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DVD Reviews for 4/7: JAFO's of the World, Unite!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic forgoes the usual nonsensical opening paragraph and chooses instead to wish his father a Happy Birthday one day early.

When one turns to look at a film that they adored as a child after many years without seeing it, there is always the danger that those cherished memories will crumble the moment that it is looked upon with fresh and adult eyes. I know that I used to love the movie version of “Charlotte’s Web” when I was a wee lad, only to find it a klutzy and visually repellent mess when I saw it again years later (though I must admit to a new admiration for whomever the genius was who came up with the idea of Paul Lynde supplying the voice of Templeton the rat). Therefore, I was a bit apprehensive when a new special edition of the 1983 action thriller “Blue Thunder” came my way. When I was a younger lad, I thought this was one of the coolest movies ever–two hours of amazing stunts and things blowing up willy-nilly (not to mention the not-at-all-gratuitous sight of an amazingly lithe woman doing nude yoga)–but I had no idea how it would possibly hold up today. Happily, a fresh viewing of the film reveals that it is still as cool and exciting as ever–in fact, it almost plays better today as a celebration of a kind of large-scale action filmmaking that no longer really exists in a genre in which nearly everything is done by computers.

The film stars Roy Scheider, that most dependable of laconic Everyman heroes, as Frank Murphy, a crack LAPD helicopter pilot who is carrying his share of post-Vietnam trauma. Though he is suspended from the force as the film opens for taking his new partner, rookie spotter Lymangood (Daniel Stern) on a joyride to spy on the aforementioned yoga enthusiast while a city councilwoman is attacked and murdered nearby. Before long, he is called on to be the pilot of an technologically astounding new helicopter designed by the government to provide air support during the ten-upcoming Olympics. Of course, the government officials in charge of the project, led by Scheider’s slimy former Army superior (Malcolm McDowell and no, I don’t know how a Brit makes it to colonel in the U.S. Army), have more nefarious plans for the chopper, which has inch-thick armor, microphones and cameras that allow for eavesdropping on ground conversations and a front-mounted cannon that can fire 4000 round per minute, and when Murphy and Lymangood discover what they are, they become marked men. This lead to the astonishing last third of the film, an extended air chase through Los Angeles in which copters swoop through the air blowing the hell out of each other.

Better than most of the technothrillers of its era–the cheesy screenplay is helped immeasurably by the breakneck pace and a better-than-normal cast that includes a priceless supporting turn from the invaluable Warren Oates, in what would be his last performance, as the tough police captain prone to philosophical statements like “When you’re walking on eggs–don’t hop!”–what really sets “Blue Thunder” apart from the action spectacles today is the simple fact that most of what we are seeing is real. As is revealed in the commentary and making-of documentary compiled for this new edition, most of the elaborate air battles were staged by actually sending real helicopters up and having them do most of the stunts without additional trickery. This may not have been a thrill for some of the actors (Malcolm McDowell, who was deathly afraid of flying, only signed on with the assurance that he would never have to get on a real helicopter and arrived for his first day of work to discover that no one mentioned that to director John Badham) but it lends a tangible authenticity to the proceedings that you can still feel today. As Badham admits on his commentary, a film like “Blue Thunder” couldn’t be made in the way that it was if it were to be done today–most of the effects would now be done via CGI and even if they weren’t, new laws passed after the “Twilight Zone” accident would prohibit the shooting of scenes in which the copters are flying just a few feet off the ground. Progress–ain’t it a wonderful thing?

Written by Dan O’Bannon & Don Jakoby. Starring Roy Scheider, Candy Clark, Warren Oates, Daniel Stern and Malcolm McDowell. 1983. Rated R. 109 minutes. A Sony Home Entertainment release. $19.95


THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER/THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVER (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.95 each): In the wake of his successful collaborations with Mel Brooks on “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” Gene Wilder was given the chance to write, direct and star in these two mid-1970's comedies that play like low-key variations of Brooks’ brash satires. The former is a goof on the venerable Arthur Conan Doyle character and features Wilder as the title character and Marty Feldman as an assistant with a photographic memory for recalling and repeating conversations. The latter finds him as a schnooky 1920's baker who leaves Milwaukee for Hollywood with dreams of becoming the next Valentino. Neither film is particularly great but each has a certain charm and enough solid laughs to make them worth a look.

THE ANNIVERSARY (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98): Bette Davis made a lot of weird-ass movies in the later years of her career but few topped this nightmarish 1968 black comedy for sheer strangeness. In it, she plays a one-eyed, domineering widow who still forces her three milquetoast sons to spend her anniversary with her every year–this time, they plan to break free of her grip forever but she has a few surprises for them.

BEE SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): I never quite got around to seeing this drama combining family tensions, Kabbalah and spelling bee competitions. However, while it quickly disappeared from theaters, it got a lot of good notices and even the unfavorable ones make it sound intriguing enough, especially when coupled with a cast toplined by Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche, to be worth at least a rental.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)/i]: I will assume that no further explanation is necessary, except to point out that this relatively bare-bones edition would seem to indicate that a more elaborate version will be coming down the pike before too long.

: a.k.a. “The Lion King of Kings.”

