 hours brainstorming, which allows viewers to see them take part (in their heads) in a spy caper they make up as they go along. Hepburn fares better than Holden, who’s lacking his usual supply of movie-star magnetism (he reportedly was drunk and had to be dried out during production, which doubtless didn’t help). If nothing else, this offers the brief and bizarre sight of Holden portraying a vampire in one fantasy sequence.
Certainly, the Best Picture Oscar winner My Fair Lady (1964), a three-hour adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe smash (itself based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion), should have had its butt kicked at the ceremony by Dr. Strangelove. Furthermore, George Cukor’s direction couldn’t possibly be more static (this truly looks like a filmed play), and the storyline’s misogynistic strains are never resolved and in fact are enhanced by the letdown of an ending. Yet there’s still plenty to enjoy. The soundtrack contains several of L&L’s most enduring tunes (including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “Get Me to the Church On Time” and the timeless “I Could Have Danced All Night”), and the production looks lovely (or “loverly”?). And although Hepburn’s shrieking as the dirt-poor flower girl who becomes a polished society lady occasionally wears on the nerves, Rex Harrison is just fine as stuffy wordsmith Henry Higgins, while Stanley Holloway steals the film as Eliza’s incorrigible father. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards (including a Best Supporting Actor bid for Holloway), the film earned eight, including Best Actor (Harrison), Best Director, and the aforementioned Best Picture.
There are no Blu-ray extras on War and Peace and Paris When It Sizzles (the latter making its debut in this format). The other five titles all include bonuses carried over from previous releases, including making-of featurettes; photo galleries; and theatrical trailers.
Roman Holiday: ★★★★
War and Peace: ★★
Funny Face: ★★★½
Breakfast at Tiffany’s: ★★★½
Paris When It Sizzles: ★½
My Fair Lady: ★★★
COME SEPTEMBER (1961). Some lovely visuals — the Italian Riviera, Gina Lollobrigida, and Rock Hudson — are at the service of this soufflé-light comedy that examines both the battle of the sexes and the battle of the generations. Hudson stars as Robert Talbot, an American businessman who heads to his Italian villa every September in order to spend one month a year with his girlfriend Lisa Fellini (Lollobrigida). This year, Talbot decides to show up in July — it’s an inconvenient situation for everyone, as Lisa, tired of being ignored the other 11 months of the year, has decided to get married to a British gentleman (Ronald Howard) while Maurice (Walter Slezak), the overseer of Talbot’s villa, is fearful that his employer will discover that he spends those 11 months renting out the private home as a hotel. Of course, Talbot quickly learns of Maurice’s deception, not least because the hotel’s guests currently include a group of American teenage girls, including the inquisitive Sandy (Sandra Dee). Matters become even more complicated when a pack of American boys turn up, with leader Tony (Bobby Darin) taking an instant like to Sandy and immediately running afoul of Talbot. Writers Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin won an Oscar the previous year for penning the sparkling Pillow Talk (with Hudson and Doris Day), and Come September is a similarly fizzy confection. This is the movie on which Dee and Darin met, leading to marriage immediately after filming ended; alas, their wedded bliss only lasted seven years before they got divorced. As for Hudson and Lollobrigida, they would reunite four years later for Strange Bedfellows, although that one wasn’t as sizable a box office hit as this robust earner.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.
SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS (2021). Snake Eyes is the best of the G.I. Joe films to date, and while that sounds like damning with the faintest of praise, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t just make the minimum effort to be the best of the three but that it actually works hard to offer more than just bubble-gum thrills. Whereas the first two flicks, 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, were junky he-man adventures that were impossible to take seriously, this installment (reportedly a franchise reboot) seeks to inject a certain amount of gravitas into the proceedings — or at least as much gravitas as can be added to a movie filled with sizable CGI serpents. The origin beats are as expected: Small boy witnesses the murder of a parent, small boy grows up seeking revenge, grown man obtains that vengeance after much suffering and sacrifice. Here, the kid witnesses his father’s fate being decided by a pair of loaded dice landing aces up — this in turn inspires him to grow up known only as Snake Eyes (Henry Golding). Snake Eyes initially strikes a deal with Yakuza kingpin Kenta Takamura (Takehiro Hira) to find his father’s killer before switching sides and becoming friends with Tommy (Andrew Koji) and the rest of the Arashikage clan. The story is efficiently related but also overly familiar, and the action scenes are often hampered by cinematographers who frequently stumbled over sets and props throughout filming (at least that’s the impression from all the shaky camerawork). Yet the movie has been cast wisely, with many dynamic personalities turning the parts into real characters rather than just cartoonish caricatures. Besides Golding and Koji, others making a strong impression include Haruka Abe as Arashikage security chief Akiko, Samara Weaving as G.I. Joe officer Scarlett, and The Raid’s Iko Uwais as Hard Master.
