(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 BRONZE (2016). Hollywood has presented viewers with far too many movies in which the protagonist is a petulant man-child, so it's only fair that here's one in which the lead is a bratty woman-child. But did the film have to be this bad? Melissa Rauch, sharing scripting duties with hubby Winston Rauch, stars as Hope Ann Greggory, who, as a teenage gymnast, placed third in the Olympics but has done nothing with her life in the decade-plus since that shining moment. For purely mercenary reasons too convoluted to explain here, she eventually agrees to coach a fellow Amherst, Ohio, resident, a perky teen gymnast named Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson), all the while worried that if Maggie achieves greater success, then her own modicum of fame within the Amherst city limits will completely dissipate. It's certainly a workable premise for a comedy — more so if tackled as a satire on this nation's obsession with those precious 15 minutes of fame — but The Bronze is myopic in its execution, opting for a petty and mean-spirited approach devoid of the acerbic wit and acute insight necessary to transform it into a worthy black comedy. In addition to Hope being such an obnoxious character, she's simply not interesting, and Rauch is woefully unfunny in the role. Of course, Hope softens over the course of the film, but it's not a believable thaw, and the film ends up becoming yet another example of this country's current craze with championing mediocrity. Its only saving graces are the performances by Richardson as the bubbly teen athlete and Thomas Middleditch as Hope's assistant coach and unlikely love interest. Their work deserves an 8.0 from the judges, but no one else involved with this tarnished Bronze should be allowed anywhere near the winners' circle.
Blu-ray extras consist of deleted scenes.
THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1943). Whether one views The Gang's All Here as a kitschy, campy spectacle or merely another splashy musical from the Dream Factory largely depends on one's tolerance for garish colors, kaleidoscopic set-pieces and the sight of Carmen Miranda and her juicy fruits. Director and choreography Busby Berkeley's first color musical finds a cocksure soldier (James Ellison) falling for a showgirl (Alice Faye), but never mind the wafer-thin plot. Instead, enjoy the musical numbers (Leo Robin and Harry Warren contribute such tunes as "Minnie's in the Money," "The Polka Dot Polka" and "The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat," while Benny Goodman pops up for some swinging and singing), chuckle at the antics of vets Eugene Pallette, Charlotte Greenwood and my favorite filmic fussbudget, Edward Everett Horton, and marvel at the sights presented by Berkeley, including the all-singing, all-floating heads, the strawberry fields forever, and those gigantic, phallic bananas rising and falling on cue. This deservedly nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction & Interior Decoration.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Drew Casper; separate audio commentary by film historians Glenn Kenny, Ed Hulse and Farran Smith Nehme; a deleted scene featuring co-star Phil Baker and paying homage to the hit radio program he hosted, Take It Or Leave It (a game show not unlike Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?); a discussion of Berkeley; the 1985 short film We Still Are!, with Faye discussing her career; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated score track.
HARDCORE HENRY (2016). When Hardcore Henry was released to theaters this past spring, several online critics, the sort who believe cinema didn't exist before the release of Pulp Fiction in 1994 (the really smart ones think it didn't exist before The Godfather in 1972), breathlessly praised it for being the first first-person movie ever made, shot as though everything is being seen through the eyes of the protagonist. Well, no. Back in 1947, actor Robert Montgomery directed an adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake, and in essaying the role of Philip Marlowe, he had the whole picture shot through his character's POV. Making a movie like this back in 1947 was innovative and daring; making a movie like this today just seems like the latest concession to the gamers. To his credit, Hardcore Henry director Ilya Naishuller knows he wasn't the first to employ this method, as the end credits give thanks for the use of a Lady in the Lake poster in one scene. And initially, this adoption of the concept looks like it will pay off, with the film getting off to a fast start as Henry, waking up with no memories of his past, immediately has to defend himself against a cackling villain (Danila Kozlovsky) with telekinetic powers and a Kurt Cobain makeover while also receiving aid from a mysterious guy named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley). But after an opening stretch in which the POV is used imaginatively, the novelty of the gimmick wears off, more so since Naishuller then just relies on jumbled action scenes and a succession of violent deaths to carry his picture. In fact, strip away the POV angle, and what's left is basically last year's awful Hitman: Agent 47. Hardcore Henry doesn't quite plumb those murky depths, but it's nevertheless an all-hype-no-hope endeavor that grows ever more flaccid by the minute.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Naishuller and Copley; deleted scenes; and a filmmaker chat with fans.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978). To date, there have been four screen versions of Jack Finney's sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers. The 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remains the best, but this second take is similarly noteworthy and continues to grow in stature over the years. (The third attempt, 1994's Body Snatchers, is flawed but worthwhile, while the fourth, 2007's The Invasion, is an utter waste of time.) In this one, the setting is San Francisco, with Donald Sutherland as a city health inspector who, along with his friends (Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright), starts to notice that other people aren't quite as animated as they used to be. Cleverly, each version was tweaked to speak to its era, so whereas the '56 model dealt with Cold War issues, this one finds director Philip Kaufman and writer W.D. Richter tackling other subjects. On one hand, it's an indictment of how careless Americans are with their own lives, putting all sorts of poisons into their bodies and listening to any new philosophies that happen to emerge on the scene. On the other, it's a typical example of the post-Watergate paranoia thriller littering the 70s, warning against the dangers of the right-wing way of thinking: conformist, self-centered and unfeeling toward others (Sutherland even jokes that a pod person is exhibiting the characteristics of a typical Republican). Leonard Nimoy is put to good use as a psychiatrist, while Kevin McCarthy and Don Siegel, the star and director of the 1956 original, both have cameos. And, yes, that's Robert Duvall in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance as the priest on the swing!