CRASH: DIRECTOR’S CUT (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Unless the additional footage consists entirely of an extension of Sandra Bullock falling down the stairs, I can’t imagine that anything has been added to this absurdly overpraised melodrama to make it worth repurchasing. Then again, I didn’t think it was worth buying (or watching or pissing on if the negative was on fire) the first time around either and it appears that many of you didn’t listen to me back then.

DAWSON’S CREEK-THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON (Sony Home Entertainment. $49.95): With this collection, you can go back to that distant time when Katie Holmes was being praised as the next big young actress and Michelle Williams was usually written off as a second banana.

THE GLAMOUR COLLECTION-CAROLE LOMBARD/MAE WEST/MARLENE DIETRICH (Universal Home Video. $26.98 each): Three of the great female icons of the silver screen receive two-disc collections featuring several titles each. The Lombard collection may not contain any titles as well known as “To Be or Not to Be,” perhaps her best film, but the six titles here (“Hands Across the Table,” “Love Before Breakfast,” Man of the World,” “The Princess Comes Across,” “True Confession” and “We’re Not Dressing”) highlight both her sexy presence and her comedic abilities. The Dietrich and West sets both contain better-known films–the former includes the immortal “Blonde Venus” while the highlight of the latter is “I’m No Angel,” in which West goes up against no less of a personality as Cary Grant himself. Though the sets are no-frills affairs, the sheer number of titles in each of them make them genuine bargains for film buffs.

I’M NOT DEAD (Sony Music Entertainment. $18.99): If you flip over the DualDisc version of the latest CD by angry young woman Pink to the DVD side, you’ll find, among the various interviews, photos and other bric-a-brac, the much-discussed video for the new single “Stupid Girls,” in which she impersonates the likes of Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen Twins while decrying the lack of proper role models for young women today in a world that seems to revere scantily-clad bimbos. The video is amusing enough, though it raises a few questions. For starters, does this mean that she was just being ironic when she appeared in the "Lady Marmalade" video as a barely-clad whore alongside Christina Aguilera, Mya and Lil Kim? Does she really believe, as she suggests in the video, that the best way for young girls to get ahead is to utterly reject their femininity and act more like men? Why not reject both sterotypes and forge their own identities? Finally, why is the sight of Pink dressed like Jessica Simpson far more alluring that the actual Simpson herself?

LIZA WITH A “Z”: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Showtime Entertainment. $29.99): Unavailable for many years, Liza Minnelli’s legendary 1972 television special, directed by none other than Bob Fosse (who had just worked with her on “Cabaret”), makes its long-awaited video debut. Liza fanatics–yes, such creatures do still indeed exist–will find this set to be the mother lode. Besides the restored, full-length version of the show, the package also includes a CD of the soundtrack, a commentary from Minnelli herself and footage of a Q&A that she did after a screening at the Toronto film festival last fall. If this set sells well, does that mean that a Collector’s Edition of “Lucky Lady” is around the corner?

THE MEL BROOKS COLLECTION (Fox Home Entertainment. $99.98): 8 discs of fart jokes, Nazis and musical numbers–who could ask for anything more? In this not-entirely-complete collection of Brooks’ screen work (no “The Producers,” “Spaceballs,” “Life Stinks” or “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” though all are available on their own), fans will receive two flat-out comedy classics (1974's “Young Frankenstein” and 1976's “Silent Movie”), two near-gems (1971's “The Twelve Chairs” and 1974's “Blazing Saddles”), three flawed-but-still funny works (1978's “High Anxiety,” 1981's “History of the World-Part I” and his 1983 remake of “To Be or Not to Be”) and one woeful misfire (1993's “Robin Hood-Men in Tights”).

9 TO 5-SEXIST, EGOTISTICAL, LYING, HYPOCRITICAL BIGOT EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): Just think, someone in the marketing department at Fox was actually paid to come up with what may well be the silliest special-edition title in the short history of silly special-edition DVDs. As for the movie itself, this 1980 hit comedy, in which a trio of oppressed secretaries (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton) band together to strike back at their loathsome boss (Dabney Coleman), has never struck me as a particularly great comedy–the second half especially drags when it tries to awkwardly switch from social commentary to flat-out farce–but it does have its redeeming virtues, the main ones being a charming debut performance from Parton and a hilariously over-the-top turn from Coleman. Fans of the film, however, will be thrilled with the disc, which includes several bonus features, the most prominent being a commentary track reuniting the three stars. (Just out of curiosity, where the hell is Dabney Coleman on the track?)

SIX PACK (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98): The semi-immortal big-screen debut (and farewell) of Kenny Rogers was a lame 1982 comedy in which he plays a down-on-his-luck stock-car racer who takes a brood of adorable car-stripping orphans under his wing and uses them as his pit crew. Only worth watching to gawk at Diane Lane in her jailbait prime, at least until someone gets off their ass and finally releases “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.”

THANK GOD IT’S FRIDAY (Sony Home Entertainment. $14.95): This 1978 disco comedy, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song for Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” has one hilarious moment right at the start–the Columbia lady steps down from her perch to do a couple of dance steps–followed by 78 minutes of klunky comedy and ear-splitting music that is of interest today only for those who want to see early performances from the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Debra Winger.

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originally posted: 04/07/06 13:50:34
last updated: 04/14/06 16:14:14
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