(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE BREAKING POINT (1950). Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not had already been made into an excellent 1944 feature directed by Howard Hawks and offering the immortal first pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow"). Still, that didn’t stop Warner Bros. from returning to the source material for a second time, albeit this time under a different title. In The Breaking Point, it's Casablanca director Michael Curtiz overseeing the dynamic John Garfield as Harry Morgan, a conscientious skipper who's struggling to make the payments on his charter boat during a particularly tough time. As his wife (Phyllis Thaxter) waits and worries at home, he gets mixed up with a shady middle man (Wallace Ford) who facilitates illegal activities and a free-spirited woman (Patricia Neal) who tries to pique his interest. As Harry's moral crewmate, Juano Hernandez steals this unrelentingly downbeat picture. Tragically, Garfield — one of the biggest victims of the heinous Hollywood blacklist — would only be able to make one more movie before dying in 1952, downed by a heart attack at the age of 32.
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with film critic and author Alan K. Rode (Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film); a piece featuring Garfield’s daughter, actress and acting teacher Julie Garfield; a video essay examining Curtiz’s filming methods; excerpts from a 1962 episode of Today showing contents of the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida; and the theatrical trailer.
FARGO (1996). For the uninitiated, this modern classic from Joel and Ethan Coen stars Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police chief who tries to locate the men responsible for a triple homicide just outside her town of Brainerd, Minnesota; William H. Macy co-stars as Jerry Lundegaard, a weaselly car salesman who hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his own wife (Kristin Rudrud). Watching these two plotlines mingle is just one of the many pleasures of Fargo, a movie so unique that its cleverness even extends to its title (only one scene — the first one — actually takes place in Fargo). The performances by McDormand (bringing a great screen character to life) and Macy are superb, and Harve Presnell contributes a forceful turn as the wealthy Wade Gustafson, who can barely disguise his contempt for his weakling son-in-law Jerry. The cinematography by Roger Deakins (who's been Oscar-nominated a whopping 13 times and absurdly has yet to win) is likewise excellent, as is the music score by Carter Burwell. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Macy, who should have won) and Best Cinematography, this earned Oscars for Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Original Screenplay (both Coens).
Blu-ray extras in the new 20th anniversary (a year late, but who’s counting?) steelbook edition include audio commentary by Deakins; a making-of featurette; an article reproduced from the magazine American Cinematographer; a photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer.
KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017). A dull and dour retelling of the Arthurian saga, the film begins with the nefarious Vortigern (Jude Law) teaming up with The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the Sea Witch in order to murder his brother Uther (Eric Bana, basically reprising his Troy role) and steal his crown. He also wipes out the rest of Uther’s family and friends, but he misses his wee son Arthur, who ends up floating down the river Moses-style. Arthur grows up among the rabble (he’s played as an adult by Charlie Hunnam), and his lineage is only determined once he pulls Excalibur from the stone. Excalibur, of course, is the mighty sword forged by Merlin himself – it should be noted that this great character only appears for a few seconds in a flashback sequence, presumably because the filmmakers couldn’t meet the asking price of Ian McKellen or Patrick Stewart or, considering the film’s overall incongruity, Kevin James. Director Guy Ritchie’s kinetic style, perfect for Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, crucially hampered those daft Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr. – the ones that basically reimagined the sleuth as an elementary Indiana Jones. It’s even more damaging here, with Ritchie employing tiresome tricks of the trade to cover up the anemic screenplay he helped write. It’s rather astonishing that the creators of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword had planned for this to be the first in a six-film series focusing on the Camelot celebrity. To borrow from a far superior film about this king – 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course – it would be easier to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring than to willingly watch another entry in this errant enterprise.
Blu-ray extras consist of various behind-the-scenes pieces focusing on the casting, the stuntwork, the Scotland shooting, and more.
