(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming sites. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (2016). Here's the thing about 2012's Jack Reacher, the first picture based on one of Lee Child's popular novels: While it made "only" $80 million stateside, it was actually a good fit for Tom Cruise, allowing him to play his strong and silent routine in the service of a twisty and gripping thriller populated with interesting characters and even more interesting casting choices (Werner Herzog as the villain!). But all such viewing niceties have fallen by the wayside for this dreary sequel, which seems to exist for the sole purpose of serving as a vanity project for its aging star — who also produced. In this outing, Reacher learns that a trusted army officer (Colbie Smulders) has been framed for espionage and wrongly imprisoned. No problem for our hero, who finds that breaking her out of jail is no more difficult than flipping a light switch and proceeds to do so in about the same amount of time it takes the rest of us to comb our hair. Now on the run, the pair are accompanied by a teenage girl (Danika Yarosh) who may or may not be Reacher's daughter from a long-ago tryst. JR:NGB manages to be both ludicrous and lethargic, always a deadly one-two punch. The principal villains are both so nondescript that I honestly wouldn't be able to pick the actors playing them out of a police lineup, and even Cruise seems bored, going through the sort of mechanical, megalomaniacal moves that thankfully haven't yet crippled the sturdy Mission: Impossible franchise.
Blu-ray extras include interviews with cast and crew; a look at the action sequences; and a piece on the Louisiana location shooting. It also contains a miniature graphic novel of Child's Jack Reacher story "Everyone Talks."
MASTERMINDS (2016). Nobody would ever mistake Masterminds for a good movie — it's sloppy, it's cartoonish, and it takes an incredible and unbelievable true-life tale and needlessly gilds the lily, piling on extra absurdities. But Masterminds is a comedy first and foremost, and it would be criminal to deny the huge laughs strewn throughout, sneakily exploding like depth charges at random intervals. The movie is based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery that took place here in Charlotte, and the trio of scripters refused to change the names to protect the stupid. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a Loomis Fargo employee convinced by former co-worker Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig) and her sleazy associate Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) that it would be a good idea to swipe $17 million from the company vaults. A flight to Mexico, a tenacious cop (Leslie Jones), and a wisecracking hit man (Jason Sudeikis) eventually figure in the proceedings. Three of the four Ghostbusters take part in the film, with Wiig effective as always, Jones doing what she can with a paper-thin role, and Kate McKinnon amusing as Ghantt's fiancée. Galifianakis and Wilson play more stereotypical hicks, with the former comfortably in his element and the latter failing to convince as a ruthless, Southern fried imbecile. Most of the humor is broad, and, as usual, there's an overreliance on the sort of scatological material that will only crack up fratboys and 5-year-olds. But there are also some genuine beauties on display, from a hysterical crack name-dropping Kenny Rogers to the hired assassin's attitude toward Chambers' seemingly dim-witted sons. Masterminds may be short on brains, but it's fairly well-stocked when it comes to funny bones.
Blu-ray extras consist of a piece on the real-life incident and the theatrical trailer.
PINOCCHIO (1940). Walt Disney's second full-length animated feature — the first, of course, was 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — remains one of his studio's genuine masterpieces, an emotionally rich, narratively weighty and visually spectacular motion picture that never loses any of its power to dazzle the senses. Based on Carlo Collodi's tale, this finds kindly toymaker Geppetto creating a wooden puppet that magically comes to life. The curious lad, named Pinocchio, dreams of nothing but becoming a real boy, and with the conscientious Jiminy Cricket by his side, he sets out into the world for a series of exciting adventures. Pinocchio is unique in the annals of Disney animation in that it's the studio's only toon movie in which evil is never punished: When all is said and done, Pleasure Island is still operating, Stromboli is still scouring the countryside looking for susceptible prey, and Monstro the whale is still plundering the ocean depths. Yet despite its scenes of suspense and the haunting morality tale at its center, Pinocchio is also breezy enough to be enjoyed by tots looking for nothing but a good time — for that, we largely have to thank Jiminy Cricket, delightfully voiced by Cliff Edwards. Pinocchio earned two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (the immortal "When You Wish Upon a Star").