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Kaufman; a making-of featurette; interviews with Adams, co-star Art Hindle, Richter and composer Denny Zeitlin; and a 1955 episode of TV's Science Fiction Theatre, "Time Is Just a Place," adapted from a Finney short story.
KEANU (2016). Keanu is the cinematic coming-out party for comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who hope to translate their TV success into a motion picture career. They're off to a good start with this film, which may be ragged but delivers a hefty number of sizable laughs. The title refers to an adorable kitten who's such a heart-melting cutie that everyone who meets him wants to adopt him. Initially the pet of a drug kingpin who gets killed, he ends up in the care of Rel (Peele), a pothead who finds comfort in the kitty following a nasty breakup. Rel's best friend Clarence (Key), an upstanding guy with a fondness for George Michael tunes, is told by his wife (Nia Long) that he needs to cut loose and have more adventures in life — that's exactly what happens when Keanu is kidnapped by another drug dealer, the intimidating Cheddar (Method Man), and Clarence accompanies Rel as the pair pose as hardcore gangsters in order to locate and rescue Keanu. Yes, it's the old "fish out of water" and "mistaken identity" templates, but director Peter Atencio (helmer of the Key and Peele TV series) and scripters Alex Rubens (the show's co-writer and co-producer) and Peele manage to come up with enough good lines (love Clarence being told that "you talk like Richard Pryor doing an imitation of a white guy") and clever set-pieces (the uproarious movie-homage calendar should be sold in stores) to show that this particular well hasn't dried up quite yet. Certainly, there are some bits that are only so-so — Anna Faris turns up as Anna Faris, but her appearance lacks the punch of, say, Bill Murray as Bill Murray in Zombieland, and can we please call a moratorium on drug-induced dream sequences? — but between the breezy plotting, the high hit-to-miss ratio, and the appealing turns by the two leads, Keanu is frequently the cat's meow.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.
THE LOBSTER (2016). Art-house entries are expected to frequently provide the sorts of unique themes, uncompromising attitudes and go-for-broke sensibilities not generally found in multiplex fodder. But the commitment is as important as the conceptualization, which is why The Lobster ultimately comes up a tad short. It's set in a future world where everyone is expected to have a companion, and being alone is strictly verboten. All the lonely people, like the quiet David (Colin Farrell), are sent to a special hotel where they have 45 days to find a partner; if they don't, they will be turned into the animal of their choice. Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos (co-scripting with Efthymis Filippou) has come up with a brilliant hook for a film, and at least for the first hour, he follows through with a suitably bizarre yarn that offers not only unique narrative thrills but also serves as a commentary on the manner in which society favors and coddles couples while often giving short shrift to the single folks out there. But once David is forced to leave the hotel and hide out in the woods, the film loses its flavor. David hooks up with a rebel outfit made up of people who embrace their single status, but this section is rote and repetitive — strip away the surprisingly few idiosyncrasies in these segments and we might as well be watching a World War II tale in which resistance fighters are hiding out from the Nazis. The flatness dominating the second half is averted during the final moments, and that's appreciated. Still, the defining sensation is that of watching your favorite football team run up the score on an inferior opponent and then letting it slip away during the second half, requiring a field goal in the closing seconds to escape with the victory. It's one for the win column, but it never should have gotten so close.
The only Blu-ray extra is a making-of featurette.
THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) / RAWHIDE (1951). Although his name today may not hold the currency of other Hollywood legends like Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, Tyrone Power was incredibly popular back in the late 1930s and 40s, starring in such hits as 1939's Jesse James and 1946's The Razor's Edge. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by a heart attack in 1958, at the young age of 44. Kino has just released two of his pictures on Blu-ray — the first is justly famous, while the second could use a little more exposure.
