Dennis Quaid and Ned Beatty in The Big Easy (Photo: Kino & Lionsgate)

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.)

Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy (Photo: Kino & Lionsgate)

THE BIG EASY (1987). Just as I recall how a two-month stretch in Fall 1993 found two films receiving ample ink from reviewers for their similar sequences involving repressed emotions in stiff-upper-lip period settings (The Age of Innocence and The Remains of the Day), I also remember when a two-week stretch in August 1987 introduced a pair of movies that caught critics and audiences off-guard with their steamy sex scenes involving (mostly) clothed fondling. One was No Way Out, which saw Kevin Costner and Sean Young getting hot ‘n’ heavy in the back of a limousine; the other was The Big Easy, which featured Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin in flagrante delicto. While No Way Out might be the better picture, it’s a thriller first and foremost, with Young’s character checking out fairly early; by contrast, The Big Easy is as much a love story as a murder-mystery, and Quaid and Barkin are beautifully matched. Delivering what could well be his career-best performance, Quaid portrays Remy McSwain, a New Orleans detective who, like many of his colleagues (including a superior nicely played by Ned Beatty), doesn’t see anything wrong with a little harmless corruption on the side (a free meal here, a payoff for protection there). When Assistant D.A. Anne Osborne (Barkin) arrives in town set on taking down corrupt cops, she’s attracted to Remy due to his considerable charm but disturbed by his unethical conduct. The pair team up, however, to investigate a series of gangland slayings rocking the city. Barkin manages to make her character’s klutziness endearing rather than patronizing, and the inspired location shooting and music score add authenticity to the proceedings. That’s the real Jim Garrison playing Judge Jim Garrison; he was the District Attorney portrayed by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Jim McBride; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other Kino titles.

Movie: ★★★

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King (Photo: CC)

THE FISHER KING (1991). Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is an offensive talk-radio host whose career is on the rise until a deranged listener misinterprets his comment that yuppies must be stopped and ends up killing scores of them in a chic Manhattan bar. Three years later, Jack is a shell of a person: unemployable, alcoholic, self-loathing, and sponging off his girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl). Late one night, Jack meets Parry (Robin Williams), a deranged homeless man who believes he’s on a quest to locate the Holy Grail. Once Jack learns that Parry was a respectable teacher who lost his mind when his wife was — you guessed it — fatally shot in that chic Manhattan bar, Jack decides his guilt might be alleviated if he helps this nutty but sweet person in his oddball mission. There are two terrific performances in The Fisher King, and neither belong to Williams. As Anne, a woman who loves Jack and just wishes he would return her adoration, Ruehl delivers a raw performance that deservedly earned her the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Bridges, meanwhile, delivers one of the best performances of his career, taking his character through a wide range of high-wire emotions and never missing a beat. It’s a remarkable turn, so naturally the Best Actor Oscar nomination went to Williams for his showboat supporting stint. The actor delivers a broad performance that often feels like a parody of his own comic persona, and he’s not helped by an overreaching script from Richard LaGravenese and poor directorial choices by Terry Gilliam, who should have left the Grail alone after his participation in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Some lovely scenes commingle with many frustrating ones, and it’s up to Bridges and Ruehl to keep this from completely capsizing.

4K extras include audio commentary by Gilliam; deleted scenes; and a video essay showcasing Bridges’ on-set photographs.

Movie: ★★½

Jennifer Beals in Flashdance (Photo: Paramount)

FLASHDANCE (1983). It’s impossible to overstate the popularity and influence of Flashdance back in 1983. This sleeper smash not only became the third highest-grossing film of its year (only Return of the Jedi and the Best Picture Oscar winner Terms of Endearment earned more), but its slick visuals backed by pulsating music — in other words, its music-video aesthetics — basically helped establish the MTV template. The film also featured a #1 soundtrack that nabbed nine Grammy nominations (including Album of the Year) and won three, and star Jennifer Beals’ sexy, off-the-shoulder sweatshirt look became one of the movie year’s defining images. That’s quite an impressive list of achievements for a film best described as, well, dopey. Beals stars as Alex Owens, a beautiful 18-year-old welder who’s the only female employed at a Pittsburgh steel mill yet is treated respectfully (i.e. no catcalls or pinched buttocks) by all of her middle-aged coworkers. (Yes, it’s a world as fantastical as the Pandora seen in Avatar.) By night, Alex shucks the working-class duds and performs sexy dance routines at the local dive — she eventually catches the eye of her hunky boss (Michael Nouri), who sees no problem in dating one of his employees. Often laughable in its dialogue and plot situations (the script was co-written by Showgirls’ Joe Eszterhas), it’s nevertheless easy to understand why it hit a sweet spot: The graphics are groovy, the music is catchy, and Beals is enormously appealing. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Original Song (the #1 hit “Maniac”), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing, this won Best Original Song for its other chart-topping tune, “Flashdance… What a Feeling.”

Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition include an interview with director Adrian Lyne and a look at the film’s massive success.

Movie: ★★

Steve McQueen in Hell Is for Heroes (Photo: Kino & Paramount)

HELL IS FOR HEROES (1962). Robert Pirosh was already an established screenwriter in Hollywood (early credits included the Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races) when he took off for Europe to fight the Nazis. After his return, his participation in the conflict powered several of his scripts, including the ones for Battleground (for which he won an Oscar for Best Story & Screenplay), Go for Broke! and Hell Is for Heroes. Whereas many WWII films preferred to prop up a conventional hero and surround him with a support staff of expendables, Pirosh’s personal experiences taught him that ensemble pieces more accurately reflected the dynamics of the war, and all three of the aforementioned pictures take that approach. In Hell Is for Heroes, a squad is tasked with holding off German forces until replacements can arrive. Since there are less than a dozen soldiers on hand, the men must fool the enemy into believing their numbers are much greater — their ingenuity includes making a backfiring jeep sound like a tank and allowing the Germans to intercept misleading communications. Like other WWII yarns of the period (Pork Chop Hill, The Great Escape), Hell Is for Heroes was cast with many actors who were on the ascendancy: Steve McQueen as the outfit’s moody loner, Bobby Darin as the happy-go-lucky procurer, James Coburn as the mellow mechanic, Fess Parker as the able sergeant, and Bob Newhart (in his film debut) as a meek greenhorn. Characterizations are colorful if not particularly deep, but director Don Siegel shoots in a gritty style that maximizes the pessimistic streak found in Pirosh’s authentic scribblings.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by author Steven Jay Rubin (Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010) and film historian Steve Mitchell, and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★

Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth in Infinity Pool (Photo: NEON)

INFINITY POOL (2023). Brandon Cronenberg continues to function as a Mini-Me to his famous dad David, regurgitating Pop’s favorite themes (including the loss of one’s own identity, the draw of sexual perversities, and body-horror distress) without really carving out his own niche. His latest also feels like a distant cousin to last year’s Triangle of Sadness, another movie that treated the fact that rich people often act in outrageous and offensive ways as Breaking News! Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, both of whom made films that placed on my 10 Best of 2022 list (The Northman for him, X and Pearl for her), head the cast of this savage satire in which James Foster (Skarsgård), an author of dubious skill, and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) travel to a swank resort in a foreign (and fictional) country and become involved with the free-spirited Gabi (Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). James and Em are convinced by their new friends to leave the resort grounds for a leisurely afternoon, but matters turn decidedly dark when the return trip finds James involved in the fatal hit-and-run of a local peasant. So far, so intriguing, but Cronenberg then elects to send in the clones (don’t ask), and what started out as an atmospheric tale full of mystery and foreboding becomes an obvious and heavy-handed story that isn’t “eat the rich” so much as it’s “exhaust the audience.” Goth, however, is terrific — it’s about time somebody (be it her agent, a studio head, or, heck, even a fortune teller) made the effort to turn her into a household name.

There are no extras on the Blu-ray.

Movie: ★★

Kurt Russell in Used Cars (Photo: Shout! Factory)

USED CARS (1980). Robert Zemeckis met with such tremendous success in helming the likes of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump that it’s often easy to overlook the two gems he directed and co-wrote (with Bob Gale) at the start of his career. The delightful 1978 comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand was followed by this irreverent and often uproarious comedy that, like Hand, deserved better than the fate it suffered at the U.S. box office. Kurt Russell stars as Rudy Russo, a car salesman who feels he has what it takes to become a corrupt politician specializing in graft. For now, he’s stuck working at the struggling dealership of the kindly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), whose venal brother Roy (also Warden) owns the rival lot across the street. Roy puts in motion a dastardly plan to take control of Luke’s business; for their part, Luke’s employees — Rudy, the superstitious Jeff (Gerritt Graham), and the excitable Jim (Frank McRae) — are nothing if not loyal, and they set about thwarting Roy’s heinous scheme. Everything one would expect from an R-rated comedy from the early ’80s is present and accounted for: gratuitous T&A, profanity that flies like poetry (especially when delivered by Warden and McRae), then-timely potshots at famous figures both good (Jimmy Carter) and bad (Ayatollah Khomeini), and plenty of impressive vehicular stuntwork. Fans of Laverne & Shirley will further get a kick out of the casting of that show’s Lenny and Squiggy, actors Michael McKean and David L. Lander, as a pair of electronic wizards, while devotees of The Munsters will delight in the appearance of that series’ Grandpa, the singular Al Lewis, as a particularly stern judge who once sentenced a kid to 35 years behind bars for stealing beer.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell; outtakes; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
The Age of Innocence
Best Films of 2022
Forrest Gump
The Great Escape
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
The Northman
The Remains of the Day
X / Pearl

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