New Blu-ray extras on the Signature Collection edition include archival interviews with Walt Disney and the 1927 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit animated short Poor Papa. Previously released extras include audio commentary by film critic Leonard Maltin, film historian J.B. Kaufman, and animation director Eric Goldberg; an hour-long making-of piece; deleted scenes; and a featurette on real-life toymakers.
POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986) / POLTERGEIST III (1988). The two sequels to 1982's Poltergeist have been available on Blu-ray in bare-bones editions, but fans of the series will be interested to learn that Shout! Factory has just released both installments in new editions boasting a healthy amount of extras.
Directed by Tobe Hooper and produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg, Poltergeist was a huge hit during the summer of '82, making a sequel practically a fact of life. But with Hooper and Spielberg not involved in any capacity, Poltergeist II: The Other Side turns out to be pretty lousy. At least the Freeling family — mom Diane (Jobeth Williams), dad Steve (Craig T. Nelson), son Robbie (Oliver Robins) and daughter Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke) — is back, although the film is so sloppily constructed that there's never an explanation as to why older daughter Dana is MIA (in truth, it was because actress Dominique Dunne was tragically murdered by her boyfriend in late '82, when she was only 22). As before, the Freelings are terrorized by malevolent spirits from the other side, these led by the cackling Minister Kane (Julian Beck, who passed away from cancer shortly after the film's release, at the age of 60). Rarely engaging but frequently unpleasant, the film offers little of note — the visual effects did earn an Oscar nomination, but they're of wavering quality. Zelda Rubenstein returns as the diminutive psychic Tangina, while reliable Will Sampson turns up as her Native American colleague; sadly, he passed away the year after the film's release, felled by kidney failure at the age of 53.
While Poltergeist earned a robust $74 million at the U.S. box office, Poltergeist II only nabbed $40 million, though it was still enough to convince MGM to make a third film. It was a wasted effort, as Poltergeist III was critically savaged and grossed a mere $14 million. Only O'Rourke and Rubenstein remain from the previous pictures — this time, Carol Anne has been sent to live with her relatives (Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, and a pre-Twin Peaks Lara Flynn Boyle) in a newly constructed Chicago high-rise, quickly learning that the evil spirits have followed her to her new residence. Poltergeist III actually turns out to be a minor improvement over its immediate predecessor, as writer-director Gary Sherman and co-scripter Brian Taggert cannily use the building as a diverting backdrop for all the supernatural shenanigans. Otherwise, there's little here that warrants attention, with the picture devolving into a standard light and magic show. Continuing the string of tragedies associated with this franchise, O'Rourke died four months before the film's release, at the age of 12.
Blu-ray extras on Poltergeist II include audio commentary by writer-producer Michael Grais; an interview with special effects designers Richard Edlund, Steve Johnson and Screaming Mad George; a piece on the contributions of Oscar-winning artist H.R. Giger (Alien) to the film; and the theatrical trailer. Blu-ray extras on Poltergeist III include audio commentary by Sherman; separate interviews with Allen, Taggert and special effects creator John Caglione Jr.; and the theatrical trailer.