Extras in the 4K edition include an all-new short film; a making-of featurette; a piece on the characters; and deleted scenes.
STILLWATER (2021). While the media has had no reservations about calling Stillwater a thinly disguised take on the Amanda Knox murder trial, Tom McCarthy, the director and co-writer of the film, has insisted that he merely used the incident as a jumping-off point and that his movie in no way is meant to be about that specific person and that specific murder. It’s an important distinction — let’s just hope anyone is listening at this point. After all, the movie takes massive liberties with the historical record, and, given some of the particulars of the story as filmed, it stands to make Amanda Knox a victim of character assassination all over again. (Not surprisingly, Knox has lambasted the film and the false impressions it might give of her.) If tied to the real-life case, Stillwater is indeed irresponsible and irredeemable. Separated from these knotty ties to the real world and accepted as a piece of fiction (as McCarthy claims), it’s a decent drama that begins strong before eventually losing its bearings and its believability. The film isn’t even about Allison Baker (Abigail Breslin), the young American wasting away in a French prison after being convicted of murdering her roommate, as much as it’s about the travails of her father Bill (Matt Damon), an Oklahoma roughneck who moves to France in order to find the man actually responsible for the slaying. Initially, it’s not as outlandish or melodramatic as it sounds, since the story stays centered on Bill and his relationships with a helpful Frenchwoman (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter (Lilou Siauvaud). This focus provides an anchor for Bill’s culture clashes (he understands neither the language nor the customs), but the film takes a sharp turn away from its understated approach and builds on a series of ridiculous developments that culminate in a final twist more suited to a generic thriller.
Blu-ray extras consist of a pair of making-of featurettes focusing on characters and location shooting, and a piece on McCarthy.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021). After establishing that the four-hour Zack Snyder’s Justice League was really no better than the two-hour edit, it was understandable to approach The Suicide Squad with the fear that it would not be superior to 2016’s Suicide Squad (reviewed here). Thankfully, that’s not the case: TSS is definitely better than SS. But it’s nevertheless a mess, albeit one perfect for 2021. It feels like the cinematic equivalent of the modern Internet experience: It’s as aggressive and self-important as fanboy trolls, its understanding of sociopolitical issues is confused and often incoherent, it finds room for insults and insincerity but none for empathy and understanding, and its humor is generally aimed at 12-year-old boys who still believe that boogers are God’s greatest invention. James Gunn, who brought the proper degree of snark to the Guardians of the Galaxy pictures, is here allowed to flaunt his excesses to an absurd degree, to the point that nothing really sticks in the mind aside from a few kills certain to titillate the gorehounds. The plot finds Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), and other incarcerated anti-heroes forced to enter a fictional South American country with the directive to destroy a lab holding a secret experiment. It’s a full hour before a sequence appears that is meant to be taken seriously and elicit some sympathy — before that, it’s a nonstop barrage of strained jokes, hard-R gore, and aw-shucks-aren’t-we-naughty posturing by Gunn and co. Later, one major character’s death is meant to be tragic while the demise of another (arguably the most likable player) is treated as a complete isn’t-that-hilarious gag. In short, there’s little rhyme or reason but plenty of hypocrisy, and, aside from some good performances as well as a couple of scenes that do pop, the remainder feels like that whirlwind of images shown to the droog Alex, designed to beat viewers into submission and acceptance.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray set include audio commentary by Gunn; scene breakdowns; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.