|by Peter Sobczynski
In which your faithful scribe, realizing full well the vast unimportance of grabbing DVDs while New Orleans descends into chaos, nevertheless pushes ahead with paens to another favorite from his misspent youth, a number of obscurities and a bunch of nice girls being naughty in the nicest way.
A couple of years ago, a film entitled “Chicago Filmmakers on the Chicago River,” a documentary in which a number of Chicago-born filmmakers are interviewed about their lives and careers while riding on the river, was being released on DVD and I was asked to provided a few thoughts for the liner notes on John Landis that would focus on his epic musical-comedy “The Blues Brothers.” As the film was a favorite of mine since I first saw it in the summer of 1980 on my 9th birthday (the first R-rated film I was allowed to see in a theater), I happily agreed to do so. Inexplicably, the piece that I wrote turned out to be kind of depressing. Instead of focusing on celebrating the film, all I did was mourn the fact that many of the most entertaining things about the film–Belushi, John Candy, Cab Calloway and Maxwell Street–no longer existed. I am at a loss to explain why I went so grim except to suggest that perhaps I was in a sour mood when I sat down at the computer.
The film is, of course, a blast as anyone who encounters Universal’s “The Blues Brothers: 25th Anniversary Edition” will quickly realize. For those who have somehow not experienced it over the last quarter-century, it was the first film in which characters that had appeared on “Saturday Night Live”–the Chicago-raised blues musicians Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues (Belushi and Dan Aykroyd)–made the journey to the silver screen. The plot is nonsense; the brothers have only a few days to reform their band and put on a benefit concert to save the orphanage where they grew up and developed a taste for the blues–all while being pursued by half the cops in Chicago, the entire Illinois Nazi party, a country-western band and a mysterious woman (Carrie Fisher) with a facility with rocket launchers. Basically, the story (which could have come straight out of an old Elvis movie, minus the casual swearing) was an excuse to cram in as many musical numbers (featuring the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, Calloway–whose “Minnie the Moocher” is a definite highlight among highlights–and the Blues Brothers themselves) and jaw-dropping car chases/crashes as 133 minutes of screen time could hold.
As it turned out, 133 minutes wasn’t enough time to fit everything in after all. Following an unsuccessful exhibitor screening, Landis was forced to do some last-minute editing to get it down to that length from its original 150-minute-plus cut. A few years ago, most of the edited footage was restored for an “Extended Edition” laserdisc/DVD that ran 148 minutes. This disc contains both that version as well as the DVD debut of the original theatrical cut. While I am glad to finally have a DVD of the version that I originally fell in love with back in 1980, I have to go with the extended version, for no other reason than it contains more footage of both Belushi, Chicago and the musical numbers. For those who haven’t seen the film before, these additions might drag things out a little too long for its own good but for the hard-core fans–including anyone who grew up in Chicago when the film essentially took over the city in the summer of 1979 (as can be seen in the interesting making-of documentary that is also included)–these inclusions are priceless.
Written by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis. Directed by John Landis. Starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Carrie Fisher, Aretha Franklin, Henry Gibson and John Candy. 1980. 133/148 minutes. Rated R. A Universal Home Video release. $19.95
NEW AND NOTABLE
ALMOST HEROES (Warner Home Entertainment. $14.95): Notice how when people write articles about the filmmaking genius of Christopher Guest, they almost never mention this misfired 1998 comedy about a wacky frontier scout (Chris Farley in his last starring role) leading a group of wacky pioneers (led by Matthew Perry) on a journey to beat Lewis and Clark to California? Outside of one or two isolated bits of amusement, this remains a low point for nearly all involved.
CLUELESS-“WHATEVER!”EDITION (Paramount Home Entertainment. $19.95): With this 10th anniversary adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s clever update of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” viewers can relive a time when Alicia Silverstone was considered a box-office star, Brittany Murphy hadn’t yet driven people mad with her baby voice and Paul Rudd had never even considered listening to Coldplay.
