(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE ACCOUNTANT (2016). Ben Affleck, the strong and silent type when it comes to performances, scores again in this vein as the autistic Chris Wolff, who has directed his abilities as a math savant into a career as an accountant. Chris is also as skilled at combat as he is at the numbers game, proficient with his hands and with all manner of firearms. These qualities come into play once he accepts a seemingly ordinary assignment of looking into the books at a robotics company headed by a humanistic scientist (John Lithgow) and his sister (Jean Smart). After he uncovers some discrepancies in the ledgers, people start getting bumped off, and it appears that an innocent accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) might be next. Meanwhile, Chris' criminal activities are being investigated by two Treasury Department agents (J.K. Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson), and just who is the mysterious assassin (Jon Bernthal) lurking in the shadows? Clearly, The Accountant isn't lacking for plot, and for a good while, director Gavin O'Connor and writer Bill Dubuque keep the picture percolating with a heady mix of detailed character analysis and swift action sequences. But even at an early point, there are suggestions that the movie will climax in the most daft and predictable manner possible, and our prayers that such a dunderheaded ending be avoided fall on deaf ears, with the denouement every bit as awful as feared. Indeed, the entirety of the concluding chapter is unsatisfactory — jokey, rushed, and tonally wrong.
Blu-ray extras include a featurette on Affleck's character; a piece on autism; and a look at the film's stuntwork.
BLAIR WITCH (2016). Arriving long after 1999's phenomenally successful The Blair Witch Project and 2000's justly forgotten Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Blair Witch opens with James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of The Blair Witch Project protagonist Heather, discovering YouTube footage which he believes shows his sister in the cabin in the woods where she disappeared 15 years earlier. Determined to locate her, he and his friends (Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid) head to the area to meet the local couple (Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry) who discovered the footage buried in the woods. The sextet are soon hoofing it through the thick forest, but it doesn't take long for the omniscient evil presence to begin toying with them before attempting to take them out. As expected, Blair Witch is also presented in the "found footage" format, which was fresh back in '99 but by now has grown exceedingly stale with its overuse in cinema. In fact, "stale" pretty much describes every aspect of this film, which basically follows the same patterns as its predecessor without adding much new to the equation. There's next to no suspense in the film, although director Adam Wingard loves to throw in tiresome attempts at cheap scares by having a person suddenly APPEAR OUT OF NOWHERE! and get right in the face of somebody else (hasn't anyone in scare flicks ever heard of personal space?). As for the finale, it's largely a repeat of the climax from the first picture, conclusively demonstrating that Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett aren't particularly interested in expanding the myth as much as regurgitating it.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Wingard and Barrett, and a six-part making-of documentary.
BRIDGET JONES'S BABY (2016). It's been 13 years since we've last seen Bridget Jones, and while that comes close to the 17 years since we last spotted the Blair Witch (see above), it must be noted that the plucky Brit has certainly held up better. As with The Blair Witch Project, the delightful 2001 feature Bridget Jones's Diary was followed by a dismal sequel (2004's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) — in this case, though, there's a Happily Ever After in the form of Bridget Jones's Baby, which proves to be a satisfying entry in the franchise. In this outing, Bridget (Renée Zellweger, again essaying the role that earned her an Oscar nomination) is older but not necessarily wiser, lamenting the fact that she's alone on her 43rd birthday. But things soon improve on the romantic — or at least sexual — front, as Bridget first hooks up with an American matchmaking guru (Patrick Dempsey) she meets at a music festival and then, a few days later, with her former lover Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), now unhappily married and on the verge of getting a divorce. Shortly thereafter, Bridget finds herself pregnant, and she sets about attempting to figure out not only which of her two beaus is the father but also which one has captured (or, in the case of Darcy, recaptured) her heart. Bridget Jones's Baby takes its time hitting its stride, with early sequences proving to be awkward and forced. But as the plot complications pile up, so do the opportunities for Zellweger and an ace supporting cast (including Emma Thompson, hilariously droll as Bridget's doctor) to strut their stuff, resulting in a film that ultimately does a fine job in delivering its developments with the right amount of comic kick.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted and alternate scenes; and a gag reel.
