(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.)
HARDCORE (1979). An underrated scripter whose best works were usually for someone else (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ for Martin Scorsese, The Mosquito Coast for Peter Weir), Paul Schrader has had a far more erratic career as a director (the excellent Affliction, that daft Cat People remake, the critically savaged The Canyons, etc.). Hardcore, only his second picture in the director's chair (following 1978's well-received Blue Collar), is a mess, but it's a fascinating mess, and it's held together by a galvanizing performance from George C. Scott, an actor so perpetually intense that one feels he might bust a blood vessel or 12 right up there on the screen. Scott plays Jake Van Dorn, a Michigan businessman and devoted Calvinist whose teenage daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) disappears after heading out on a church bus trip to California with her peers. The concerned dad hires a sleazy private eye (Peter Boyle) to locate her, only to be shocked when the sleuth returns with footage of Kristen taking part in a porno flick. The rattled and heartbroken Van Dorn thus elects to travel into the seedy underworld of L.A. in an effort to find his daughter and bring her home. Hardcore whiplashes between scenes of squirmy, biting realism — many featuring Season Hubley, excellent as a stripper/actress/hooker who agrees to aid Van Horn in his quest — and sequences centered around ludicrous developments (the bits where Van Dorn poses as a porn producer are entertaining but scarcely believable). Schrader's script pulls few punches until the lamentable ending, with a cowardly denouement that proves to be head-smackingly idiotic and unlikely.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Schrader; separate audio commentary by film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo; and an isolated track of Jack Nitzsche's score.
THE IRON GIANT (1999). Before winning a pair of Oscars for the Pixar gems The Incredibles and Ratatouille and helming the live-action smash Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (and, yes, also helming the live-action flop Tomorrowland), Brad Bird made his big-screen debut as the writer-director of this animated effort that failed to make much of a dent in theaters but which has over time grown into a family favorite. Loosely based on the children's book The Iron Man by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes (who gave the project his blessing before passing away in 1998), this touching parable derives much of its strength from a striking visual design and a welcome pacifist stance that sticks it to NRA nuts. Set in a small Maine town in 1957, just days after the Russians have launched Sputnik, the story concerns itself with Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal), a bright kid whose only friends are his single mom (Jennifer Aniston) and a local artist (Harry Connick Jr.) who was a beatnik before that term was even coined. But Hogarth soon adopts a "pet" of sorts — a 50-foot-tall metal creature of unknown origin (Vin Diesel) — and he does everything in his power to save this gentle giant from the wrath of a government agent (Christopher McDonald) whose overriding fear of both Communists and aliens makes him willing to destroy anything he doesn't understand. Witty evocations of this bygone era (we even see a "duck and cover" film clip) are smoothly integrated with the story's modern sensibilities, and although the film doesn't quite step out of the shadow of the narratively similar E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, it's still a lovely achievement.
The Blu-ray contains both the original theatrical cut as well as the recently unveiled Signature Edition. Extras include audio commentary by Bird; a retrospective documentary; a vintage making-of piece; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
MONEY MONSTER (2016). What promises to be a ripped-from-the-headlines drama with comic undertones turns out to be too farfetched to gain any traction — it's ripped from the headlines, all right, but only the type one might see gracing the National Enquirer. In the minds of its makers, it's the celluloid equivalent of "Men Walk On Moon" and "Nixon Resigns"; in actuality, it's more like "Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby" and "Bigfoot Kept Lumberjack As Love Slave." The setting is a TV studio wherein smug Lee Gates (George Clooney), host of a money-management show, and his director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), are prepping the next episode. But just as the live taping gets underway, a guy named Kyle (Jack O'Connell) storms the set — brandishing a gun, he threatens to blow everyone up unless he's given a satisfactory answer on how Ibis, a company Gates had been praising, managed to lose 800 million dollars. He has a personal reason: Receiving a $60,000 inheritance, he invested all of it in Ibis stock, simply because Gates told his national audience it was a sound business venture. Clearly, Kyle's a moron — given his buffoonish on-air antics and obvious disdain for others, I wouldn't trust Gates to give me directions to the shoes on my feet — but since Kyle represents us, the poor rabble being snookered daily by those with power and wealth, we're expected to line up behind him. Meanwhile, Patty feverishly tries to locate Ibis' CEO (Dominic West) and unravel the mystery surrounding the wayward money. Some mystery; whereas in real life it would take weeks, months, maybe years, to uncover and understand everything, here it takes about the same amount of time required to unwrap a stick of gum.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; and the music video for Dan the Automator's "What Makes the World Go 'Round (MONEY!)."
NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940). Often described as a film made in the style of Alfred Hitchcock, Carol Reed's WWII-set Night Train to Munich certainly shares common ground with the Master of Suspense's 1938 gem The Lady Vanishes: Both find much of the action unfolding aboard a train, both were written by the prolific team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder (in this case, adapting a story by Gordon Wellesley), and, interestingly, both share a pair of supporting characters, even though one film has nothing to do with the other. That would be the stiff-upper-lip duo of Charters and Caldicott, two comically pompous Brits (and proud of it!) played (as in The Lady Vanishes) by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne. They figure in the proceedings late in the game; initially, the story keeps its eye on the intrigue surrounding Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt), a Czech scientist sought by the Nazis, and his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood), who's captured and tossed into a German concentration camp. Fellow inmate Karl Marsen (Paul von Hernried) helps her escape, but it's ultimately up to British agent Gus Bennett (Rex Harrison) to save both her and her father. There's a nice surprise involving Marsen and his motivations, and the midsection, in which Bennett disguises himself as a German officer in order to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold in Berlin, stirs memories of the same ploy later seen in Ernst Lubitsch's brilliant To Be or Not to Be. Incidentally, Paul Von Hernried later changed his name to Paul Henreid and embarked on a successful Hollywood career, including co-starring roles in Now, Voyager and (as Ingrid Bergman's husband) Casablanca. Night Train to Munich nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story.
The only extra on the Criterion Blu-ray is a 2010 conversation about the film by film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (2016). Those who dismissed Now You See Me as "dumb" will most likely label Now You See Me 2 as "dumber," as it features the same types of narrative strokes that made that unexpected hit such a dopey undertaking. As I wrote in my review of the 2013 original, "The movie is nothing more than an empty spectacle hopelessly riddled with gaping plotholes, narrative coincidences and a final twist that couldn't have been more preposterous had it revealed that Chewbacca was actually Luke's father." The same can be applied to this unnecessary follow-up, the sort of picture that was produced merely because the first one made more money than expected. Here, the members of the magic team The Four Horsemen — Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Jack (Dave Franco) and newbie Lula (Lizzy Kaplan, replacing a pregnant Isla Fisher's Henley) — are forced to match wits with a naughty Brit (Daniel Radcliffe) who's actually the son of — well, no points for figuring that one out. Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman are also back, respectively playing FBI agent Dylan Rhodes and magician-buster Thaddeus Bradley, and the resolution to their intertwined story couldn't possibly be more risible. And as if all this wasn't enough, there's also the addition of Merritt's twin brother, a nitwit also played by Harrelson. Repeating his feat from the awful Swiss Army Man, Radcliffe is again the best thing about a bad Summer of '16 release, although Eisenberg and Kaplan manage to occasionally toss out a barbed wisecrack with the proper degree of glee.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Jon M. Chu and a piece on the ensemble cast.
TALE OF TALES (2016). Based on 17th century stories by Italian wordsmith Giambattista Basile, the English-language Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti) finds Gomorrah writer-director Matteo Garrone giving birth to an appropriately misshapen trio of fractured fairy tales. The first yarn finds the Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) objecting to the close bond between her son Elias (Christian Lees) and another boy (Jonah Lees) who was born at the same time under similarly supernatural circumstances; the second involves the King of Highhills (Toby Jones) showing more love and devotion toward an enormous flea (yes, flea) than to his own sheltered daughter (Bebe Cave); and the third centers on the lusty King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) believing he's wooing a young and beautiful virgin when he's actually being duped by two elderly sisters (Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson). A series of comparatively pat resolutions and an abrupt conclusion prevent this from emerging as one of the year's best pictures — even so, there's still much to recommend, including inspired location work (ace cinematographer Peter Suschitzky shot the movie throughout Italy, often at existing castles), eye-catching visual effects work (in addition to the enormous flea, there's also a sea monster that's bested by a king played by a typically anachronistic John C. Reilly), and yet another exquisite score by Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel).
