(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD.)
ELLA ENCHANTED (2004). Freely adapted from the book by Gail Carson Levine but completely owing its body and soul to Shrek, this is yet another fractured fairy tale designed for kids living in a postmodern age. Anne Hathaway plays Ella, a young woman who, thanks to a spell placed on her by an inept fairy godmother (Vivica A. Fox), is forced to obey every command directly aimed at her. Tired of being a human puppet, she sets out to locate the fairy to reverse the spell; the resultant journey lands her a handsome young prince (Hugh Dancy) as a suitor, but it also places her in the middle of a murderous scheme hatched by the prince's deceitful uncle (Cary Elwes). Flatulence gags, modern songs incorporated into the medieval action, ironic twists on venerable fairy tale ingredients — after awhile it seems that just about the only thing distinguishing this from Shrek is the absence of a chatty donkey, although this one does offer a talking book as compensation. Ella Enchanted is largely missing any semblance of a through line — plot points are brought up and then abandoned, and characters appear randomly for no pressing reason other than the story requires their presence at that exact moment -- but the movie is still reasonably entertaining, thanks to its able cast (including Minnie Driver and Eric Idle) as well as its own infectious commitment to Happily Ever After principles.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Hathaway, Dancy and director Tommy O'Haver; a making-of featurette; deleted and extended scenes; an interactive game; and the music video for Kari Kimmel's "It's Not Just Make-Believe."
EVERYBODY'S FINE (2009). After spending the better part of a decade-plus mugging to the rafters in such films as The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Analyze That, Robert De Niro opts to underplay in the family melodrama Everybody's Fine. But don't let this opposite approach sucker you in: De Niro isn't low-key as much as he's merely lethargic, and it's yet one more dismissive turn from an actor who once owned a major chunk of seminal '70s cinema. De Niro stars as Frank Goode, a widower who, disappointed that all four of his grown children have canceled plans to come visit him, decides instead to surprise all of them on their own respective doorsteps. He first visits David, an artist living in New York, but David never turns up at his own apartment. Undeterred, Frank presses forward, visiting in rapid succession his daughter Amy (Kate Beckinsale), an advertising executive, his son Robert (Sam Rockwell), a symphony musician, and his other daughter Rosie (Drew Barrymore), a Vegas entertainer. It turns out that all three are hiding things from their dad about David as well as about themselves. Awkward and ill-matched, the members of the big-name cast fail to impress, although Rockwell comes closest to making his character something more than a dullard. Dramatic crises are played out in predictable fashion, with the one deviation from formula — a climactic scene in which Frank imagines his offspring looking like children but arguing with him like adults — proving to be disastrous. Although a remake of a 1990 Italian import starring Marcello Mastroianni, this poorly paced drama also has much in common, both thematically and narratively, with a Jack Nicholson gem from a few years back. Ultimately, though, this is less About Schmidt and more about nothing much.
Blu-ray extras include deleted and extended scenes, and the making of Paul McCartney's "(I Want to) Come Home."
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986). Little Shop of Horrors began as a 1960 Roger Corman cheapie (and subsequent cult classic) before being reinvented as an off-Broadway musical in 1982 by songwriters Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the team that would soon be helping lead the Disney animation renaissance with their Oscar-winning work on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. This 1986 movie is an adaptation of the stage hit, with ex-Muppet man Frank Oz taking the director's chair for this saga about lonely schnook Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) and the dire consequences that arise after he finds a plant that thrives on human blood. The only off-Broadway cast member making the trip to the screen is Ellen Greene, and it's easy to see why: As the delicate Audrey, she shows off her formidable singing ability while also providing the piece with its warm center. Steve Martin is hilarious as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, and there are cameo appearances by John Candy, James Belushi, Christopher Guest and, in the role that Jack Nicholson made famous in the 1960 original, Bill Murray as a dental patient who thrives on pain. Incidentally, the voice of the killer plant is provided by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops. This earned two Oscar nominations, for Best Visual Effects (the animatronic work is excellent) and Best Original Song ("Mean Green Mother from Outer Space").
The big news involving the film's Blu-ray debut is that the disc contains not only the 94-minute theatrical version but also the newly restored, 103-minute director's cut not seen since it was dismissed by preview audiences before the film's original release. It follows the stage adaptation (though not the previous film version) more faithfully, but while viewers rejected it for being too much of a downer, its main problem is that it's overlong, overblown and just plain overkill. Extras on the Blu-ray include audio commentary by Oz on both versions; a behind-the-scenes piece; and deleted scenes.
