Death Becomes Her
Character development, be damned. The archetypes in the Robert Zemeckis-directed commentary on showbiz superficiality and the general vanity of being human are mere sketches, but if “Death Becomes Her” is purely an excuse for a head-turning Meryl Streep and half-stomached Goldie Hawn to play up an onscreen rivalry with heightened fakeness and a one-on-one shovel showdown then, great gods of campy film, thank you for this gift. Lady Streep exercises a rare frivolity to play Madeline Ashton, a B-movie and Broadway actress; Hawn is Helen Sharp. They hate each other. Then, when a man war involving Sharp’s ex-fiance (Bruce Willis) breaks out, Madeline visits an age-defying sorceress named Lisle von Rhuman (the fab Isabella Rossellini, supremely decked out in an iconic necklace) who can turn the desperate Madeline ageless… for a pretty price. Obsessed over by queers who live for seeing two queens in a cat fight (plus, beefy, shirtless men for maximum gayness), the 1992 dark-comedy camp caper took notes from “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and let two screen icons unleash on each other because, you know, every generation of gays needs a Hollywood lesson on how greed and conceit and plastic remedies incite extreme comical consequences. Nearly 25 years after its release, the comedy debuts on Blu-ray in a Collector’s Edition with too few special features, though a fun vintage featurette offers an onset Meryl, relishing the fact that, “I’ve died in a lot of other films, but in this one, I live! And I look great!”
Why, exactly, is “Brooklyn” so good? Saoirse Ronan, for one. Known for standout stints in “Atonement” and “The Lovely Bones,” the Oscar-nominated sad movie actress imparts her big, soft heart into the role of an immigrant who can barely stand to leave Ireland but must – aside from her mother and sister, there’s nothing left for her in Enniscorthy. America becomes home, eventually. She settles. An Italian fella charms her into loving him, she bonds with the boarding-house ladies with which she lives; it’s almost perfect. But Ireland is never far from Eilis’ mind (when letters are arriving from family overseas, how could it be?), and when tragedy strikes back home, Eilis returns to Enniscorthy and finds herself faced with wrenching decisions. Naturally, Ronan is a marvel, bringing earnest sensitivity to Eilis. But “Brooklyn” thrives on the strength of its ensemble, which was cast by Fiona Weir, who also assembled a brilliant troupe of talented actors for 2014’s sublime “Pride.” Wistful, nostalgic and bound to melt you into a big puddle of mush, this remarkably moving coming-of-age drama is classic filmmaking in peak form. The disc extras are less bountiful, with a mere trailer, a selection of deleted and extended scenes, and a commentary featuring director John Crowley.
How to Be Single
Maybe one day Rebel Wilson will surprise us by not playing the same man-thirsty, cocksure powerhouse she’s so frequently cast as, but until then, we get Robin in “How to Be Single.” Wilson’s Robin is a singlehood specialist, and her latest project? The hopeless and hapless Alice, a new hire that Robin takes under her wild, horny, frequently drunken wing because Robin knows all the ins and outs of not being tied down and Alice is a clumsy broad who thinks she has to buy her own drinks at the bar. Meanwhile, a crop of other characters – though, surprisingly, none of them gay – offer various perspectives on getting the guy, even if just for one night. Alison Brie’s Lucy, for instance, steals Wi-Fi from the bar underneath her flat, a good excuse for her to encounter the hottie who bartends downstairs. You think you know where that encounter’s going, but screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (“The Vow,” “He’s Just Not That Into You”) and Dana Fox (“Couples Retreat,” “What Happens in Vegas”) subvert rom-com predictability. Elsewhere, there’s Leslie Mann as Alice’s older sister, an obstetrician with a secret soft spot for babies. It’s all very “Sex and the City.” And yes, though Samantha, Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda already trained you on the need-to-knows about living beyond your means as a single in New York, “How to Be Single” and its dizzying array of storylines isn’t a bad way to refresh your memory as to why you’re probably better off alone. Special features play favorites, giving Rebel Wilson her own outtakes reel as well as a short featurette on her all-around awesomeness.
The taboos of homosexuality are contained in out director Todd Haynes’ wonderful, hypnotic romance “Carol,” focused on love’s enduring power despite external resistance. Cate Blanchett is the titular character who finds herself drawn to the strikingly younger, more meek Therese, the yin to her yang, when they meet during a chance run-in at a NYC department store. There are complications to pursuing a same-sex relationship, of course. It’s the ’50s, so there’s that. Also, Carol has a husband. Throughout his nuanced period piece, the “Far From Heaven” filmmaker brings a taut fervor to the film as it unfolds with Thelma and Louise-like shenanigans and heart-seizing moments of tender longing. Not that you’d doubt Blanchett’s commitment to Carol, but just in case: During a set of discussions with the cast and crew, Blanchett says she “read a lot of girl-on-girl fiction.”
Charlie Kaufman introduced post-breakup memory obliteration in one of the best films of the aughts, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” conveying aspects of the human condition with his own brand of idiosyncrasies. That same warped pathos pervades “Anomalisa,” Kaufman’s stop-motion film about a down-on-life inspirational speaker (David Thewlis) reinvigorated by an intense connection he has with a refreshingly spirited woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Poignant subtleties, including a moving bedside take on Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” abound as both characters, and the film’s off-kilter creative team, illuminate the mundanity of human connection in the most revelatory of ways – without humans at all. Innovative and thoughtful, “Anomalisa” is an artistic wonder. The creative process is explained during a fascinating 30-minute peek behind the scenes.
If “Sisters” accomplishes anything, and it doesn’t accomplish much, it’s that everything is less insufferable with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Still, it’s hard not to wish these two comedy queens were using their time more wisely – you know, by making a “Mean Girls 2” that isn’t that made-for-TV mediocrity. Alas, we get “Sisters,” out “Pitch Perfect” director Jason Moore’s ill-conceived and tepid effort about a pair of siblings who turn their childhood home into a party scene – one last (too long) hurrah! – after their parents inform them the house is being sold. Maya Rudolph, as a snooty rival, is spectacularly bitchy, but still, you have to wonder: What might “Sisters” have been with an actual script and an actual story and more actual jokes? Cool, though, that Fey, Poehler and Moore are all game for the commentary, which is among a throng of special features fluff.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. He once made Jane Fonda cry. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.