DAVID AND BATHSHEBA (1951). As was often the norm during the 1950s, the top box office hit of 1951 was a Biblical epic — in this case, David and Bathsheba. Outgrossing even the likes of that same year's acknowledged classics An American in Paris and A Streetcar Named Desire, the picture stars Gregory Peck as King David, no longer the young boy who killed Goliath but rather a ruler who becomes obsessed with Bathsheba (Susan Hayward), the wife of one of his faithful soldiers (Kieron Moore). Their illicit affair and, after the soldier is killed in battle, scandalous marriage apparently leads to the drought that's consuming the land, so it's up to the prophet Nathan (Raymond Massey) to serve as middleman between God and David. Fine production values can't completely cover the inadequacies in the draggy script by Philip Dunne, while Hayward's role is distressingly threadbare. But in a performance that's been highly praised by Martin Scorsese (whose own religious film Silence is currently in theaters), Peck is allowed to play a deeply flawed character — while it doesn't rank among his best efforts, it's still interesting watching him tackle a character who's often more villain than hero. David and Bathsheba earned five Academy Award nominations, including a dubious bid for Best Story and Screenplay — the other four nods, all for technical achievements, were more deserving, particularly Best Cinematography (Leon Shamroy). That's horror-film stalwart George Zucco as the Egyptian emissary, and look for future Broadway legend Gwen Verdon as a sultry palace dancer.
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage promotional piece featuring Peck, Hayward and director Henry King, and trailers for various films starring Peck or Hayward.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016). The herrings in The Girl on the Train might be the usual shade of robust red, but the film itself is largely a bloodless affair, not so much a whodunit as a wellobviouslythatpersondunit. Based on the smash bestseller by Paula Hawkins, the film version finds Emily Blunt delivering a strong performance as Rachel, an unrepentant alcoholic who continues to harass her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and his wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom and Anna live in the same neighborhood as another couple, Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans) — Rachel rides the train that passes alongside their property on a daily basis, thus allowing her to catch glimpses of them as she whizzes by. She imagines Megan and Scott as the perfect happily-ever-after couple, and thus she's shocked when she spots Megan making out with someone else on the balcony; this event is soon followed by Megan's disappearance, and Rachel takes it upon herself to find out what's going on. It's perhaps an unwise move, since her involvement has the detective (Allison Janney) on the case tagging her as a leading suspect. I haven't read Hawkins' novel, although my wife informs me that one of its biggest failings is that the identity of the villain is ridiculously easy to figure out. In that case, the movie is a faithful adaptation, since the celluloid counterpart is head-smackingly obvious from an early point. Couple the lack of mystery and dearth of suspense with a plethora of thinly defined characters and the result is a story that probably should have remained on the printed page.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Tate Taylor; a making-of featurette; and deleted and extended scenes.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). Simply put, director Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday is one of the all-time great motion pictures — if anyone ever elects to place a screwball comedy in a time capsule for 25th-century historians to analyze, it might as well be this one. A remake of 1931's The Front Page, which itself was adapted from the popular stage show written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, this casts Grant as newspaper editor Walter Burns, whose best reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) also just happens to be his ex-wife. Hildy's preparing to quit her job and marry an amiable hayseed (Ralph Bellamy), forcing Walter to pique her journalistic curiosity regarding an upcoming execution in order to keep her in his life — and at his newspaper. The fast-paced banter sprays the screen like machine gun fire, and Russell (in her best role) more than holds her own against her screwball veteran co-star. The brilliant script comes courtesy of the underrated Charles Lederer (The Thing from Another World, Kiss of Death), although one of the best lines — Burns describing Bellamy's character by stating he "looks like that fellow in the movies ... you know, um, Ralph Bellamy" — was an ad-lib on Grant's part.
The two-disc Criterion Blu-ray edition also contains 1931's The Front Page (with the character of Hildy Johnson in its original incarnation as a man, not a woman, and played by Pat O'Brien), which earned three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Adolphe Menjou as Walter Burns) and Best Director (Lewis Milestone). Extras on His Girl Friday include archival interviews with Hawks; a discussion of the movie with film scholar David Bordwell; and a 1940 radio adaptation. Extras on The Front Page include a piece on the film's restoration, and a featurette on Hecht.
