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The Aisle Seat's '80s DVD Blast, Part II

More DVDs from the Decade that Brought Us "King Kong Lives"!

By Andy Dursin

In yesterday's Aisle Seat we looked at a bona-fide '80s comedy classic -- MIDNIGHT MADNESS, which will be unveiled on DVD in just a few weeks thanks to Anchor Bay. Unsurprisingly, other studios have followed suit of late, capitalizing on the recent boom in nostalgia for the decade of Pepsi Free, Harold Faltermeyer, and trickle-down economics.

Since we've been assembling a mass of new titles here at our Aisle Seat offices, here's a glimpse of other, equally nostalgic items from the late '70s-late '80s that have completed their trek to digital goodness on DVD.


COMIC NUTTINESS

Not to be outdone on the nostalgic comedy track, Paramount's recent DVD slate has included widescreen editions of the 1978 Albert Brooks spoof REAL LIFE (**, $24.98) and the amiable 1985 John Candy vehicle SUMMER RENTAL (**1/2, $24.98).

LIFE, meant to parody a PBS series examining a regular American family that was popular at the time, has, like many of Brooks' films, about 15 minutes of genuine belly-laughs and over an hour of material that treads water. Brooks plays the arrogant documentary producer (who else?) who makes life rough on father Charles Grodin and his kids, but not even Grodin's patented slow burn makes this prolonged feature worth sitting through. Still, for Brooks fans, it's worth a view, and comes with a new interview with Brooks reflecting on his first theatrical feature film. The 1.85 transfer is fine and the mono soundtrack comes across OK.

SUMMER RENTAL, meanwhile, was a quickly-shot piece of summer escapist fluff, with beleaguered air traffic controller Candy taking his wife and kids on a much-needed Florida vacation. While fighting off a bad sunburn and the hordes of beach-goers near the shore, Candy manages to get himself crossed up with stuffy sailing snob Richard Crenna, which results in a climactic boat race that goes right down to the literal wire. While not a classic comedy, this first star vehicle for Candy is pleasant enough, coasting along at 86 minutes with occasional laughs mixed in with the formulaic script. The late comedian is extremely likable here, and is backed by a solid supporting cast (including Rip Torn and a wasted John Larroquette), along with an engaging Alan Silvestri score. The 1.85 transfer is solid and there's a theatrical trailer to round-out the presentation.

Another Paramount film that has gotten a much more elaborate presentation (and deservedly so) is Jerry Zucker's box-office hit of 1990, GHOST (***, $24.98), which Paramount has released in a solid new 1.85 transfer, 5.1 remixed soundtrack, and with a half-hour documentary on the making of the film.

A word-of-mouth hit during the summer months of '90 (we'll include it here since it was shot in '89), GHOST has everything but the kitchen sink: supernatural thrills, romantic drama, manic comedy, and a bit of mystery as well. It also has Demi Moore in one of her better performances (though I was never a fan of the chopped pixie cut she sports in this one), plus Patrick Swayze as the dead lover back from the grave to find out what happened to him and why -- and to set things straight with grieving Moore. Zucker's film makes the most of Bruce Joel Rubin's sometimes weepy script and never becomes as pretentious as it sometimes threatens to. Only Maurice Jarre's unremarkable score and the constant use of the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody" wear out their welcome here, though the song WAS one of the movie's top draws for some viewers! The transfer and sound, as I mentioned, are both solid, and the 30-minute "Remembering the Magic" documentary includes new interviews with Zucker, Rubin, and Swayze (Moore and Whoopi Goldberg appear only in material culled from press junket interviews). A commentary with Zucker and Rubin is also included, and it's good to hear that Zucker (currently helming the "Mad, Mad, Mad World" remake, RAT RACE) hasn't lost his sense of humor.

Fox has also dipped into the '80s well with a nice-looking DVD of WORKING GIRL (***, $24.98), the 1988 Mike Nichols comedy that copped six Oscar nominations, including one for Melanie Griffith's performance as a NYC secretary who finds herself getting involved in business -- and personal -- politics between boss Sigourney Weaver and investment banker Harrison Ford. This breezy Nichols film is both funny and smart, and features terrific performances from the three leads (including one of Ford's more charismatic, relaxed roles). The supporting cast, including Joan Cusack and Alec Baldwin, is likewise solid, and the memorable, Oscar-winning Carly Simon song-score fits the action splendidly. The 1.85 transfer is strong, while the Dolby Stereo soundtrack has been encoded as 3.0 digital here. A trailer and several TV spots fill out a good-looking presentation of one of the better comedies to come out of the late '80s; unsurprisingly, no mention is made of the short-lived 1990 TV spin-off of the film, which starred Sandra Bullock in the Griffith role!

