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Fury, The Judge, Pork Chop Hill among new home entertainment titles 

This week's reviews of what's new on Blu-ray and DVD

(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.)

Nicole Kidman in Before I Go to Sleep (Photo: Fox)
  • Nicole Kidman in Before I Go to Sleep (Photo: Fox)

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014). If John Wick (newly arrived on Blu-ray and DVD) can be described as The Equalizer for dummies, then Before I Go to Sleep should be tagged as Memento for the brain-dead. Based on S.J. Watson's bestselling novel (I haven't read it, but surely it's better than this adaptation), the film stars Nicole Kidman as Christine, whose brutal beating a decade earlier has left her unable to retain memories from day to day. Hence, every morning when she awakens, she has no recollections of anything, least of all the husband (Colin Firth, Kidman's co-star in the same year's equally ignored drama The Railway Man) who shares her bed. Her doctor (Mark Strong) has given her a camera to serve as a visual diary, but her precarious state leaves her constantly afraid and unsure of which man to trust. Before I Go to Sleep is the sort of film that's almost impossible to review, because to do so would require pointing out all the myriad plotholes that turn the second half into cinematic Swiss cheese, and to point these out would force this review to completely devolve into SPOILER ALERTS ad nauseam. Let's just say that while Christine can't trust the men in her life, trust me when I state that fans of thrillers can do much better than settling for this illogical and unpleasant piffle that's ultimately no more clever than a 10-year-old boy with a penchant for making armpit noises.

There are no extras on the Blu-ray.

Movie: *1/2

Logan Lerman and Brad Pitt in Fury (Photo: Sony)
  • Logan Lerman and Brad Pitt in Fury (Photo: Sony)

FURY (2014). There are several moments in writer-director David Ayer's World War II drama Fury that prove to be so brutal, direct and uncompromising, they make Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan seem as mirthful as the Abbott and Costello romp Buck Privates by comparison. And if that sounds like so much hyperbole... OK, guilty, but the fact remains that what we have here is about as unsentimental a war movie as has ever barreled across the screen. Set in 1945, toward the close of the global conflict, the film makes its one major concession to convention by shaping its story as the experience of a greenhorn soldier who finds himself coming of age in the presence of his more seasoned comrades. That would be Norman Ellison (The Perks of Being a Wallflower's Logan Lerman), who's only been in the army for a few months when he's assigned to a tank unit led by a gruff sergeant known as Wardaddy (Brad Pitt). "Every German we meet wearing a Nazi uniform, they're gonna die." That's actually one of Pitt's lines in Inglourious Basterds, but if there's one thing that his Aldo Raine from that film shares in common with Wardaddy, it's an utter hatred for the enemy. What's more, he expects equal animosity from his tank team, and while he receives it from the hardened members of his crew (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal), it's the soft rookie who worries him, since any hesitation in battle on the kid's part could result in G.I. deaths. The claustrophobic tank setting brings to mind such notable submarine dramas as Das Boot and Run Silent, Run Deep, right down to the inhabitants' frayed nerves and constant bickering. Subscribing to the "War Is Hell" theory, Fury (incidentally, the name given to the tank) depicts the brutality and the insanity of armed combat in punishing, visceral fashion.

Blu-ray extras include nearly an hour of deleted and extended scenes; a pair of making-of featurettes; and a piece on the tanks that were used in the film.

Movie: ***

Robert Duvall in The Judge (Photo: Warner Bros.)
  • Robert Duvall in The Judge (Photo: Warner Bros.)

THE JUDGE (2014). The 1997 drama Devil's Advocate centers on a narcissistic and morally compromised lawyer whose father is Satan himself. The 2014 drama The Judge centers on a narcissistic and morally compromised lawyer whose father is a judge. One film is a heavy-handed fantasy full of unbelievable plot developments and odious characters. The other stars Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are both excellent actors, and their roles in The Judge certainly fit them like tailored suits. But playing to their strengths actually proves to be a weakness, since it results in performances offering little that's fresh or surprising (nevertheless, lazy Academy voters handed Duvall a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination). Downey's Hank Palmer is clearly so much smarter, funnier, cockier and handsomer than everyone around him that the character's name might as well be Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes. And while Duvall's Joseph Palmer offers the actor a few moments to try something new, the part is overall not far removed from the crusty codgers the veteran has been relegated to playing over the past decade. Hank is a slick big-city lawyer who returns to his small-town burg for his mother's funeral. It's the first time he's been home in decades, having kept his distance mainly because of his strained relationship with his father. But when Joseph is accused of deliberately killing someone by running them over with his car, Hank reluctantly decides to defend his dad in court. This sounds like the sort of courtroom caper that can't miss, but writer-director David Dobkin packs his overlong (142 minutes) piece with so much empty incident and superfluous drama that you'll swear you just watched a television miniseries over three nights rather than a theatrical release in one sitting. If there are any narrative roads less traveled, Dobkin makes sure to skip every last one of them with this thuddingly obvious picture.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Dobkin; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a discussion between Downey, Duvall and co-stars Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D'Onofrio and Dax Shepard.

