View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Patricia Arquette and Christian Slater in True Romance (Photo: Arrow)
By Matt Brunson
(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.)
BOOMERANG (1992). Regardless of their respective grosses, the content of Beverly Hills Cop II, Eddie Murphy: Raw, Harlem Nights, and Another 48 Hrs. (all released within a four-year stretch) merged with real-life perceptions that Eddie Murphy was both sexist and homophobic. The superstar thus tried to soften his image with Boomerang, a comedy based on his own original idea. It only partially worked: The “gay panic” material is carried over intact, and, while the movie features a sizable number of roles for women, the plot does still find the Eddie Murphy character coming out on top while the female protagonist remains unfulfilled and alone. Murphy plays Marcus Graham, a successful advertising executive for a cosmetics empire and a womanizer who goes through the ladies like Titanic fans went through tissues. He unexpectedly falls for his new boss, Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens), but she’s basically a female version of Marcus and leaves him repeatedly feeling used and discarded. Fortunately for Marcus — but unfortunately for viewers hoping to see a satire with some sting — there’s a Nice Girl™ (Halle Berry) perpetually poised to shower him with love and devotion. Grace Jones is cast as a vulgar model named Strangé, and she owns the material, resulting in a hilarious performance; Eartha Kitt is cast as a vulgar tycoon known as Lady Eloise, and the material owns her, resulting in an embarrassing performance. (Kitt personified sex for many people as Catwoman on TV’s Batman, but because she’s older here, she’s only good for a gag involving geriatric sex.) As for Murphy, he’s fine, although his unwillingness to ever stray too far from his ego results in a comedy that’s only sporadically amusing.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Reginald Hudlin and deleted scenes.
THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS (1957). Many of the no-budget sci-fi efforts from the 1950s could be dismissed as dull, but The Brain From Planet Arous is anything but dull — daft would be a better description. Sci-fi stalwart John Agar (Tarantula!, The Mole People) plays Steve March, a scientist who discovers an evil floating brain hiding out in a cave. Named Gor (and not to be confused with the planet from MST3K’s Outlaw of Gor), this otherworldly brain with eyeballs takes over Steve’s body with plans to conquer the world — first, though, he puts the moves on Steve’s girlfriend Sally (Joyce Meadows), as this alien invader clearly has a yen for Earth women. Not to fear, as another brain shows up, this one going by the name Vol. As Vol helpfully explains, he’s a good alien pursuing the bad alien Gor, and he decides to inhabit the body of Sally’s dog in order to vanquish his nemesis. Hilarity ensues, albeit not intentionally. Director Nathan Juran was an Academy Award-winning art director (John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley) before becoming a director — while he mostly tackled fantasy fare (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Deadly Mantis, TV’s Lost in Space), he also had the distinction of helming Hellcats of the Navy (also 1957), the only movie in which Ronald and Nancy Reagan appeared together.
The Brain From Planet Arous was released just a few months ago on the Corinth Films label, but that was only on DVD and only as part of a sci-fi triple feature (alongside Rocketship X-M and The Hideous Sun Demon) with no bonus features. The Film Detective is now making the picture available on Blu-ray — this edition offers the movie in both widescreen and full frame and includes a booklet as well as such extras as audio commentary by Meadows and a trio of film historians; an introduction by Meadows; and two featurettes on Juran.
THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989). My meticulous research reveals that only seven lead actresses have won a Golden Globe and citations from all four major critics’ organizations (New York, Los Angeles, National Board, and National Society) for the same performance. Out of this group — a small but impressive lot that runs from Sally Field in 1979’s Norma Rae to Helen Mirren in 2006’s The Queen (and includes Meryl Streep in 1982’s Sophie’s Choice and Holly Hunter in 1993’s The Piano) — the only one not to go on to win the Oscar was poor Michelle Pfeiffer for The Fabulous Baker Boys. Honestly, she never had a chance, given the Academy’s penchant for sentimental favorites and softball cinema — hence, she lost to 80-year-old Jessica Tandy in the warm and fuzzy Best Picture winner Driving Miss Daisy. The titular Baker boys are frosty Jack and fussy Frank (real-life siblings Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges), a pair of lounge-act pianists who elect to spice up their show (and their sagging finances) by adding a singer to the mix. They settle on Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer), tough-talking, street-smart, and always ready with a quip (or a sharp counter to a quip). All three stars are superb, with the siblings nailing the most poignant scene by serving up The Sherman Brothers’ “You’re Sixteen.” But it’s Pfeiffer’s intelligent and sexy performance that quickly became a thing of legend, with her sultry rendition of “Makin’ Whoopie” (in a red dress, no less) earning almost as much ink as any other movie scene from 1989. Besides Pfeiffer’s bid, this earned three other Oscar nominations, including Best Cinematography for the incredible Michael Ballhaus (Broadcast News, The Last Temptation of Christ, Bram Stoker’s Dracula).
