View From the Couch: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Lost City, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Channing Tatum and Sandra Bullock in The Lost City (Photo: Paramount)
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.)
DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS (1976). Even all these decades later, I still remember the opening strains to the theme song for Gabriela, a 1975 Brazilian telenovela that was as huge a hit in Portugal (where I was living as a young lad when the series debuted there in 1977) as it was in many other countries. It turned 24-year-old Sônia Braga into a global star and an international sex symbol, so it was no surprise that she was quickly tapped for Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos), the 1976 adaptation of the book by Jorge Amado (who had also written the source novel for Gabriela). Like Gabriela, it was a worldwide hit (in its Brazilian homeland, it remained the highest grossing film for over 30 years) and further cemented Braga’s superstar status. She plays Flor, whose whoring and gambling husband Vadinho (José Wilker) unexpectedly drops dead. He’s mourned by his wife as well as his friends — as one buddy amusingly eulogizes, “Roulette wheels will stop for one minute; flags at half-mast in every cathouse…” — but Flor eventually moves on by marrying a man who’s Vadinho’s complete opposite: Teodoro (Mauro Mendoça), a faithful but exceedingly dull pharmacist. Thus, when Vadinho reappears as a ghost, Flor must decide between the two men. While the final stretch is erratically paced, the majority is an amusing and bawdy romp. Hollywood attempted a remake in 1982 — Kiss Me Goodbye, starring Sally Field as the wife, James Caan (RIP) as the playboy, and Jeff Bridges as the dullard — but it was a feeble undertaking.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Bruno Barreto and a behind-the-scenes featurette. A booklet is also included.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004). Like a lovelorn Memento, this mind-bending movie often plays out in reverse order. It’s an existential drama in which anal-retentive Joel (Jim Carrey) and free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet) meet and are instantly attracted to each other, not realizing that they were once lovers who underwent a scientific procedure to have the entire relationship wiped from their memories. For all its dense plotting and smart-aleck shenanigans, this delightfully different film is no mere parlor trick: It takes a serious look at the value of memories and the dangers of monkeying with the mind — in a world ravished by Alzheimer’s, a willful desecration of our reminiscences seems downright insane — and its laughs are tempered by a sorrowfulness that dogs every scene. Eternal Sunshine is ultimately an odd sort of love story, a melancholy rumination that’s as much about the head as the heart. Michel Gondry (who also directed), Charlie Kaufman, and Pierre Bismuth earned the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for their efforts, with Winslet nabbing a nomination for Best Actress.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Gondry and Kaufman; a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted and extended scenes; and interviews with Gondry, Carrey, Winslet, and cinematographer Ellen Kuras.
THE KILLING (1956). Stanley Kubrick’s third film (following 1953’s Fear and Desire and 1954’s Killer’s Kiss) was the one that made everybody sit up and take notice. Adapting Lionel White’s novel Clean Break and hiring Jim Thompson to write much of the dialogue, Kubrick put together a crackling film noir that, arriving six years after John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and one year after Jules Dassin’s Rififi, revealed the decade to be a potent period for the heist flick. Asphalt Jungle star Sterling Hayden again portrays a key figure in the caper; here, he’s Johnny Clay, who assembles a group of desperate and disparate men — a cop (Ted de Corsia), a clerk (Elisha Cook Jr.), a bartender (Joe Sawyer), and a financier (Jay C. Flippen) — to rob the local racetrack of its vast proceeds. Johnny also hires two pros (Timothy Carey and Kola Kwariani, both stealing their brief scenes) to provide distractions during the heist, yet the seemingly foolproof plan is no match for the greed of the clerk’s wife (Marie Windsor), who figures she and her lover (Vince Edwards) should be entitled to all of the money. With its mix of memorable characters, punchy dialogue, and a storyline told in nonlinear fashion, this proved to be a major influence on later filmmakers — Quentin Tarantino, for instance, whose Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction both seem in its debt.
Extras on the 4K edition from Kino consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Killer’s Kiss.
THE LOST CITY (2022). Do I win some sort of prize for probably being the 1,000th critic to compare The Lost City to 1984’s wonderful Romancing the Stone? Sure, call it a lazy thought process, but when two movies involve a lonely romance novelist embarking on a jungle adventure while bickering with the handsome man at her side, it’s simply impossible not to connect the dots — heck, this one even works the word “Romancing” onto a banner in the background of a scene involving a literary launch. Sandra Bullock stars as Loretta Sage, who writes a bestselling series of adventure novels featuring the heroic Dr. Angela Lovemore and the hunky Dash McMahon. Her cover model for the character of Dash is Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum), a seemingly simpleminded stud. But when Loretta gets kidnapped by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), a wealthy lout who needs her help in locating a lost city, it’s Alan who sets out to rescue her. Bullock and Tatum both deliver ingratiating performances in the central roles, but while they banter well, they never connect as a romantic couple — a notable problem in a movie of this nature. The breezy pace is appreciated and Brad Pitt provides some laughs in his brief turn as a savvy rescuer, but in two years, viewers won’t recall any discernible differences between this, Uncharted, and Jungle Cruise.
Extras in the 4K + Digital Code edition include a behind-the-scenes piece with Bullock and Tate; a look at the Dominican Republic location shooting; deleted scenes; and bloopers.
PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965). Originally titled Terror in Space in its Italian homeland and later dubbed The Demon Planet for U.S. television, Planet of the Vampires may not seem like a typical effort from writer-director Mario Bava, who’s famous for such gialli and horror flicks as Black Sunday, Kill, Baby … Kill! and A Bay of Blood. But as he had with 1961’s Hercules in the Haunted World, he injected a startling amount of moody atmosphere and arresting visuals into his low-budget feature, thus elevating it beyond its modest means. Cited as a major inspiration for Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien (although I personally believe 1958’s It! The Terror From Beyond Space is a greater influencer), it finds a pair of spaceships receiving a distress call from a distant planet — upon arrival to investigate, the crew members find themselves attacked by unknown alien lifeforms. Planet of the Vampires was a true international production, with Italian, American, and Spanish financing and a cast headed by American Barry Sullivan and including actors from Italy, Brazil, Spain, and Greece — meanwhile, its script (adapted from the Italian short story “One Night of 21 Hours”) was written by Bava and four cohorts for its Italian release and tackled for its stateside run by sci-fi stalwart Ib Melchior (Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Time Travelers). It’s a brainy horror-fantasy hybrid, and that twist ending is killer.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Bava biographer Tim Lucas; a Trailers from Hell segment with director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Piranha); and the original Italian opening credits.
THE RIGHTEOUS (2021). Although Henry Czerny has tackled many roles over the years, very few have been in major releases (his most prominent was as IMF director Kittridge in Brian De Palma’s 1996 Mission: Impossible). This has allowed his starring role in 1992’s The Boys of St. Vincent to remain the most noteworthy of his career, as he received unanimous acclaim for his turn as a priest who rapes and beats the young boys in his care. It’s therefore oddly appropriate that he’s been handed another plum part in a religious drama that deals with the sins of a priest. In The Righteous, he’s Frederic Mason, a former man of the cloth who left the church after falling in love with a woman named Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk). As the film opens, they’re mourning the accidental death of their adopted daughter, a little girl entrusted to them by her emotionally fragile birth mother (Kate Corbett). As Frederic blames God for taking away his one joy while also asking Him for penance, he and Ethel reluctantly bring into their home an injured stranger named Aaron (Mark O’Brien, who also wrote and directed the film). Ethel finds the charming Aaron a welcome distraction, but Frederic can’t decide whether their visitor is an ordinary man, a Heaven-sent guide, or a Satanic emissary. The ending is a little too on the nose (besides, the Coens’ superb A Serious Man did it better), but sublime performances, crisp black-and-white imagery, and an affinity to the God-fearing cinema of Ingmar Bergman keep this one on track.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by O’Brien and editor K. Spencer Jones; interviews with O’Brien, Czerny, Kuzyk, and Corbett; and a Q&A session with O’Brien. A booklet is also included.
THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990). If the Jason Bourne films often felt like the spy game reconfigured for the kiddies, then the screen versions of John le Carré’s various bestsellers are catnip for more seasoned viewers, those best able to appreciate the complexities that define both the characters and the plotlines. While not in the upper echelons of celluloid le Carré — 2005’s The Constant Gardener and 1965’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold are still the ne plus ultra of his adaptations — The Russia House is nevertheless a worthwhile endeavor, benefiting from the combined talents of director Fred Schepisi, scripter Tom Stoddard, and an exceptional cast. A glasnost-era Cold War yarn released the year following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the year before the dismantling of the Soviet Union, this stars Sean Connery as Barley Blair, a British book publisher entrusted by a mysterious Russian known as Dante (Klaus Maria Brandauer) with a manuscript that might blow open the whole arms race. Dante’s confidante is a woman named Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer), and while Blair also comes to trust her, he’s wary of the government suits — both British and American — who have reluctantly employed him as an amateur spy. Connery and Pfeiffer are both excellent, but much of the film’s pleasure comes from watching the consummate pros filling out the roles of various bureaucrats, among them James Fox (as a perceptive MI6 head), Roy Scheider (as a wily CIA chief), and Women in Love director Ken Russell (as an excitable British official).
There are no Blu-ray extras.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Hercules in the Haunted World
Kill, Baby … Kill!
Romancing the Stone
The Time Travelers
Women in Love
Does ‘celluloid le Carré’ exclude works filmed for television? Because I can’t condone passing over for top honours 1979’s captivating “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, just the right length at 4 hours and 50 minutes, and boasting an Alec Guinness performance so magnificent that Le Carré henceforth modelled his books’ George Smiley upon Guinness’ interpretation.
I don’t care how good an actor Gary Oldman is, there’s simply no way I’ll accept this complex story whittled down to an absurd 2 hours and 7 minutes… especially having read the novel. I’m about to get started on TTSS’ sequel (also starring Guinness), ‘Smiley’s People’… so I have no opinion yet on that front — but understandably high hopes.
That said, I fully endorse your championing of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”. Burton is splendid, as is the whole film (I even own the soundtrack LP). I haven’t decided whether to read or watch ‘The Constant Gardener’… doing both seems unlikely, but you never know.
I atypically left out TV to not be too wordy, but you’re absolutely right about Guinness and TTSS.
As for THE CONSTANT GARDENER, it topped my list of 2005’s 10 Best Films, even over the likes of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. The frequently underrated Ralph Fiennes is terrific in it, although it’s Rachel Weisz who was an absolute revelation; that one performance immediately transformed her into one of my favorite contemporary actresses, and I was thrilled she took the Oscar for it.