Movie: **

Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in Love Is Strange (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Alfred Molina and John Lithgow in Love Is Strange (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

LOVE IS STRANGE (2014). The title is something of a misnomer. The film may be called Love Is Strange, but what's truly strange is that we still live in a world in which true love is downsized if it doesn't meet with everyone's societal standards. Take the case of Manhattanites Ben and George. Ben (John Lithgow), a retired painter, and George (Alfred Molina), a music director at a Catholic church, have been together for 39 years and have been living together for the past 20. They finally decide to get married, but there's no living happily ever after for this pair. Once the church gets a whiff of this holy union, it's the pink slip for George. Without enough income to continue to afford their pricey apartment, Ben and George have no choice except to move somewhere smaller and cheaper. But that's not exactly easy in the Big Apple, and the pair are forced to stay separately with other people until they can find their own place. It's then that Love Is Strange is revealed as an update of Leo McCarey's 1937 Make Way for Tomorrow, with the modern twist being that instead of elderly parents forced to live apart from one another and eventually wearing on the nerves of their hosts (or vice versa), it's a gay couple having to endure the hardships. Writer-director Ira Sachs (scripting with Mauricio Zacharias) has made a film that's messy and unfocused — and, in this instance, that's not a detriment. Because Ben and George have been dropped into other people's daily lives, they're only privy to bits and pieces of what's going on, and, in essence, so are we. Lithgow and especially Molina are superb in the central roles, with Lithgow earning sympathy as the slightly befuddled Ben and Molina providing quiet strength as the more focused George. Marisa Tomei heads up a strong roster of supporting players, all of them cast as characters whose lives are as disrupted as those of our central couple.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Lithgow, Molina and Sachs; a making-of featurette; and a Q&A session with Sachs, Lithgow, Molina and co-star Cheyenne Jackson.

Movie: ***

Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallée and Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story (Photo: Criterion Collection)
  • Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallée and Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story (Photo: Criterion Collection)

THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942). Much like the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of the 1970s, writer-director Preston Sturges was absolutely on fire during the early 1940s, crafting in succession 1940's The Great McGinty (for which he earned the Best Original Screenplay Oscar), 1941's delightful The Lady Eve and the 1942 masterpiece Sullivan's Travels. Refusing to pause for air, he instantly followed Travels with another 1942 gem, a comedy that kicks off with a head-scratching scenario and closes by nicely looping back to it (well, sort of). Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea star as Gerry and Tom Jeffers, coping with marital discord thanks to his lack of income. Gerry decides that she should leave him so he can fulfill his ambitions without having to worry about her, since she plans to latch herself onto a suitable millionaire. Tom doesn't agree to this plan and ends up chasing her from New York to Florida, where she has integrated herself into the lives of bookish billionaire John D. Hackensacker III (smoothly played by popular singer-bandleader Rudy Vallée) and his perpetually on-the-prowl sister, The Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor). As usual, Sturges has sardine-packed his picture with indelible turns in even the smallest roles, most notably Robert Dudley as the elderly Wienie King and Sig Arno as Centimillia's oft-ignored foreign suitor Toto. Still, this is primarily Colbert's show, with the actress striking sparks with McCrea, playfully engaging with Vallée, and displaying comedic chops opposite most everyone else, including those rowdy rascals from the Ale and Quail Club.

Blu-ray extras include an interview with film historian and author James Harvey (Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges); a discussion of the movie with actor and comedian Bill Hader; the 1942 short Safeguarding Military Information, written and directed by Sturges; and a 1943 radio adaptation of the film.

Movie: ***1/2

Harry Guardino and Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill (Photo: Olive Films)
  • Harry Guardino and Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill (Photo: Olive Films)

PORK CHOP HILL (1959). While the debate continues to rage over whether Clint Eastwood's American Sniper is pro-war or anti-war, there's no confusing the issue with this powerful piece set during the Korean War. Lewis Milestone's 1930 classic All Quiet on the Western Front — one of the seminal anti-war flicks — earned Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, so Milestone was a logical choice (hand-picked by star Gregory Peck and the producers) to helm another movie that offers such a decidedly unidealistic view of combat. Peck stars as Lieutenant Joe Clemons, who's tasked with recapturing a worthless plot of land that offers no strategic worth but serves as a who'll-blink-first test of wills between American and Chinese bigwigs weighed down in peace negotiations in Panmunjeom. Clemons doesn't like the idea of sacrificing his men on what's basically a suicide mission — particularly when peace might be mere hours or even minutes away — but he steadfastly follows his marching orders, even when it appears that no supplies or reinforcements will be coming his way. A grim reminder of the absurdity of war, the arrogance of military leaders, and the expendability of the common soldier, this doesn't match the brilliance or bite of the decade's premiere anti-war effort — Stanley Kubrick's 1957 Paths of Glory — but it nevertheless makes its salient points with great economy. The supporting cast is an eye-popping roster of up-and-comers, with many of them heading to lengthy careers in television — Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible), Robert Blake (Baretta), Norman Fell (Mr. Roper on Three's Company), George Peppard (The A-Team), Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat) — and others finding success as character actors in film — Landau again, Rip Torn, Harry Guardino, former Los Angeles Rams player Woody Strode, Bert Remsen, Harry Dean Stanton (uncredited but also unmistakable).

There are no extras on the Blu-ray.

Movie: ***1/2

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