View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
John Bradley, Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry in Moonfall (Photo: Lionsgate)
(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.)
BLACKLIGHT (2022). Liam Neeson earned an Oscar nomination for 1993’s Schindler’s List, deserved an Oscar for 2004’s Kinsey, and might have won an Oscar for 2012’s Lincoln had he not turned down the title role. That Liam Neeson has been seen so infrequently as of late that his picture has started turning up on milk cartons; on the other hand, this Liam Neeson, the one striving to be the last action hero by all paycheck-cashing means necessary, is like the uninvited guest who won’t leave. A few of Neeson’s films in this mode — 15 over the past 14 years, for those keeping score — have been good (the original Taken, Non-Stop, and Cold Pursuit), but the running-on-empty Blacklight is the worst one yet. It begins with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being assassinated — no, not the actual AOC, but considering the character (played by Melanie Jarson) is a brainy and beautiful Latina who genuinely cares for people, supports women’s and minority rights, and rails against GOP fascism, it’s not hard to make the connection. This opening sets the stage for a soggy and saggy thriller in which Travis Block (Neeson), who freelances for the FBI but wants to spend more time with his neglected daughter (Claire van der Boom) and granddaughter (Gabriella Sengos), gets involved when the undercover agent (Taylor John Smith) assigned to tail the AOC clone threatens to expose a conspiracy to a reporter (Emmy Raver-Lampman). The impossibly gullible Block is shocked — shocked! — to learn that some of those who work in government might actually not be good people (ya think?), and he’s flabbergasted — flabbergasted! — when he finds out that his best friend (Aidan Quinn), who just happens to be the head of the FBI, might be one of those up to no good. This is the sort of naïve nonsense that has no idea how journalism works, how government works, and, apparently, how cinema works.
The only Blu-ray extras are a pair of making-of featurettes.
BREAKOUT (1975). “Sentenced to 28 years in prison for a crime he never committed. Only two things can get him out — A lot of money and Charles Bronson!” That’s the tagline for Breakout, and it’s only partly accurate. American businessman Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is thrown into a Mexican prison for a murder he didn’t commit — the set-up was instigated by Jay’s corrupt grandfather (John Huston) and a sleazy CIA agent (Paul Mantee), both of whom feel Jay’s honesty would disrupt their shady dealings south of the border. Jay’s wife Ann (Jill Ireland) brings him a lot of money so he can bribe his way out, but the plan fails (apparently, the crooked Americans pay better than Jay). With the money a no-go, it’s now solely up to Charles Bronson to save the day. And so he does in both amusing and exciting fashion in this modest box office hit featuring a great cast and an intriguing premise that’s based on an actual incident. Bronson stars as Nick Colton, a bush pilot who’s hired by Ann to rescue her husband. The plan is for Nick to fly into the prison compound, land in the yard, and ferry Jay out — it’s an outlandish scheme that will require the assistance of both Nick’s former girlfriend (Sheree North) and his best friend (Randy Quaid). Bronson is quite appealing here, playing an easygoing guy who’s always quick with the quips, and he’s once again cast opposite Ireland, his real-life wife (this was the 10th of their 16 movies together). While neither Duvall nor Huston are given enough to do, others in the supporting cast excel, particularly North as Nick’s randy ex-sweetie. And watch out for that propeller! The same year, Bronson and director Tom Gries would reunite for the even more exciting Breakheart Pass.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and TV and radio spots.
MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (1994). Doubtless inspired by the $82 million U.S. gross of 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Hollywood dallied with vampires, werewolves, and the creature (Frankenstein’s, not the Black Lagoon’s) over the course of 1994. But while Interview with the Vampire earned $105 million and Wolf nabbed $65 million, and both were accompanied by generally favorable reviews, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a critical and commercial failure, slammed with negative reviews while only grossing $22 million. Yet I admired director-star Kenneth Branagh’s caffeinated take on the tale when it premiered and still enjoy it today. With the exception of 1977’s satisfying but little-seen Swedish film Terror of Frankenstein, this is likely the most faithful adaptation of the book, and it survives crucial miscasting in a significant role. Branagh plays Victor Frankenstein, the obsessed scientist who gives life to a composite cadaver — he immediately shuns his malformed creation, and the scorned monster decides to seek bloody revenge. As director, Branagh tackles this material as if it was grand opera, and he generally keeps the film on an emotional ascendance — the deaths in the second half are truly shocking. De Niro was a poor choice to play the Creature — the actor never sinks into the role as required — but Helena Bonham Carter is excellent as Victor’s adopted sister and eventual fiancée.
Extras in the 4K UHD edition include a piece on the original novel and its various adaptations; a look at the differences between Shelley’s book and Branagh’s film; an interview with makeup designer Daniel Parker (who, along with Paul Engelen and Carol Hemming, earned the movie’s sole Oscar nomination, for Best Makeup); and, best of all, the 1910 silent version of Frankenstein, produced by Charles Edison’s company, running 16 minutes, and previously lost for decades following its release.
