Ethan Hawke (center) and Denzel Washington in Training Day (Photo: Warner)

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.)

For the full-length review of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was released this week by Dark Sky Films in 4K UHD, go here.

The Boxtrolls (Photos: Shout! Factory & Laika)

THE BOXTROLLS (2014) / KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016). With Coraline and ParaNorman both hitting 4K this past December, Laika’s other stop-motion wonders are now joining them in the format.

Adapted from Alan Snow’s novel Here Be Monsters!, The Boxtrolls starts off employing a familiar and oft-used formula — i.e. the story of a young boy in the midst of various critters (everything from The Jungle Book to Where the Wild Things Are) — before eventually hitting its own unique stride. The title creatures are harmless trolls who are nevertheless feared by the citizens of the town of Cheesebridge. Wanting to be accepted by the ruling elite, the scurvy Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) promises to exterminate the meek monsters, a task that meets resistance in “Eggs” (Isaac Hempstead Wright), a boy who was raised by the Boxtrolls. Elle Fanning, sister of Coraline star Dakota Fanning, voices a girl who aids Eggs in his task, while Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, and Tracy Morgan pipe up as Snatcher’s underlings. The final bit that seeps into the end credits — a philosophical discussion between Frost’s Mr. Trout and Ayoade’s Mr. Pickles — is a marvelously meta moment.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Like Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls before it, Kubo and the Two Strings also nabbed an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, and then did them all one better by also becoming only the second animated film (after The Nightmare Before Christmas) to compete in the Best Visual Effects category. Certainly, it’s a visually striking picture, drawing much of its style from various Japanese modes of artistic expression, both ancient (origami) and modern (Miyazaki). Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) is a young boy who embarks on a journey to find the armor of the father he never knew. Accompanying him on his odyssey are an anthropomorphic monkey (Charlize Theron), a beetle warrior (Matthew McConaughey) with amnesia, and an origami samurai; standing in their way are insidious entities known as The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and The Sisters (Rooney Mara). This is the only Laika production where the length is felt, but even an occasional lull doesn’t dent the picture’s startling design and mystical aura.

Each two-disc steelbook set (sold separately) offers the film on a 4K UHD disc and the special features on a Blu-ray. Extras are similar in nature, as each includes audio commentary (by co-directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi on The Boxtrolls, and director-producer Travis Knight on Kubo and the Two Strings); rare test footage; a piece on the puppets; feature-length storyboards; and photo galleries.

The Boxtrolls: ★★★

Kubo and the Two Strings: ★★★

Jonathan Majors in Devotion (Photo: Paramount)

DEVOTION (2022). Jonathan Majors has already been making a name for himself both on television (Lovecraft Country, Loki) and in film (The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Da 5 Bloods), but 2023 seems to be the year that he’s truly breaking out, thanks to his acclaimed performances as the antagonists in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Creed III. Slipping between the cracks of all these high-profile projects was Devotion, a $90 million naval aviation flick that crashed and burned with a $20 million gross. In the year of the thrill-a-minute Top Gun: Maverick, it’s easy to see how something so languorous would keep the masses away, but the truth is that this plodding and underdeveloped picture would register as a noble failure at any time. Centering on real-life figures who served as officers during the Korean War, this stars Majors as Jesse Brown, the first black aviator in Navy history, and Glen Powell as Tom Hudner, his best friend and wingman. For a film meant to inspire and invigorate, Devotion is an awfully timid endeavor, and the script (based on Adam Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice) is respectful to a fault, taking a muted, Masterpiece Theatre approach to a full-blooded tale whose messier elements included the racism that Brown had to confront on a regular basis. Powell, so dynamic in Top Gun: Maverick, is largely ineffectual here, and we never feel the supposed depths of the friendship that existed between his Hudner and Majors’ Brown.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Digital Code edition consist of a making-of featurette and a piece on the life of Jesse Brown.

Movie: ★★

Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man (Photo: Kino & Paramount)

MARATHON MAN (1976). A powerhouse cast brings steely conviction to this atmospheric thriller efficiently directed by Midnight Cowboy helmer John Schlesinger and penned by William Goldman (adapting his own novel). Dustin Hoffman is excellent (if a tad too old) as “Babe” Levy, a graduate student and hardcore runner who doesn’t know that his older brother “Doc” (a superb Roy Scheider) is a government agent, and one who’s presently involved in dealings with Nazi war criminal Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier). Convinced that Babe knows the whereabouts of a stash of diamonds he himself had taken from executed Jews during WWII, Szell uses his knowledge of dentistry to torture the clueless Babe (leading to the film’s classic line, “Is it safe?”) and force the college student to employ his marathon training to extract himself from a harrowing situation. Tricky in its plot structure, the movie cannily plops a complete innocent in the midst of people who are smarter, stronger, and savvier and then requires him to outlast them all in order to survive. Only the climactic doubleheader (a confrontation in a desolate house and a scuffle in a Central Park maintenance facility) disappoints. For his chilling performance as a Nazi, Olivier earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination; two years later, he would nab a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his hammy performance as a Nazi hunter in The Boys from Brazil. Goldman, meanwhile, deservedly won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his other 1976 credit, All the President’s Men.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include film historian audio commentary; a making-of featurette; and rehearsal footage.