The character of Zorro, created in print by Johnston McCulley, has been at the center of over 50 films and television productions, including the 1920 silent smash The Mark of Zorro (starring Douglas Fairbanks), the popular Disney TV series from the 1950s (with Guy Williams), and the 1998 hit The Mask of Zorro (Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins). Equally adored is the spirited 1940 production The Mark of Zorro, with Power cast as Don Diego Vega, the seemingly fey aristocrat who dons a black mask and fights against injustice as the swashbuckling El Zorro ("The Fox" in Spanish). Power is excellent as both fop and fox, and his swordfight with Basil Rathbone (as the dastardly Captain of the Guard Esteban) is just one of the many highlights in this exciting adventure yarn. Alfred Newman's robust score snagged an Oscar nomination.
A vastly underrated Western, Rawhide benefits from both a taut scenario and a top assembly of actors. Power ably handles the role of Tom Owens, a worker at a stagecoach rest stop that's overtaken by escaped desperado Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) and his three accomplices. Zimmerman plans to rob the coach due to pull into the station the following morning; to coerce Owens into helping him, he threatens the life of a woman (Susan Hayward) who's stranded at the stop with her infant daughter. Rawhide plays as much like a thriller as a Western, and character actor Jack Elam lands one of his best roles as the most evil of Zimmerman's crew.
Blu-ray extras on The Mark of Zorro include audio commentary by film critic Richard Schickel; the A&E Biography episode "Tyrone Power: The Last Idol"; and trailers for two other Power pictures, Rawhide and Witness for the Prosecution. Blu-ray extras on Rawhide include a piece on Hayward; a restoration comparison; and trailers for the Westerns Rawhide, The Ox-Box Incident (Henry Fonda), Yellow Sky (Gregory Peck) and Man of the West (Gary Cooper).
Both Movies: ***1/2
MISS SADIE THOMPSON (1953). W. Somerset Maugham's short story "Miss Thompson" (aka "Rain") was brought to the screen on four separate occasions, though the last time was over 60 years ago (indeed, Maugham's literary output has been almost entirely ignored by modern filmmakers). The 1928 silent feature Sadie Thompson was a hit for Gloria Swanson, the 1932 Rain was a flop for Joan Crawford, and the unauthorized 1946 adaptation Dirty Gertie from Harlem, U.S.A., starring NC native Francine Everett, was exclusively shown on the "race movie" circuit. The fourth and final version, 1953's Miss Sadie Thompson, is the one starring Rita Hayworth in what would probably be a signature role if only she didn't already have so many signature roles (Gilda, The Lady from Shanghai, etc.). She commands the screen as a good-time girl who inspires open lust in a macho Marine (Aldo Ray) and repressed lust in a pompous Christian (Jose Ferrer) while island-hopping in the South Pacific. "Fanatics are often too obsessed by what they fight against to know why they're really fighting it" is just one of several lines taking aim at the hypocrisy of religious zealots, but crisp dialogue can't completely disguise the abrupt character transformations and the choppy narrative. Look for Charles Bronson as one of Ray's buddies. "Sadie Thompson's Song (The Blue Pacific Blues)" earned an Oscar nomination as Best Original Song, but the show-stopping tune is "The Heat Is On," with Rita raising temperatures with her shimmying.
This was released right in the middle of the 3-D craze that began in 1952, reached its peak of popularity with 1953's House of Wax, and went away (at least for a while) in 1954. Twilight Time's Blu-ray edition contains both the regular and 3-D versions. Extras include audio commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros; the theatrical trailer; and an isolated music track.
ZELIG (1983). It's not often that a cinematographer is at the center of controversy, but that was the case with the legendary Gordon Willis. Despite shooting many of the greatest — and greatest looking — films of the 1970s, classics like The Godfather (I and II), The Parallax View, All the President's Men and Manhattan, Willis was repeatedly denied an Oscar nomination by the myopic voters in the Academy. Willis finally was recognized with a nom for Zelig, and this was followed by a second nod for The Godfather: Part III and an honorary award for his body of work, the latter given only four years before his death in 2014. His nomination for Zelig wasn't the usual Academy make-up pat on the back for an inferior effort; on the contrary, his work on this picture is astounding, as he and writer-director-star Woody Allen work in tandem to create a brilliant faux-documentary about Leonard Zelig (played by Woody), a meek fellow whose ability to take on the physical traits of those around him earned him the nickname "the chameleon man" during the 1920s and 1930s. Put him next to a portly fellow, he turns fat; place him alongside an African-American, he becomes black; plop him in a room with a psychiatrist, he begins talking like a doctor. Needless to say, he becomes a national phenomenon, enough that numerous songs are written about him (composer Dick Hyman is responsible for creating the marvelous tunes with such titles as "Leonard the Lizard," "Doin' the Chameleon" and "You May Be Six People, But I Love You"). Mia Farrow co-stars as the only doctor who cares about Leonard as a person, celebrities like Susan Sontag and Saul Bellow appear as themselves to analyze him, and, thanks to beautifully integrated footage, there are even Forrest Gump-style cameos by Adolf Hitler, Al Capone, Calvin Coolidge, and many more.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of the score.