View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Channing Tatum in Dog (Photo: Warner & 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.)
THE CAREY TREATMENT (1972). It’s perversely appropriate that this adaptation of an early novel by Michael Crichton is hitting Blu-ray at this time. The book was released in 1972, the year before Roe vs. Wade became law. Its plot involves an illegal abortion that results in the death of a 15-year-old girl, and it’s a chilling preview of what might become the norm in this nation if/when the vile anti-choice misogynists on the Supreme Court overturn the landmark ruling this summer. Blocking out this contemporary relevance (easier said than done), the movie on its own terms is a slight endeavor that’s given an enormous lift by James Coburn. The easygoing actor stars as Peter Carey, a West Coast pathologist who takes a job at a Boston hospital (“for the bread,” he easily admits). When his longtime friend Dr. David Tao (James Hong) is arrested for performing the illicit abortion, Carey decides to turn amateur sleuth and find out who’s framing his pal and why. The Carey Treatment was taken away from director Blake Edwards by MGM and heavily edited — Edwards disowned the project while the three writers all had their names removed — which may explain why the picture is pockmarked with plotholes and ends rather anticlimactically. At least one happy happenstance was a direct result of Edwards’ woes, as he later consolidated all his bad Hollywood experiences and channeled them into 1981’s excellent S.O.B.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
CURSED (2005). The Scream team of director Wes Craven and scripter Kevin Williamson takes a shot at the werewolf flick, but, after a promising start, Cursed rapidly self-destructs and ends up in complete ruin. Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg play Ellie and Jimmy, orphaned siblings who both sustain injuries from a ferocious creature on the same night. Jimmy is convinced it was a werewolf, but Ellie isn’t so sure; however, once her body starts undergoing startling changes — and once mangled corpses begin dotting the LA landscape — she finds herself subscribing to her brother’s theory. Good performances by Ricci and Eisenberg override a monotonous turn by Joshua Jackson (as Ellie’s moody boyfriend), and, as in The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, early sequences reveal proper reverence for the material at hand. But after an effective setup, the project becomes overbearingly jokey, replete with wisecracking werewolves, imbecilic teen shenanigans, and the expected cameo by an untalented has-been (in this case, Scott Baio playing himself as a horny dolt).
Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray edition contains both the theatrical and unrated cuts. Extras include select-scene audio commentary by special makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero and actor Derek Mears (who plays the werewolf); a making-of featurette; and a piece on creating the effects.
DOG (2022). “A filthy animal unfit for human company and a … DOG.” So reads the tagline for Channing Tatum’s new film, and it’s amusing if obvious. But does it really fit a movie that’s about PTSD in both humans and canines? Reid Carolin, who has worked in various capacities on nine Tatum flicks to date (including as a producer on Logan Lucky and a scripter on the Magic Mike twofer), serves as co-writer (with Brett Rodriguez) and co-director (with C-Tate himself) for this seriocomedy in which Army Ranger Jackson Briggs, suffering from brain damage, longs to be shipped to Pakistan but is repeatedly denied because of his condition. A deal is finally struck where Briggs will be allowed to again serve if he first transports a fallen comrade’s military dog, a Belgian Malinois named Lulu, to the funeral and then to a base to be peacefully put down. Dog is not unlike 2017’s Megan Leavey, about the relationship between a Marine (played by Kate Mara) and a combat German Shepherd named Rex. Perhaps because it’s based on a true story, that’s the superior film, as it’s more sobering and more affecting. Dog only works particularly well when it stays serious and goes astray when it tries to nyuk it up — among the needlessly dopey scenes are one in which Briggs hopes to score a threesome with two New Age sex therapists (Nicole LaLiberte and Blacklight’s Emmy Raver-Lampman) and another where he encounters a pothead couple (Jane Adams and Kevin Nash) living off the land.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941). The 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for which Fredric March won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor, was such a resounding success that MGM decided to remake it a decade later. Borrowing more from the Oscar-nominated script for that version than from Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this stars Spencer Tracy as the workaholic doctor, who believes that good and evil co-exist in every person and can be separated through scientific means. He creates a serum that allows him to transform into the wretched Dr. Hyde, and whereas Jekyll prefers to woo his upper-class fiancée Beatrix (Lana Turner), Hyde takes pleasure in torturing the lower-class barmaid Ivy (Ingrid Bergman). Bergman and Turner were originally cast in each other’s roles until Bergman convinced director Victor Fleming to let her play against type as Ivy — it was a sound decision, as Bergman is superb in a heartbreaking role while Turner is saddled with a drab part. As for Tracy, he takes a minimalist approach to Hyde — it mostly works, but a surface treatment of the themes at hand as well as inconsistencies in Jekyll’s character (he knows that as Hyde he’s raping and beating Ivy but continues anyway?) work against the film’s total success. This earned three Oscar nominations for Best Film Editing, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Original Score.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