PROMETHEUS (2012). Continuing to reign as the best disappointment of 2012, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, the heavily hyped prequel-of-sorts to his 1979 classic Alien, is a work whose visual splendor can't be denied but whose narrative content divided audiences as swiftly and completely as the executioner's ax separated Marie Antoinette's head from everything else. This is clearly the type of movie that rewards viewers who put their faith in it, but that's not to diminish the frustrations of those who grow tired of trying to play along. Certainly, there's enough dopiness on display in the more straightforward storytelling — "Aw, what a cute alien! I'll try to pet it just like a kitty cat!" — to bring the brainier aspects of the screenplay into question, but fans of science fiction — and fans of Alien — could do a lot worse. After a mysterious, stand-alone prologue that brings to mind the opening sequence in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey more than it does Scott's original Alien, the film introduces us to scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who have just made a wondrous cavern discovery that suggests aliens were once among us. Fast-forward a couple of years to a familiar sight in the Alien series: a spaceship in which all of the human occupants (including Elizabeth and Charlie) are in deep sleep, headed to a distant planet with the possibility of making contact with extraterrestrial lifeforms. The only one not slumbering is David (Michael Fassbender), an android who passes his time shooting hoops and repeatedly watching Lawrence of Arabia. Once the crew members awaken, we get to meet the rest besides Elizabeth and Charlie: chilly mission leader Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), sensible ship captain Janek (Idris Elba), and other assorted passengers, some so dumb that their inevitable demise can be happily chalked up to the thinning of the gene pool. Prometheus is ofttimes a mess, but it's a beautiful mess, full of grand sights and even grander ideas. It neatly ties into the Alien universe without being slavishly devoted to it, and some of the set pieces compare admirably to ones from the first two franchise films. Fassbender takes top acting honors, although I also responded to Rapace's quiet strength, Elba's empathic streak and Theron's ruthless rationale. The rest of the performances are disposable, keeping in line with the ill-fated characters they animate — characters as doomed as the chances of this interesting oddity ever reaching the lofty pop-culture heights of the 1979 gem that gave birth to the whole cycle. In space, no one can hear you scream, but on the couch, family members can see you shrug.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Scott; separate audio commentary by writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof; deleted and alternate scenes (including an alternate beginning and ending); and The Peter Weyland Files, various pieces relating to the character played by Guy Pearce.
THAT'S MY BOY (2012). While a teenager, Donny is seduced by a lusty teacher and ends up impregnating her. The 13-year-old lad is left to raise the child, named Han Solo (ho ho), as a single parent; once the kid becomes an adult (played by Andy Samberg), he understandably changes his name to Todd and severs all ties with his dad. But on the eve of his wedding to the lovely Jamie (Leighton Meester), Todd is aghast when Donny (Adam Sandler) suddenly reenters his life, hoping to make amends but instead leading his son into all manner of trouble. That's My Boy is pretty unbearable, but it's impossible to completely bomb a comedy that sparkles like Chaplin's City Lights when compared to Sandler's cinematic outhouses Jack and Jill and Grown Ups. Regular co-stars Rob Schneider and David Spade are thankfully missing, although screen irritant Nick Swardson is still on hand, here playing a striptease patron who tells an obese dancer to "use my face as your toilet!" Vanilla Ice also figures into the proceedings — not just in one of the obligatory cameos (those are reserved for the likes of TV star Alan Thicke, former ESPN host Dan Patrick and a certain Oscar-winning actress who should know better) but in a co-starring role as Donny's best friend, Vanilla Ice. That's right: The lame rapper is playing a fictionalized version of himself, but it doesn't exactly set off Being John Malkovich vibes. There's one beautifully staged sequence set on a baseball field, and Todd Bridges of Diff'rent Strokes actually scores with his bit part. But the rest reeks of R-rated desperation: Samberg's Todd simultaneously screwing and barfing on a mannequin wearing his fiancee's wedding dress; Sandler's Donny masturbating over a photo of 88-year-old Grandma Delores (Peggy Stewart); Donny and Vanilla Ice gangbanging the lascivious Grandma Delores; and even a gag about incest.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes; a gag reel; a look at the celebrity cameos; and a featurette on the filming of the strip club scenes.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962). By 1962, longtime nemeses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were both considered has-beens, which meant that the socko box office performance of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? positioned it as the year's top sleeper. A macabre slathering of Grand Guignol mixed with mordant humor, this finds Davis relishing her demented turn as Baby Jane Hudson, a former child star now living with — and perpetually torturing — her wheelchair-bound sister Blanche (Crawford). From Davis' hideous makeup to Victor Buono's supporting stint as a creepy momma's boy — and let's not forget the rat-on-a-platter scene! — this offers an endless stream of indelible moments directed with ghoulish glee by Robert Aldrich. As with many hits, this inspired a trend in cinema — specifically, '60s horror romps featuring aging actresses (Davis in Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Dead Ringer and The Nanny; Crawford in Strait-Jacket, Berserk and I Saw What You Did; Olivia de Havilland in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte and Lady in a Cage; Tallulah Bankhead in Die! Die! My Darling; etc.). Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Davis' 10th and final Best Actress bid and a supporting nod for debuting Buono, this won for Best Black-and-White Costume Design.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by drag artists and writers John Epperson (aka Lypsinka) and Charles Busch; a behind-the-scenes short; the documentaries All About Bette (hosted by Jodie Foster), Film Profile: Joan Crawford and Bette and Joan: Blind Ambition; and an excerpt of Davis appearance on a 1962 episode of The Andy Williams Show.
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