SNATCHED (2017). Here’s another grasping summertime slog that promisingly pairs two popular actresses and then puts them through nonsensical material. While Snatched is (thankfully) more tolerable than the recent summer stinkers Tammy (Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon) and Hot Pursuit (Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara), it never really gets out of neutral. Amy Schumer stars as Emily Middleton, a slacker who gets dumped by her boyfriend (Randall Park) right as they’re about to embark on a trip to Ecuador. Because it’s a nonrefundable vacation package, Emily is forced to find somebody else to accompany her – she reluctantly decides to take her stick-in-the-mud mom Linda (Goldie Hawn). While Linda wants to spend the entire trip reading her book safely by the hotel pool, Emily yearns for something more exciting. She meets a hunky guy (Tom Bateman) at the hotel bar, and he takes both Emily and her mom on a jaunt through the real Ecuador – it proves to be disastrous for the women, as they’re kidnapped by local ruffians and held for ransom. Schumer throws herself into her role – here’s a performer who’s admirably not afraid to look ridiculous if the part calls for it – but the focus on Emily turns this into a one-woman show at the expense of her Oscar-winning co-star. Hawn hasn’t appeared in a film since 2002’s The Banger Sisters, but anyone anticipating a comeback won’t find it here. The actress is given precious little to do besides alternating between I-love-you and I-told-you-so modes, and it’s difficult to ascertain if she still possesses her revered comedic prowess since her part is so threadbare. Then again, the flatness of her character is duplicated in most other areas of Snatched, which offers a few offhand chuckles but mostly feels like a journey to nowhere.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.
TEEN WOLF (1985) / TEEN WOLF TOO (1987). Atlantic Releasing Corporation didn’t typically produce movies that earned significant coin (modest performers during the 1980s included Valley Girl and Night of the Comet), but thanks to a little patience on the company’s part, it steered Teen Wolf into becoming a bona fide hit. Filmed before Back to the Future, Teen Wolf was held from release until a few weeks after Universal’s heavily hyped summer flick premiered. It was a brilliant strategy, as Michael J. Fox’s newfound status as the star of a beloved blockbuster meant that audiences were willing to also check him out in another project. (Indeed, for an entire month following its release, Teen Wolf was #2 at the box office while Back to the Future held the #1 spot.)
Fox is certainly one of the very few reasons to see Teen Wolf, which is little more than a bland sitcom that somehow made its way to the big screen. Fox plays Scott Howard, a high school kid who discovers that, like his father (James Hampton) before him and select ancestors before them, he’s actually a werewolf. His sudden ability to get hairy makes him popular with his fellow students and also increases his skills on the basketball court. Fox and some limber supporting turns (Jay Tarses as Coach Finstock, Mark Holton as a chubby kid named, natch, Chubby) manage to keep this slender comedy afloat, if just barely.
Given Fox’s growing popularity as well as his disdain for Teen Wolf, there was no way he was going to appear in a sequel. Enter Jason Bateman, brother of Fox’s Family Ties co-star Justine Bateman, to headline Teen Wolf Too. This awful sequel finds Scott’s cousin Todd (Bateman) heading to college, where he discovers that he’s also a werewolf, discovers that this status makes him popular, and discovers that he now excels at sports. In other words, it’s the same beats as the original, but with lamer characters and even fewer laughs.
Blu-ray extras on Teen Wolf include a new making-of documentary; a still gallery; and the theatrical trailer. Blu-ray extras on Teen Wolf Too include new interviews with director Christopher Leitch, co-stars Kim Darby, Stuart Fratkin and Estee Chandler, and costume designer Heidi Kaczenski, and a still gallery.
Teen Wolf: **
Teen Wolf Too: *
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
(Recommended films currently available on streaming services)
RUSH (2013). This underrated gem from the Frost/Nixon team of director Ron Howard and writer Peter Morgan tracks the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt, two of Formula 1's superstar drivers back in the 1970s. The British Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) is clearly the more outgoing of the pair, with a pronounced interest in sex (though it's not mentioned in the film, he claimed to have slept with more than 5,000 women), booze, and a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. He's animated and outgoing, and everyone wants to orbit his sunny presence. In contrast, the Austrian Lauda (Daniel Brühl) is not very attractive (his nickname among drivers was "the rat," due to his prominent buck teeth), tends to show little emotion, and holds most people around him in contempt. The film traces their initial forays into the world of racing, with the bulk of the running time focusing on the incredible 1976 season. There's always a chance in sports films that the scenes set away from the hard-hitting action won't measure up, but Morgan writes the two leading characters with such complexity that there's never a concern the drama will go flat. Between the excitement of the Formula 1 sequences and the excellent performances by Hemsworth and Brühl, even those who couldn't care less about auto racing — and who wouldn't know Niki Lauda or James Hunt from Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt — should get a premium rush from a film that never eases up on the entertainment value. (Hulu)