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by writer-director Steve Kloves; audio commentary by Ballhaus; and deleted scenes.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE (2022). The Fantastic Beasts series is to the Harry Potter franchise what the Divergent series was to The Hunger Games franchise: a similar property that was likewise met with initial enthusiasm and robust box office, but one that was unable to maintain quality control or audience interest. The Divergent series took such a tumble that the studio never bothered to finish the continuing saga and cancelled after the third flick; whether such a fate will befall the J.K. Rowlings property is still to be determined, but I suspect not many tears will be shed if The Secrets of Dumbledore turns out to be the last as well as being the least. The series began with 2016’s charming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but stumbled with 2018’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; this latest installment continues the downturn, emerging as a humdrum affair with little of interest to goose the proceedings. The trouble with Grindelwald is that it took the focus away from the four delightful principals, a problem further exacerbated here. Muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler) has a few moments to shine, but wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) mainly stands around staring admiringly at Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), Queenie (Alison Sudol) continues to make little sense following her ridiculous transformation in the previous picture, and Tina (Katherine Waterston) is relegated to a brief cameo. Mads Mikkelsen has replaced MRA hero Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, but it seems no actor can turn this character into an interesting villain. From its plotting to its personages, and from its FX to its sets, here’s a movie that’s strictly ab-drab.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition include a piece on Dumbledore through the years; a peek at the Dumbledore family tree; a look at the latest fantastic beasts; and deleted scenes.
FIRE IN THE SKY (1993). As with The Amityville Horror, The Entity, and The Conjuring franchise, here’s another movie that purports to be “based on the true story” but is more likely based on an elaborate scheme to swindle the gullible. In 1975, Arizona logger Travis Walton disappeared for five days; his co-workers claimed that he had been abducted by a UFO, and he confirmed their story upon his reemergence. He also wrote a book, The Walton Experience, which served as the primary source for this film (the book had the misfortune of being published in 1978, a year after everyone and their mother had already wasted their dough on that smash Amityville bestseller). The first half of the movie is the stronger portion, as the co-workers, including team leader Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), are suspected by the townspeople of having murdered Walton (D.B. Sweeney) and then fabricating this wild tale; particularly skeptical is investigator Frank Watters (James Garner), who makes it his mission to uncover the truth. Walton’s eventual return puts a stop to those whispers of homicide, but his claims of being snatched by prune-faced extraterrestrials bring new charges of a publicity-seeking prank orchestrated by the sextet. The film initially holds modest interest with its appropriately muted approach, but it goes astray about the time Walton turns up. The story becomes too rushed and unfocused — for instance, we don’t see nearly enough scenes between Walton and his colleagues — although it’s the climactic payoff that really sinks this. The final stretch focuses on Walton’s flashbacks during his time inside the spaceship, and it’s a non-event, playing like some fourth-rate Close Encounters of the Third Kind clone.
Blu-ray extras consist of new interviews with Sweeney, Patrick, director Robert Lieberman, and composer Mark Isham; a photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer.
FIRESTARTER (2022). In my review of the 1984 Firestarter when it was reissued on Blu-ray by Shout! Factory in 2017, I stated that it was “eminently watchable but also scarcely believable.” Would that this latest adaptation of the Stephen King novel merit such lukewarm praise — instead, it’s almost unbelievable that this new version could turn out so unwatchable. In relating the tale of Charlie McGee, a little girl with pyrokinetic powers, the complexities in King’s novel were largely removed in the ’84 screen version and replaced with an eccentricity that almost pulled the film into camp territory (I mean, George C. Scott as a ponytailed Native American assassin?). This new edition isn’t complex, it isn’t campy, it isn’t anything aside from a waste of film. As a child actor, Drew Barrymore had a tendency to (over)play every scene in every movie in an exaggerated manner, but that at least made her Charlie feel like an actual person with real emotions — that’s not the case with this Charlie, who, as written by Scott Teems (also the scripter of last year’s odious Halloween Kills and with a needless sequel to The Exorcist out next year) and portrayed by Ryan Kiera Armstrong, is nothing more than a pint-sized matchbook with a damp disposition. Teems also can’t inject any personality into her parents, sleepily played by Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon, and the newly added denouement would probably be offensive were this movie likely to be remembered by anyone aside from its makers. Even the CGI-generated fire effects can’t hold a candle (lit or otherwise) to the practical effects showcased in its predecessor.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Keith Thomas; a piece on the fire effects; deleted and extended scenes; an alternate ending; and a gag reel.