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (2016). So is Keeping Up with the Joneses unwatchable because it cruelly wastes the efforts of a solid cast, or is it watchable because a solid cast blessedly saves it from itself? That's the question du jour when it comes to a picture graced with four bright performances but hampered by a plot that felt recycled even back when Millard Fillmore was president. Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney, dull suburbanites whose lives are upturned when sexy couple Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move into the neighborhood. Eventually, it's revealed that the Joneses are spies, but are they on the side of right or wrong? As far as viewers are concerned, that's a no-brainer, and the plot proceeds with the usual boilerplate about someone wanting to stop someone else who's wanting to acquire something that threatens the country/the world/the stock market/the Applebee's special/what-have-you. The film never ventures outside of any known comfort zones, but that's not to say the actors don't work wonders within it. Gadot is appropriately silky and sinewy, Fisher again proves her worth as a first-rate (and underrated) comedienne with her contagious effervescence, Galifianakis continues to become less annoying and more likable with each subsequent turn (this might be his best role to date), and Hamm again reveals the prankster's soul buried underneath the matinee-idol looks. As the cherry on top, the villain of the piece is played by a stand-up comic who really should be getting more film work, and he contributes a few expertly executed zingers.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a piece on the Georgia location shooting.
REVENGE OF THE BLOOD BEAST (1966). Also known under the titles The She-Beast and Sister of Satan, Revenge of the Blood Beast is a horror cheapie that's aided immeasurably by the presence of Michael Reeves behind the camera — the young British filmmaker (who died of a prescription drug overdose in 1969, at the age of 25) can't completely pull the picture into the "win" column, but it's an admirable try nonetheless. Ian Ogilvy and cult star Barbara Steele play Philip and Veronica, newlyweds who have elected to honeymoon in Transylvania (Transylvania?). There, they meet Count Von[sic] Helsing (John Karlsen), whose ancestors include the person who famously killed Dracula and, for the purpose of this story, the nobleman who tried to protect the village from a witch murdering small children. But things went wrong (as they invariably do), the witch placed a curse on the villagers, and, 200 years later, she has managed to return to exact her revenge on her tormentors' descendants. Veronica falls prey to her evil designs, and it's up to Philip and Von Helsing to rescue her while simultaneously sending the hag back to her watery grave. Reeves shows no small measure of style in his direction, and his script includes swatches of humor that run hot-and-cold (although the visual gag involving the sickle is priceless). It's just too bad the latter part of the picture gets bogged down in an endless car chase more suited to a Keystone Kops romp than to an atmospheric horror yarn.
For the record, the Blu-ray box copy states that the movie is in black-and-white (it's actually in color) and that the only extra is a making-of documentary (it's actually an interview with Steele). Also, one of the pictures on the back is most assuredly not from this movie (research reveals that it's from 1967's She-Freak).
SNOWDEN (2016). It's no match for 2014's Citizenfour, the Edward Snowden confessional that nabbed the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, but say this about Snowden: It's the best movie Oliver Stone has helmed since the 20th century. While it lacks the emotional wallop or technical prowess of Stone's revered projects from the 1980s and '90s (Platoon, JFK and many more), it at least finds the controversial filmmaker shakily getting back on his feet following a post-Y2K resume that includes the disastrous likes of Alexander, W., Savages, and that Wall Street sequel with Shia LaBeouf. Snowden, with a script by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald (meshing together a pair of books), even uses as its starting point the meetings between the whistleblower (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Citizenfour director Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and The Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), thereafter employing flashbacks as Snowden (born in Elizabeth City, NC) explains how he progressed from a blinders-on conservative to a man whose disgust in the government's illegal surveillance of Americans led to him deciding to leak thousands of NSA files. The film clearly views Snowden as a hero rather than a traitor, and it cuts no slack for anyone on either side of the political aisle, particularly the Bush administration for implementation and the Obama administration for continuation (there are also sound bites of Hillary Clinton stating that Snowden needs to be held accountable and Monster-Elect Donald Trump suggesting that he be "executed"). And if Stone has over the years lost the ability to infuse his pictures with righteous indignity, he at least has again applied his talents to a movie that actually matters.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, and a Q&A session with Snowden, Stone, Gordon-Levitt and co-star Shailene Woodley.
