View From the Couch: The Magnificent Seven, Three Colors Trilogy, 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.
Irène Jacob in Three Colors: Red (Photo: Criterion)
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.)
THE HUNTER (1980). There’s a nice sort of symmetry in that Steve McQueen’s first significant role was as a bounty hunter on the late-‘50s TV series Wanted: Dead or Alive and his last role was as a bounty hunter in this theatrical release. Of course, the symmetry would be much more satisfying had The Hunter proved to be a good picture, or even a profitable one. But following 1974’s The Towering Inferno, one of the most popular actors in the world took time off, turned down lead roles in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Apocalypse Now, and returned with three consecutive flops in 1978’s barely released An Enemy of the People, 1980’s Tom Horn, and the same year’s The Hunter. And three months after the release of The Hunter, McQueen was dead, a cancer victim at the age of 50 — an ignoble end for a superstar with the likes of The Magnificent Seven (reviewed below), The Great Escape, and Bullitt on his resume. With The Hunter, he does more for the film than the film does for him, delivering a performance that’s best described as charming and (doubtless due to his ill health) subdued. He plays a fictionalized version of a real-life person: Ralph “Papa” Thorson, a modern-day bounty hunter known for tracking down over 5,000 bail-skipping criminals. The movie is basically a series of vignettes, with Thorson hired to locate a fugitive, engage in some mild fisticuffs or a lengthy vehicular chase, and bring him back to jail. Characters are introduced and then either shortchanged (LeVar Burton is wasted as a kid set straight by Thorson) or dropped completely (Ben Johnson as a hick sheriff), and the domestic interludes consist of Thorson butting heads with his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) over her pregnancy. Oh, yes, there’s also a psycho (Tracey Walter) who promises to kill Thorson. No point in chasing this one down.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014). The hero of numerous novels penned by Tom Clancy, CIA stalwart Jack Ryan was successfully brought to the screen in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, with Alec Baldwin essaying the role, 1992’s Patriot Games and 1994’s Clear and Present Danger, both with Harrison Ford, and 2002’s The Sum of All Fears, with Ben Affleck as a younger Ryan. (And, of course, there’s now a TV show with John Krasinski.) While Sum felt like a prequel to the first three pictures, with Ryan’s career just revving up, Shadow Recruit is its own creation, starting completely from scratch — tellingly, this was the first Ryan film not based on a Clancy novel; instead, a script that had nothing to do with the character was rewritten for this cinematic plug and play. The story begins in 2001, with Ryan (Chris Pine) attending college in London when the Twin Towers fall. A tour of duty follows, along with injuries that put him in the company of both medical student (and future wife) Cathy Mueller (Keira Knightley) and CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). Cut to 10 years later, and Ryan’s now living with Cathy and working undercover for the agency. His job is to spot financial irregularities that might signal criminal activity, and he locates a doozy that leads him to a criminal mastermind (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) plotting to bring down Wall Street. While the prospect of watching The Wolf of Wall Street‘s odious Jordan Belfort being taken out is enough to make one salivate, it’s not compensation enough for the drudgery that defines this film’s every move. There are no narrative surprises, just a straight line connecting predictable plot points, and Pine’s bland turn only accentuates Costner’s gravitas in the role of his mentor. This one’s merely a clear and present slumber.
4K extras include audio commentary by Branagh; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and deleted and extended scenes.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960). Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai was remade in 1960 as a classic of another sort. Refashioning Kurosawa’s Japanese epic as a slam-bang Western, director John Sturges and scripter William Roberts tapped Yul Brynner as their above-the-title marquee attraction and surrounded him with a half-dozen relative unknowns, almost all of whom became stars in their own right. After a Mexican bandit (Eli Wallach) robs their village for the umpteenth time, the locals decide to pool their meager assets and hire a gunman to protect them. They settle on a principled gunslinger (Brynner) who proceeds to round up six other cowboys to join the fray. The broad acting by Horst Buchholz (as the group’s young hothead) grows tiresome and Brad Dexter (the only cast member not to earn some measure of fame) proves to be a non-entity, but the other principals — Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and veteran Wallach — carve out strong characterizations. Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated score, instantly recognizable wherever it’s heard, is stupendous. Much of this film’s key personnel, including Sturges, Bernstein, McQueen, Bronson, and Coburn, would top themselves three years later with the marvelous WWII yarn The Great Escape.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory include audio commentary by Coburn, Wallach, and executive producer Walter Mirisch (later the Oscar-winning producer of the Best Picture victor In the Heat of the Night; he just passed away today at the age of 101); audio commentary by film historian Sir Christopher Frayling; a making-of featurette; a piece on Bernstein’s score; and a photo gallery.