]CORVETTE SUMMER (Warner Home Entertainment. $14.95) Although not particularly successful upon its original release, this 1978 youth comedy eventually developed a small and loyal cult following. In his first post-“Star Wars” appearance, Mark Hamill plays a high-school student whose class project–a lovingly restored Corvette–is stolen and he, along with hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Annie Potts, hits the streets of Vegas in order to track it down.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SEASON FOUR (HBO Home Video. $39.98): Remember the episode where Larry David acted all weird and neurotic for no apparent reason and all of his best-laid plans blew up in his face? I think that one may be included in this latest edition of the highly acclaimed HBO series.
DEVIL IN THE FLESH (No Shame Films. $19.95): Long before mouthfuls were said and written about the final scene of “The Brown Bunny,” this controversial 1987 Italian import, , inspired much debate about a scene in which a serious actress, Maruschka Detmers, appeared in a scene in which she performed a graphic bit of oral sex on co-star Federico Pitzalis, an actor who must, based on the evidence seen here, have the best agent in the world. However, this is anything but a sex romp–this is a serious drama about a mysterious woman torn between her imprisoned Red Brigade lover and an obsessed young student.
FIRE & ICE (Blue Underground. $34.95): The good folks at Blue Underground unearth yet another cult obscurity and provide it with a lavish DVD set sure to have fans leaping with joy. This was a 1983 animated fantasy of the “Conan” school that served as a collaboration between the legendary animation director Ralph Bakshi and the equally illustrious illustrator Frank Frazetta. Fans of the latter will be especially interested in “Frazetta: Painting With Fire,” a fascinating full-length documentary on the man and his work that appears on the second part of this 2-disc set..
THE GUMBALL RALLY (Warner Home Entertainment. $14.95): Years before “The Cannonball Run,” this 1976 comedy also featured a group of weirdos participating in a totally illegal cross-country auto race. It says a lot about the wildness of this film when I inform you that Gary Busey is not the strangest cast member–that honor goes to Raul Julia, who steals the show as a vainglorious Italian car jockey prone to spouting racing advice along the lines of “Whats-a behind me is not important!”(As pearls of wisdom goes, it certainly beats anything heard in “Dust to Glory”)
HERO AT LARGE (Warner Home Entertainment. $14.95): Sort of a feel-good version of “Taxi Driver,” this 1980 comedy featured John Ritter as an out-of-work actor whose gig is dressing up as a superhero to promote a crappy new movie–when he inadvertently foils a robbery while in costume, he becomes a media sensation that local politicians attempt to exploit for their own benefit.
HOUSE: SEASON ONE (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.95): Remember the episode in which the cranky doctor (Hugh Laurie) is confronted by a strange disease, is ignored by his colleagues when he tells them that their initial diagnoses are wrong and figures out a wonder cure just before the last commercial? I suspect that one can be found in this collection of the first season of the acclaimed Fox drama.
THE LIBRARIAN: THE QUEST FOR THE SPEAR (Warner Home Entertainment. $19.95): Noah Wyle as an adventurous, ass-kicking librarian–what more needs to be said?
LILO & STITCH 2: STITCH HAS A GLITCH (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.95): As direct-to-video sequels to perfectly decent theatrical animated films go, this one, in which adorably monstrous alien Stitch mysteriously begins acting weirder than usual, is better than average. However, I can’t help but wish that Disney had put some of the effort spent on this disc into giving the 2002 original the special edition treatment that it deserves.
THE MORNING AFTER (Warner Home Entertainment. $19.95): In what remains her last Oscar-nominated performance to date (a streak unlikely to be broken by “Monster-in-Law,” also available this week for those whose constitutions are sturdier than mine), Jane Fonda stars as a washed-up actress who wakes up from another alcohol-related blackout to find herself lying in bed with an unfamiliar corpse. Jeff Bridges also appears as the guy who tries to help her piece together her memories to discover what really happened.
ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.95):Ignore the plot of this recent martial-arts extravaganza–some piffle about an innocent with mad fighting skills venturing into the big city to recover a sacred object stolen from his town–and stand agape at the stunning moves displayed by star Tony Jaa. Without resorting to camera tricks or computer enhancement, he pulls off stunts so outlandish and painful-looking that I would say that the fanboy comparisons to Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are, for once, actually justified.