OUT OF SIGHT (1998). Those seeking a superb adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel should watch 1995’s Get Shorty; those who opt instead for Out of Sight will catch an occasionally meandering yarn that’s ultimately elevated by a handful of choice scenes and an exemplary roster of supporting players. George Clooney, for the first time flashing some of his patented movie-star magnetism (cuz it was completely MIA in Batman & Robin and The Peacemaker), plays Jack Foley, a seasoned bank robber who gets captured, breaks out of prison, and crosses paths with Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), a Federal Marshal who can’t decide whether to arrest him or bed him. The stop-start nature of the film is doubtless due to director Steven Soderbergh tackling his first mainstream movie after the art-house likes of sex, lies, and videotape and Kafka — he would fare much better two years later with the double-barreled success of Erin Brockovich and Traffic (winning the Oscar for the latter) — and the script by Scott Frank is witty but nevertheless fails to reach the heights of the one he penned for Get Shorty. The picture’s primary strength comes from the indelible performances by those in support: Ving Rhames as Jack’s loyal and sensitive partner-in-crime, Don Cheadle as an intelligent but vicious convict, Dennis Farina as Karen’s sweet and sly father, Catherine Keener as Jack’s chatty ex-wife, and Jackie Brown co-stars Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson in uncredited roles. There’s certainly quirk to spare: The fate of White Boy Bob (Keith Loneker) is … unexpected. This earned Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing (Anne V. Coates, a legend for her Oscar-winning cutting of Lawrence of Arabia).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Soderbergh and Frank; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and deleted scenes.
TRUE ROMANCE (1993). Although a financial flop, this energized effort from director Tony Scott and scripter Quentin Tarantino emerged as a home-video favorite and eventually earned cult status, particularly from the types of dude-bros who respond orgasmically to “manly man” titles like The Professional, The Shawshank Redemption, and Fight Club. Clarence (Christian Slater) is a fairly normal American kid who reads comic books, watches kung fu flicks, and idolizes Elvis (that’s Val Kilmer playing the King in spirit). But when he meets and falls for a would-be hooker named Alabama (Patricia Arquette), his life gets out of hand. After he takes on her murderous pimp (Gary Oldman), the lovers abscond with a suitcase full of cocaine and head out to Hollywood in the hopes of selling the stuff. But since there are cops and mobsters involved in the proceedings, you can bet the dealings will be dirty, the gunfire level will be ear-splitting, and the body count will be substantial. True Romance is one big head rush, a bubble-gum movie packed with quirky characters and moving at the speed of a ricocheting pinball. Naturally, Tarantino has to include one scene in which the “n” word is used as many times as most people use the word “the” in the space of a day, but otherwise, his dialogue is as on-point as ever. The supporting cast is impressive, including Oldman as the Rastafarian wanna-be, Brad Pitt as a perpetually stoned couch potato, and Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s estranged pop.
Arrow Video’s 4K edition contains both the theatrical and director’s cuts. Extras include six separate audio commentaries (two of them scene-selective), with participants including Scott, Tarantino, Slater, and Arquette; an interview with author Larry Taylor (Tony Scott: A Filmmaker on Fire); deleted scenes; and an alternate ending. A booklet, a mini-poster, and lobby card reproductions are also included.
Short And Sweet:
FATHERHOOD (2021). Matthew Lonegan’s true-life tragedy was the basis for his book Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love; that bestseller was in turn the basis for this film adaptation. Kevin Hart delivers a delicate performance as Matt, whose wife Liz (Deborah Ayorinde) dies of a pulmonary embolism approximately 24 hours after the birth of their daughter Maddy (played by Rhythm Hurd as a 3-year-old and her sister Melody Hurd as a young girl). Matt does his best to raise Maddy on his own, often butting heads with his mother-in-law (Alfre Woodard). Initially, the buffoonish shenanigans of Matt’s buddies (Lil Rey Howery and Anthony Carrigan) and an overreliance on doodoo humor undermine any attempts at emotional traction, but the movie eventually finds its footing and ends up modestly effective and affecting.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Annabelle Comes Home
Another 48 Hrs.
Beverly Hills Cop II
The Conjuring 2
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
The Curse of La Llorona
The Deadly Mantis
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Hideous Sun Demon
The Last Temptation of Christ
Lawrence of Arabia
The Mole People
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Outlaw of Gor
sex, lies, and videotape
The Shawshank Redemption