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993). Unorthodox love stories were prominent during the movie year of 1993, as witnessed by the releases of three exceptional efforts: Jane Campion’s The Piano (the year’s best picture), Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, and this adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel. Another in the string of acclaimed features by the tony team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant, and scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (the folks who also gave us Howards End and A Room with a View), The Remains of the Day stars Anthony Hopkins (in one of his very best performances) as James Stevens, an English butler who spends every waking hour dutifully serving his master, Lord Darlington (James Fox). But his complete devotion leads him to turn a blind eye to political matters — his employer is a Nazi sympathizer — and, more importantly, to his own suppressed feelings for the estate’s warmhearted housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). Like the aforementioned The Age of Innocence, here’s another handsome period piece about a man who foolishly ignores the dictates of his heart, and the scene where Miss Kenton confronts Stevens in his darkened chamber was second only to Innocence‘s carriage ride sequence between Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most subtly passionate of its year. Peter Vaughn is excellent as Stevens’ father, a butler even more stiff-lipped than his son, and look for memorable appearances by Christopher Reeve and Hugh Grant as visitors to the Darlington estate. This earned eight Academy Award nominations, including ones for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Digital edition include audio commentary by Ivory, Merchant, and Thompson; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
R.I.P.D. (2013). Based on the Dark Horse comic book, R.I.P.D. is one of those movies that’s more fun to discuss than to watch. “Look, it’s Rooster Cogburn and Green Lantern, together at last!” “Check out The Dude slumming with Van Wilder!” “Wait, when did Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds take over the Men in Black franchise from Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith?” Lame wisecracks at the water cooler are certainly preferable to anything in this endurance test masquerading as a motion picture. The MiB digs are a given, since instead of a seasoned veteran and his rookie partner protecting the planet from aliens disguised as humans, we get a seasoned veteran and his rookie partner protecting the planet from spirits disguised as humans. Reynolds plays Nick Walker, a Boston cop who’s betrayed and killed by his partner (Kevin Bacon) over their misappropriation of a gold shipment swiped from a gang of crooks. Nick ends up in a sterile purgatory where he’s allowed to join the Rest in Peace Department, comprised of otherworldly law officers. He’s paired with an overbearing Wild West marshal named Roycephus Pulsifer (Bridges) — they head back to Earth, where Nick watches with unease as (shades of Ghost) his girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) is comforted by his ex-partner while Roy exposes various “deados” by eating Indian food in front of them (huh?). R.I.P.D. rushes through the expository scenes that might make this fantasy world interesting in order to get to a feeble plotline involving a master scheme to bring all of the evil dead back to Earth. This sloppily executed story is further impeded by torturous attempts at humor and a rash of not-so-special special effects. As Pulsifer, Bridges is even more unintelligible than he was in True Grit, while Reynolds is so stiff that his character appears dead even before he takes that bullet.
4K extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.
THREE COLORS TRILOGY (1993-1994). In 1794, France adopted a tricolor flag whose colors came to represent for many people liberty (blue), equality (white), and fraternity (red). Two hundred years later, Polish writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski adopted these notions to create a trilogy of films that are at once independent of each other yet paradoxically also interconnected through style, themes, and characters.
Blue (1993), the first film in the trilogy, remains my favorite. Juliette Binoche stars as Julie, a Parisian woman who emotionally shuts down and physically withdraws from the world after her composer husband and their young daughter are both killed in an automobile accident. But various other forces, including her husband’s smitten colleague (Benoît Régent) and her own musical creativity, keep interrupting her isolation and forcing her own latent lifeforce to find its way to the surface. Blue, then, is the story of one woman’s journey back to herself, and Binoche is magnificent in the role. The movie is also a celebration of the transfiguring power of music, and Zbigniew Preisner’s score is excellent — so much so that I recall purchasing the soundtrack ASAP after the screening back in the day.
White (1994), the middle movie of the trio, is ofttimes tonally different from the other two films as well as being the one to least employ its titular color in its various mise-en-scenes. It’s also not as absorbing as its two celluloid compatriots, although it’s entertaining (and clever) enough in its own right. Julie Delpy is Dominique, a French woman seeking a divorce from her Polish husband Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) because he’s never been able to consummate their marriage. After being utterly humiliated and stripped of his finances and his dignity, Karol leaves Paris and returns to Warsaw, receiving appreciated aid from a fellow countryman (Janusz Gajos). He then tries to reinvent himself while also seeking either reconciliation or revenge — it’s not clear until the end which he desires. The humanism on full display in the other pictures is largely missing here, and the script has more bite than one might initially expect.
The trilogy comes to a powerful close with Red (1994), which continues to demonstrate the manner in which Kieslowski is able to employ color not only for its thematic representation but also as mood piece. If Blue was steeped in melancholy and White appeared frosty in tone, Red positively vibrates with a ruddy passion. Irène Jacob, who had played the title character in Kieslowski’s 1991 arthouse hit The Double Life of Veronique, delivers a strong performance as Valentine, a compassionate model who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a cranky, retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The storyline is merely a starting point for a haunting meditation on the chance encounters, predestined situations, and ironic twists that inform our experiences. Doubtless as a way to honor not just the film but the trilogy as a whole, the Academy handed Red a total of, appropriately enough, three Oscar nominations: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (with Kieslowski co-scripting with Polish senator Krzysztof Piesiewicz), and Best Cinematography (Piotr Sobocinski).
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition from Criterion include video essays; interviews with various cast and crew members; and Kieslowski’s short films The Tram (1966), Seven Women of Different Ages (1978), and Talking Heads (1980).
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
Turkey Pick: BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979). Released in 1972, The Poseidon Adventure was one of the first (and arguably the best) of the 1970s glut of disaster flicks, so perhaps it was only fitting that this pointless sequel was one of the titles that helped kill off the genre at decade’s end. It’s fairly worthless as a movie or a cultural artifact, but God bless its kitschy existence anyway. Picking up right where the original film ended, it finds a tugboat captain (Michael Caine), his right-hand man (Karl Malden), and their chirpy passenger (Sally Field) boarding the overturned ship with the intention of salvaging its valuable cargo. Instead, they find most of their time spent rescuing some survivors (Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, Mark Harmon, Shirleys Knight and Jones) and unconvincingly throwing themselves around the set after every camera cut to yet another internal explosion. Caine’s clearly here for the paycheck, while Field’s in full-on perky mode (she would deservedly win an Oscar for her other 1979 picture, Norma Rae). And did I mention that Telly Savalas portrays a villain named Stephan Svevo — not to be confused with Crank‘s Chev Chelios — or that Slim Pickens plays a blustery Texan named (what else?) Tex?
Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
The Age of Innocence
The Great Escape
In the Heat of the Night
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
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