PRETTY WOMAN: 15th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $19.95): The good folks at Disney once again pimp out this 1990 box-office sensation, the film that made Julia Roberts a star, on the assumption that they can somehow induce its fans to purchase it on DVD for a third time despite a paucity of new bells and/or whistles. Whoop that trick, Mouse House!
ROLLOVER (Warner Home Entertainment. $19.95): Although a flop when it was released in 1981, this stab at financial science-fiction, in which the Arabs threaten to plunge America into a monetary crisis by pulling their money out of our banks, has its intriguing aspects–the chief one being the curious spectacle of watching the likes of Jane Fonda and Kris Kristofferson trying to pass themselves off as capitalists.
SAHARA (Paramount Home Entertainment. $29.95): Then again, the “Rollover” casting seems positively staid when compared to this adaptation of the Clive Cussler potboiler, which offers us the questionable sights ofMatthew McConaughey as seasoned adventurer Dirk Pitt and Penelope Cruz as a brilliant UN doctor.
THE SENSUOUS NURSE (No Shame Films. $19.95): Look, it is called “The Sensuous Nurse” and it stars Ursula Andress in the title role. What other information could you possibly require, other than the fact that Jack Palance also makes an appearance.
STREET TRASH (Synapse Films. $19.95): I’ve never seen this 1987 gross-out horror film about a group of derelicts who come to gloopy ends when they drink some tainted fortified wine. However, I can still vividly recall the ultra-disgusting photos that they ran in “Fangoria” magazine back in the day (one especially memorable shot depicted a bum literally melting while sitting on an already-disgusting toilet seat) and all I can say is “Yecch!” For many of you, I suspect that alone is recommendation enough.
SUICIDE GIRLS: THE FIRST TOUR (Epitaph Video. $19.95): Proving once again that two great tastes–in this case, hot punk girls and old-school burlesque–can taste great together, this documentary chronicles the ladies of the popular NSFW website (www.suicidegirls.com) as they embark on a tour to bring their bum-and-grind extravaganzas to hipsters and lechers all across the country. While it may not be the most profound title on this week’s list, it is entertaining to watch and I would take it over most any other recent soft-core DVD release that you could name.
TOMMY BOY-HOLY SCHNIKE! EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $19.95): As it turned out, Chris Farley chose to imitate his hero, John Belushi, in all aspects but one–Belushi at least made a few good movies before he died. That said, this 1995 effort, in which he teams up with David Spade to save the family business (mostly by smashing into things) is generally considered to be the best of his films among those with enough time on their hands to study such things.
TWELFTH NIGHT (New Line Home Entertainment. $14.95): Largely overlooked when it came out in 1996 in the crush of higher-profile Shakespeare adaptations (the DiCaprio “Romeo & Juliet” and the Branagh “Hamlet”), this was a sturdy and effective staging of the Bard’s classic gender-bending comedy that features both a dream cast (including Helena Bonham Carter, Imogen Stubbs, Richard E. Grant, Nigel Hawthorne and Ben “A Sound of Thunder” Kingsley) and a tone light enough so that all the fun doesn’t get sucked out of it. Definitely worth seeking out.
WISE GUYS (Warner Home Entertainment. $14.95): Although generally not thought of as a comedic director (especially after “The Bonfire of the Vanities”), Brian De Palma did score his fair share of laughs with this goof about a couple of low-level mobsters (Joe Piscopo and Danny DeVito)–the kind of guys who get sent out to start the car or unwittingly test bulletproof jackets–who find themselves on the run from both their bosses and each other after they inadvertently screw up a lucrative bet on a fixed race. Dismissed by many and largely forgotten today, this atypical work by De Palma has a lot of good stuff in at and a number of amusingly off-beat performances from the likes of Piscopo, DeVito, Harvey Keitel and the immortal Captain Lou Albano.
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originally posted: 09/02/05 14:18:27
last updated: 09/23/05 14:20:24