XXX (2002). The troika behind the original 2001 The Fast and the Furious — star Vin Diesel, director Rob Cohen and producer Neal H. Moritz — reunited the following year for another smash'em bash'em genre flick. Diesel plays Xander Cage, a modern outlaw and extreme sports enthusiast who gets pressed into serving his country by a sharp government agent (Samuel L. Jackson). Cage's assignment takes him into the heart of an Eastern European outfit hell-bent on toppling all existing world powers and allowing anarchy to reign. The film's tagline was "A New Breed Of Secret Agent," and in that respect, they got it right: With an attitude that's surly rather than suave and sporting elaborate tattoos over most of his body, Diesel's Xander Cage would never be mistaken for James Bond (in fact, the picture even opens with a sequence in which a 007-esque secret agent gets murdered while on assignment, leading to Xander's recruitment). Yet along with a new breed of secret agent, xXx could have benefited from a new breed of secret agent plotline — instead, this magnetic character finds himself competing against the usual assortment of dull Eurotrash villains hell-bent on world domination. Still, the stuntwork is aces, even when at the service of absurd action scenarios — audiences may find themselves simultaneously gasping in awe and hooting in derision at some of the slam-bang set pieces on display.
Extras on the 15th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition (hitting stores just as xXx: Return of Xander Cage hits theaters) include audio commentary by Cohen; various making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and the music video for Gavin Rossdale's "Adrenaline."
Short And Sweet:
BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955). Despite having helmed two of the most enduring popcorn pictures of the 1960s, The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges' only Best Director Oscar nomination came for the imaginatively staged Bad Day at Black Rock, which also earned nods for star Spencer Tracy and scripter Millard Kaufman. Tracy stars as a one-armed stranger who arrives in the Western town of Black Rock in the days following World War II; he's searching for a Japanese-American farmer but instead runs afoul of local yahoos menacingly played by Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine. Few sights in this world are as beautiful as watching rednecks get their comeuppance, and Tracy's stubborn vet is determined to take care of business in this tight (81 minutes) thriller that boldly (and atypically) alluded to the poor treatment of Japanese-Americans during and after the war.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Dana Polan and the theatrical trailer.
THE BULLET TRAIN (1975). Those who always assumed that 1994's Speed was merely a knockoff (albeit an excellent one) of a certain Bruce Willis hit — "Die Hard on a bus" was how wags described the Keanu Reeves flick before it opened — might be surprised to learn that the earlier movie it most resembles is this Japanese effort about a train set to explode if its speed falls below 80 kilometers. With a generous 152-minute running time, The Bullet Train isn't as concise — and, thus, not as exciting — as the Hollywood hit, but it's nevertheless a fine mix of action and melodrama, with plenty of time devoted to the lives of villains and victims alike.
Blu-ray extras consist of a retrospective piece on the film with director Junya Sato, and an isolated music track.
DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016). Director Peter Berg has devoted his career to making jingoistic nonsense, so the surprise regarding this look at the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history is that it actually names names and calls out the chief culprit (BP). Otherwise, the film is pretty much what one would expect — a streamlined shout-out to working-class Americans. Mark Wahlberg heads the cast as a heroic engineer aboard Deepwater Horizon, the offshore oil rig whose shoddy conditions led to disaster in 2010, with Kurt Russell providing additional bravery as the rig supervisor and John Malkovich adding a smidgen of villainy as a pushy BP rep. There's not much depth or even outrage to the picture — Berg's idea of social commentary is to shove the American flag into the frame at every opportunity — but less discerning viewers won't notice or care.
Blu-ray extras include a five-part making-of piece; raw footage from the film's shoot; and a piece on Berg.
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