MOONFALL (2022). “Innovative” and “exciting” are the key words when discussing the hollow moons found in the fiction of authors like H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov. Conversely, “idiotic” and “insane” are the buzzwords when a hollow moon is discussed by those conspiracy theorists who also embrace discredited ideas involving Obama’s birth certificate, Biden’s stolen election, and anything COVID-related. Moonfall, then, is a movie that should appeal to both the bookworms and the bozos, as it’s a fictional science fiction yarn in which one of the heroes is a conspiracy nut. That would be K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), a roly-poly Brit who holds meetings with other paranoid putzes and speaks glowingly of Elon Musk. K.C. not only believes the moon is an artificially built megastructure but also that it’s off its orbit and heading toward Earth. Once it’s clear that K.C. isn’t crazy, he’s teamed with a NASA director (Halle Berry) and a wrongly disgraced astronaut (Patrick Wilson) in an effort to figure out how to save the Earth. Yes, it’s more end-of-the-world bilge from writer-director-producer Roland Emmerich, who hasn’t made a satisfying film since Independence Day way back in the day (duds include Godzilla vs. Matthew Broderick, 2012, and the Indy Day sequel, Resurgence). But while Moonfall is defiantly dumb in its plotting, Emmerich seems to acknowledge its inanities more than he did with past turkeys, and the lack of any serious self-importance makes it easier to digest. Only at the end does Emmerich lunge for profundity, but it’s more likely to inspire titters than deep thought. Wilson and Bradley are given cardboard people to play, but Berry’s nondescript character doesn’t even reach that level.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital edition include audio commentary by Emmerich and writer-producer-composer Harald Kloser; a making-of featurette; and a discussion of the moon by scientists and historians.
MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (2010). Just about any male or female movie star, no matter how grotesque on the inside or out (or, in the case of James Woods, both), can snag a young beauty thanks to the alluring mix of money and power. So even though he’s been the size of a refrigerator for over a decade, Gérard Depardieu the Movie Star should have no trouble. But a character played by Depardieu? In My Afternoons with Margueritte, Depardieu is basically playing a village idiot who dresses in Baby Huey-sized overalls, yet his 61-year-old character has a gorgeous, 32-year-old girlfriend (Sophie Guillemin) who dotes on him, wants his baby, and only raises her voice at him when she wrongly thinks he’s cheating on her. Riiiiight… At any rate, she’s not the Margueritte of the title — that would be the nonagenarian played by 95-year-old actress Gisèle Casadesus. Margueritte and Depardieu’s Germain Chazes meet on a park bench while feeding the pigeons and instantly strike up a friendship. While Germain is semi-illiterate, the elderly woman is highly intelligent and loves books — thus, she reads to him every time they meet (Albert Camus’ The Plague is among the selected titles), and this in turn stirs something both poetic and unfulfilled inside him. My Afternoons with Margueritte is a pleasant film that works best when it focuses on the relationship between Germain and the title character — these scenes are so strong that other sequences, such as Germain constantly talking to his cat or hanging out at the local bar with his chums, almost feel like filler. And while a happy ending is expected, this one offers so many cheerful resolutions that the only thing missing is a shot of Germain winning the lottery. Incidentally, Casadesus passed away in 2017, at the age of 103.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
ROBOCOP (1987). Excessively violent yet also refreshingly satirical, RoboCop endures as a modern classic of sci-fi cinema. Peter Weller stars as Alex Murphy, a cop in futuristic Detroit who almost meets a grisly end at the hands of a vicious street gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). Using what little is left of Murphy, ambitious company man Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) one-ups his boss, devilish director Dick Jones (Ronny Cox), by creating an unstoppable police officer who’s part human but mostly machine. But while RoboCop was supposed to be purged of all memories of his life as Murphy, enough remain that he’s haunted by flashes of not only his family but also the creeps who shot him to pieces. Working from a sharp screenplay by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner, director Paul Verhoeven offers an old-fashioned revenge flick with high-tech trappings, punctuating the action with comical commercials and news bulletins that if anything seem less absurd with each passing year. Yet what really makes the film soar is its stellar collection of villains. Any one of this pack — Boddicker, Morton, and Jones — would provide enough nastiness for a single movie, but RoboCop graciously presents us with three memorably oily adversaries. Basil Poledouris’ thrilling score is another asset. An Oscar winner for Best Sound Effects Editing (and a nominee for Best Film Editing and Best Sound), this led to various theatrical and television spin-offs, including two dismal sequels and a weak 2014 remake.
The 4K edition contains the theatrical version, the director’s cut, and the edited-for-television version. Extras include audio commentary by Verhoeven, Neumeier, and executive producer Jon Davison; four deleted scenes; a 2019 interview with co-star Nancy Allen; and a 2012 Q&A with Verhoeven, Davison, Neumeier, Miner, Weller, Allen, and animator Phil Tippett.
12 MONKEYS (1995). Beginning its story in 2035, 12 Monkeys tells of a virus that long ago wiped out 99 percent of the world’s population. There’s no way to change the past, but with the help of a rickety time machine, there may be a chance to save the future by locating the virus in its original pure form and fashioning an antidote. The scientists therefore select a “volunteer,” a convict named James Cole (Bruce Willis), to travel back to 1996 (the year the virus took hold), pinpoint its genesis, and bring a sample back to the future. A loose adaptation of the 1962 short film La Jetée, 12 Monkeys finds director Terry Gilliam and scripters David Peoples and Janet Peoples concocting a heady, harrowing, and heartbreaking sci-fi thriller that rarely stops tossing red herrings into the gaping mouths of viewers trying to piece it all together. As with all time-travel movies, leeway must be given when analyzing its consistency, and even the picture’s most ardent fans will disagree when it comes to the specifics of its ending. Brad Pitt delivers a showboat performance as a nutcase whose mouth and hands move at the speed of light — naturally, he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor — while Madeleine Stowe is more restrained (and more effective) as a psychiatrist who believes there might be some truth in Cole’s seemingly delusional ramblings. Yet it’s Willis who truly powers this picture with an anguished and emotional turn that just might be the best of his lengthy career.
Extras in the 4K edition include audio commentary by Gilliam and producer Charles Roven; an excellent feature-length making-of documentary; a 1996 interview with Gilliam; and the theatrical trailer.