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973). Many actors would kill for the opportunity to perform Shakespeare on screen — here, Vincent Price gets to have his soliloquy and devour it, too. As Edward Lionheart, a hammy thespian who has devoted his life to all things Bard, Price gets to recite select scenes from Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice and more — usually during the act of murdering London's most distinguished critics. Because while Lionheart may have considered himself the world's greatest living actor, nine British scribes thought otherwise, with their harsh words and refusal to award him their illustrious annual prize leading to his suicide. Of course, Lionheart's not really dead — instead, with the help of his devoted daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), he steps out of the shadows to off the reviewers in bloody fashion, with famous set-pieces from Shakespeare's plays serving as inspiration (one critic drowns in a vat of wine a la Richard III, another gets stabbed by a mob straight out of Julius Caesar, etc.). The screenplay by Anthony Greville Bell is wickedly clever (the "faggots" in Henry VI, Part 1 here take on a double meaning, while the sequence lifted from Titus Andronicus is as humorous as it is horrific), and Price delivers a performance that alternates between towering and touching. The blood-red cherry on top, of course, is the casting of the English acting elite in the roles of the stuffy critics, among them Jack Hawkins, Coral Browne (later Price's real-life wife), Robert Morley and (atypically cast as a stud!) Harry Andrews.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Nick Redman; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated track of Michael J. Lewis' score.
Short and Sweet:
THE GLORY GUYS (1965). Tom Tryon, a better writer than actor (he gave up his thespian career to pen the masterful horror novels Harvest Home and The Others), headlines this fitfully entertaining yet consistently unexceptional Western with a script by no less than Sam Peckinpah. Tryon plays a Calvary officer charged with whipping a group of greenhorns into fighting men just in time to be used as expendable fodder by an opportunistic general (Andrew Duggan) who plans to sacrifice them in his battle against the Sioux. Harve Presnell (he of the gorgeous pipes; check out his rendition of "They Call the Wind Maria" in Paint Your Wagon) is miscast as a toothy scout, Senta Berger appears as the woman caught between Tryon and Presnell, and James Caan makes an early impression as an Irish recruit.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historians Paul Seydour, Nick Redman and Garner Simmons; an interview with Berger in which she discusses working with Peckinpah; and the theatrical trailer.
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016). Whit Stillman's previous four directorial at-bats all found him working from his own original scripts (earning a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nod for his first, 1990's Metropolitan), but here he takes a stab at adapting Jane Austen's obscure novel Lady Susan. The result is more of a piece with Stillman's other films than with such Austen adaptations as Sense and Sensibility and Emma — it often ignores the lush splendor and heart-on-the-sleeve emotions of those efforts in order to focus more squarely on witty folks bantering back and forth. Lady Susan Vernon, seeking matches for both herself and her daughter (Morfydd Clark), is more duplicitous and less squeaky-clean than other Austen heroines, and Kate Beckinsale plays her with the right measure of suavity and self-satisfaction; there's also an amusing turn by Tom Bennett as James Martin, a not particularly bright suitor who marvels at another character's proficiency in both "verse and poetry."
Blu-ray extras consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette and trailers for other films.
A TASTE OF HONEY (1961). A key early entry in the wave of "kitchen sink" dramas that rocked the British stage and cinema scenes in the late 1950s and early 60s, this adaptation by director Tony Richardson and Shelagh Delaney from Delaney's own 1958 play (written when she was all of 18) features Rita Tushingham in her striking film debut as Jo, a teenage girl whose mother (Dora Bryan) is always looking for a husband, whose boyfriend (Paul Danquah) is a black sailor who impregnates her, and whose best friend (Murray Melvin) is an attentive homosexual lad. The actors are all exceptional in a film that's as quietly humorous as it is gently moving. Melvin was imported from the original London cast; amusingly, the 1960 Broadway lineup included 31-year-old Joan Plowright as Jo, Angela Lansbury (only four years older than Plowright) as Jo's mom, and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian himself!) as the sensitive sailor.
Blu-ray extras include new interviews with Tushingham and Melvin; a 1962 audio interview with Richardson; a 1960 television interview with Delaney; and Richardson's 1955 short, Momma Don't Allow.