PUSHING HANDS (1991). Before he became widely known for such gems as Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain (and, yes, the occasional dud like Hulk or Gemini Man), Ang Lee opened his career by writing and directing a trio of highly acclaimed pictures in his Taiwanese homeland. The first was Pushing Hands, a gentle tale that examines both the clash of cultures and the gap between generations. The central character is Mr. Chu (Sihung Lung), an elderly tai chi master brought from Beijing to New York City to live with his son Alex (Bo Z. Wang), his American wife Martha (Deb Snyder), and their young son Jeremy (Haan Lee). Chu doesn’t speak any English and Martha doesn’t speak any Chinese, meaning each day is one of sustained awkwardness and annoyance between the two parties since Alex is away at work and thus unable to serve as translator. Despite his efforts to stay busy, Chu feels like a burden to his family and searches for ways to change the situation. Lung is quietly persuasive in this drama that also takes time to address the issue of growing old in a youth-oriented society. Lee’s debut picture is impressive enough, but he would immediately vault to a higher plateau with his next two Taiwanese efforts, 1993’s The Wedding Banquet and 1994’s Eat Drink Man Woman.
Blu-ray extras consist of a discussion with co-scripter James Schamus, executive producer Ted Hope, and film editor Tim Squyres; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for the Asian imports (and fellow Film Movement offerings) Center Stage, Shanghai Triad, and The Wild Goose Lake.
TWISTING THE KNIFE: FOUR FILMS BY CLAUDE CHABROL (1997-2003). Earlier this year, Arrow Video released Lies & Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol, which collected five of the 10 pictures the French filmmaker helmed between 1985 and 1994. This latest box set is more sequential and compact, housing the four movies Chabrol made consecutively over a six-year stretch surrounding the most recent fin de siècle.
The Swindle (Rien ne va plus; literal translation Nothing Is Going Right) (1997) is the most entertaining of the bunch, with Chabrol regular Isabelle Huppert (seven films together) and Michel Serrault cast as a pair of low-level con artists who foolishly cook up a scheme that targets a mob bagman (François Cluzet) but ends up ensnaring his ruthless boss (Jean-Françoise Balmer). The film mixes humor and suspense with pleasing results.
The Color of Lies (Au cœur du mensonge; literal translation In the Heart of the Lie) (1999) is far more somber, as it focuses on the murder of a 10-year-old girl. Since the last person to see her alive was her art teacher (Jacques Gamblin), he becomes the primary suspect, much to the dismay of his wife (Sandrine Bonnaire) but the potential satisfaction of her suitor (Antoine de Caunes). The ending could be better, but a deep roster of interesting characters provides this one with its backbone.
Nightcap (Merci pour le chocolat; literal translation Thank You for the Chocolate) (2000) centers around a family whose patriarch (Jacques Dutronc) is a famous pianist and whose matriarch (Huppert) might be adding poison to the nightly cups of chocolate she serves to her stepson (Rodolphe Pauly). The plot kicks into action — or as much action as can be mustered in a moody and meandering melodrama of this nature — when it’s revealed that babies might once have been switched at birth and the pianist’s real child might actually be an aspiring pianist (Anna Mouglalis) living in the area.
Like Nightcap, The Flower of Evil (Le fleur du mal) (2003) also deals in family secrets — in this case, the past scandals that come to light when the self-possessed wife (Nathalie Baye) of a perpetually whiny and womanizing businessman (Bernard le Coq) decides to run for local office. As the grown stepkids (Benoît Magimel and Mélanie Doutey) rekindle their love and passion for one another after a few years apart, the elderly Aunt Line (Suzanne Flon) reflects on when she killed her Nazi-collaborating father. Honestly, it’s a bit better than it sounds.
Blu-ray extras include film critic audio commentaries; select-scene commentaries by Chabrol; behind-the-scenes featurettes; visual essays; and an archival interview with Huppert. The collection also contains an 80-page booklet.
The Swindle: ★★★
The Color of Lies: ★★★
The Flower of Evil: ★★½
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
An American Werewolf in London
Lies & Deceit: Five Films by Claude Chabrol
The Wild Goose Lake