Movie: ★★★

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (Photo: DreamWorks)

PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH (2022). Even though Antonio Banderas’ Puss in Boots owned the Shrek franchise from the moment he was introduced in the second film, that was no reason to hand him his own film. Or at least that was my thinking upon the 2011 release of Puss in Boots, a toon flick I found listless and lackluster. But Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, turning up 11 years after its predecessor, is a laudable vehicle for the energetic and egocentric feline. Frequently forsaking the snarky and occasionally tiresome brand of humor that defined the Shrek crop and carried over into the first PiB, this one does a fine job of balancing its knockabout humor with a surprisingly somber tale of how the specter of death can limit one’s ability to fully embrace and enjoy life. Having used up eight of his nine lives, Puss perpetually tries to stay a step ahead of Death (personified as a sickle-wielding wolf and  voiced by Wagner Moura), and he’s joined by former partner Kitty Softpaws (returning Salma Hayek Pinault) and a scruffy dog (Harvey Guillén) as he attempts to find the Wishing Star and regain all of his lives. Yet he’s not the only one seeking the Star, with his nemeses including Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and Jack Horner (John Mulaney). An Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature Film, this may not be as original or innovative as fellow contenders (and front-runners) Marcel the Shell With Shoes On and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, but darn if it didn’t move me the most.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition include a making-of piece; deleted scenes; and a new short, The Trident.

Movie: ★★★

Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day (Photo: Warner)

TRAINING DAY (2001). Despite formidable performances in the likes of Malcolm X and Fences, Denzel Washington’s only Best Actor Oscar to date (he earlier had won a supporting statue for 1989’s Glory) was for this gritty and initially engrossing cop flick. Washington is riveting as Alonzo Harris, an LA narcotics officer who gives rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, nabbing a Best Supporting Actor nomination) one day to see if he has what it takes to work under his command. Jake is thrilled with the opportunity, but he soon realizes that Alonzo’s methods, which usually involve bending or breaking the law, fly in the face of his own idealism. The role of Alonzo Harris would allow any actor ample opportunities to chew the scenery, but Washington repeatedly refuses the bait — his performance is all live-wire mobility and coiled intensity. There’s also a delicious ambiguity in David Ayer’s screenplay that suggests Alonzo’s dirty deeds might be the only way for a cop to survive on the streets. Unfortunately, all philosophical musings about the moral dilemma in committing evil for the sake of goodness are washed away in the third act, as the movie sheds all lofty ambitions and becomes a police shoot-’em-up marked by contrived circumstances and convenient coincidences.

Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition include audio commentary by director Antoine Fuqua; deleted scenes; an alternate ending; and music videos for Pharoahe Monch’s “Got You” and Nelly’s “#1.”

Movie: ★★½

Sean Connery and Karl Malden in Meteor (Photo: AIP)


Turkey Pick: METEOR (1979). The 1979 flop Beyond the Poseidon Adventure was covered in this slot last week; now here’s another of the expensive bombs that helped kill off the disaster flick at decade’s end. An asteroid five miles wide is headed straight for Earth, and if it hits, it’s the end of the world as we know it. A NASA bigwig (Karl Malden) taps a former colleague (Sean Connery) to help find a solution, but it soon becomes clear that progress will only be made if the U.S. pools its resources with those of the U.S.S.R. Yet even as the NASA brains feverishly work alongside a Russian scientist (Brian Keith) and his translator (Natalie Wood), smaller meteor chunks are already pelting the earth, causing mass destruction in New York, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. Meteor isn’t as cheesy as some of the other entries in the disaster cycle, but it’s also not much fun, with reams of dry dialogue, visual effects that run hot and cold, and slumming movie stars trying their damnedest to stay awake. Still, you do get to hear Connery ask government bigwigs forcing him to help out, “Why don’t you also stick a broom up my ass so I can sweep the floor on the way out?” The cast also includes Martin Landau (in the hammy portion of his otherwise stellar career; see also 1980’s Without Warning and 1982’s Alone in the Dark) as a Russkie-hating officer, cult favorite Sybil Danning as a skier who gets buried under a mountain of Styrofoam — excuse me, snow — and “Henry Fonda as The President.” The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Sound, presumably for the whooshing noise the space rock makes as it hurtles toward our planet.

Movie: ★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
Alone in the Dark
Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Malcolm X
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Top Gun: Maverick
Without Warning

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