Poltergeist II: *1/2
Poltergeist III: **
TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967). Audrey Hepburn delivered two terrific performances over the course of 1967, tackling dissimilar roles that displayed her versatility. She earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a blind woman terrorized by intruders in the thriller Wait Until Dark, but she was equally excellent in the less conventional Two for the Road. Directed by Stanley Donen from an Oscar-nominated original script by Frederic Raphael, the picture is a fierce and funny dissection of a marriage in trouble, with Hepburn and Albert Finney essaying the roles of the bickering spouses. Whiplashing between the past and the present, the movie spans 12 years as it examines Joanna and Mark at different junctures during their courtship and marriage, almost all taking place as the pair embark on various vacations or business trips. Using their words to alternately woo and wound, the pair frequently squabble yet just as often find themselves allied against the world — particularly amusing vignettes in this vein find the exasperated couple taking a vacation with Mark's annoying ex-girlfriend (Eleanor Bron), her fastidious-to-a-fault husband (William Daniels), and their horrific young daughter from hell (Gabrielle Middleton). Two for the Road is refreshing in its intelligence and its insights, effectively mixing cynicism and sentimentality as it focuses on two people who, despite all the headaches and heartaches, just might be perfectly matched after all.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Stanley Donen; separate audio commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman; vintage Fox Movietone newsreel footage; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated track of Henry Mancini's lovely score.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
(Recommended films currently available on streaming services)
INTO THE WILD (2007). In adapting Jon Krakauer's based-on-fact novel, writer-director Sean Penn has fashioned a somber, reflective film about a young man whose actions are so open to interpretation that where some will see an idealist, others will see an obnoxious brat; where some will see a martyr, others will merely see a moron. Emile Hirsch delivers a strong performance as Chris McCandless, a well-to-do college graduate who donates all his savings to charity and heads for the wilderness. Determined to leave society and all its hypocrisies behind, he treks all over North America's untamed terrain, meeting a wide range of interesting individuals along the way (including ones played by Kristen Stewart, Catherine Keener and an Oscar-nominated Hal Holbrook). Into the Wild is especially memorable in the manner in which it offers no absolutes: It demonstrates that nature is as beastly as it is beautiful, and even noble aspirations run the risk of getting trampled under its imposing weight. Penn obviously feels enormous sympathy for his protagonist, yet he doesn't present him as a saint — only a charismatic if troubled kid whose defining feature is that he managed to live a life less ordinary. (Amazon Prime)
MARGIN CALL (2011). Focusing on the first rumblings of the 2008 financial crisis, this debut feature from writer-director J.C. Chandor details how a bright greenhorn (Zachary Quinto) at a fictional Wall Street investment firm takes some data handed to him by a laid-off employee (Stanley Tucci) and quickly figures out that the industry is headed for disaster. This sets in motion a series of after-hours meetings in which company employees of all stripes, from the new kids on the block (Quinto and Penn Badgley) right up to the ruthless CEO (a chilling Jeremy Irons), work to save their company, forcing them to make some moral decisions along the way. Of course, given these sharks, morality doesn't come into play often, but it can be spotted here and there — that's particularly true in the character of a trading-floor honcho (Kevin Spacey) who's uneasy about his role in the whole mess. Eschewing the straightforward characterizations (not to mention slick stylistics) seen in other like-minded films such as Wall Street and Boiler Room, Margin Call opts instead to show us that there are no heroes and villains, only villains and victims and poor souls weighing the merits of a Faustian bargain. (Hulu)
BIG EYES (2014). Tim Burton's Big Eyes relates the bizarre and fascinating story of real-life artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a single mom who drew paintings of children with exceptionally large eyes, and her second husband Walter (Christoph Waltz), a smooth-talking con man who took credit for all her work and then parlayed it into an empire. The film primarily seems to exist as a showcase for two fine performances — Adams' honest emoting in one corner, Waltz's bombastic showboating in the other — but it also takes time to touch upon the difficulties faced by women (particularly single ones) in the 1960s. More pointedly, it looks at how one woman's decision to remain silent about a cruel deception ("Lady art doesn't sell," Walter tells her) enforces the notion that spousal abuse doesn't always have to take the form of physical violence. Like Margaret Keane's artwork, Big Eyes catches viewers with its surface quirks, but there's also something taking place underneath the surface. (Netflix Streaming)
3 WOMEN (1977). Robert Altman was never a conventional moviemaker by any stretch of the imagination, but with 3 Women, the devil-may-care writer-director-producer pushed even harder against the envelope and in the process created a highly unusual and wholly original picture. This is one of his best achievements, a movie that manages to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal — it's no surprise to learn that the genesis for the project came from a dream he had while his wife was in the hospital. Shelley Duvall stars as Millie Lammoreaux, a gangly, talkative woman blissfully unaware (or maybe pretending to be blissfully unaware) that everyone around her views her as a nuisance and a geek. Into her life comes Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), a naive youngster who idolizes Millie until she catches her fooling around with the loutish husband (Robert Fortier) of a sensitive artist (Janice Rule). Duvall and Spacek are both sensational, playing complex women whose contradictory actions — they can switch from endearing to annoying within seconds — make them come achingly alive on screen. (Netflix Streaming)
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