MGM, meanwhile, has also done justice to another Griffith vehicle -- CHERRY 2000 (**1/2, $19.98), best known around our circles for Basil Poledouris' score, which fetched quite a pretty penny on the collector market through its limited Varese CD Club pressing. The movie was shot in 1986 but never theatrically released (one of many casualties during Orion Pictures' tenuous run), instead appearing several years later on video. The movie itself isn't all that bad, a "Mad Max" variant with female bounty hunter Griffith going after a guy's female robot companion in a post-apocalyptic future. This diverting piece of entertainment features engaging performances and intermittently amusing dialogue courtesy of the Michael Almereyda script, while Steve de Jarnatt's direction keeps things moving, mixing the standard action-adventure fare with romantic elements. And, of course, Basil's score helps! MGM's DVD is better than expected, featuring a 1.85 transfer, OK Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack, and both the original trailer and a featurette directed by Paul M. Sammon.

Other recent MGM budget-priced "Movie Time" releases have included other '80s favorites like the silly but fun BABY BOOM (***, $19.98) with Diane Keaton embodying the struggle of a frantic single businesswoman, trying to mix her professional life with a relative's child that improbably ends up on her front door. Bill Conti's score and solid supporting turns from Sam Shepard and Harold Ramis make this 1987 Charles Shyer-Nancy Meyers romantic comedy an entertaining time. The 1.85 transfer and 2.0 soundtrack, like those on most of MGM's recent releases, are both above-average.


ANCHOR BAY CULT MADNESS

If MIDNIGHT MADNESS wasn't enough to satisfy your cult sensibilities, Anchor Bay has gone full out of late, diving into both foreign films and the New World Pictures library for their latest slate of DVD goodies -- spotlighting a handful of mid-'80s efforts in particular.

Chief among the pleasures is a great-looking presentation of the infamous Stephen King directorial outing, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (**1/2, $24.98), which is not a good movie by anyone's standards -- but boy, is it fun! King's only theatrical feature (to date, anyhow), this tale of machines-gone-amok is hysterically funny, with Emilio Estevez leading the way as a regular Joe who finds himself in the middle of a world gone mad -- what with soda machines wiping out little leaguers and all.

The AC/DC score includes some of the band's most popular work (like the trailer-staple "You Shook Me All Night Long," remixed for the film), and after watching it again, tell me if you think King wasn't trying to make some kind of deranged comedy here. If you have never seen this outrageous 1986 effort (a DEG release, no less), do yourself a favor and enjoy Anchor Bay's DVD, which features a nice 2.35 anamorphic transfer, full 5.1 remixed sound, and the movie's amusing theatrical trailer, starring King himself.
 
King is also represented by two other Anchor Bay DVDs -- specifically, the cheapjack 1986 sequel to King's "Creepshow," the unimaginatively titled CREEPSHOW 2 (*1/2, $24.98), and the lame-brained but somewhat effective 1984 adaptation of CHILDREN OF THE CORN (**, $24.98), both of which are courtesy of the New World Pictures vaults.

The former, which George Romero scripted from King's stories, is a badly-made follow-up featuring hideous animated sequences, and manages to make its predecessor look like a classic by comparison. CHILDREN, on the other hand, boasts an equally small budget, but is grittier and certainly more effective, with Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton as a couple that stumble upon a weird religious cult of kids in a Nebraska town. This one rightly reserves the superior treatment (5.1 remixed sound, trailer, and a collector's booklet) over CREEPSHOW 2 (mono, trailer and still gallery), with both sporting acceptable 1.85 transfers.

Other AB titles from the New World library include the tedious, Indiana Jones/James Bond rip-off JAKE SPEED (*1/2, $24.98) with non-actor Wayne Crawford as the title hero of paperback adventures set out to rescue the sister of Karin Kopins. John Hurt must have seriously needed some cash based on his appearance in this cheapie, which was shot on location in Africa and Paris, with Mark Snow scoring one of his first major features. The 2.0 Ultra Stereo is surprisingly good on this 1986 release, and the 1.85 transfer is OK as well.

More entertaining is JANE AND THE LOST CITY (**, $24.98), with Sam Jones ("Flash Gordon") and Bond girl Maud Adams in a silly but engaging 1987 adaptation of the '40s British comic strip. It's no "Brenda Starr," but it is watchable, and features a 1.66 transfer and trailer.

The one-sheet poster reproduction in the DVD inlay card states that Wes Craven, at one point, was going to be bringing us the cinematic adaptation of V.C. Andrews' FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (**, $24.98), but Craven wisely bowed out of this stilted and dour thriller before filming began (of course, he DID end up making "Deadly Friend"!). The 1.85 transfer and sound are both sufficient on this PG-13 rated 1987 effort, with Kristy Swanson's haircut the scariest thing about it.

The last new AB release from New World's library is the Sybil Danning/Wendy O. Williams 1986 cult favorite REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS ($24.98), which has been dusted off as a purely comic piece of trash, complete with commentary by director Tom DeSimone and "humorist" Martin Lewis. Trailers, a still gallery, and a new 1.85 transfer make this recycling of '50s women-in-prison epics a good time if you're in the mood.

A title which will likely be more familiar to some, THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (**, $24.98) has also been resurrected by Anchor Bay on both VHS and DVD.

This independently-made 1982 flick was one of countless sword-and-sorcery epics that were prevalent in the early '80s, but despite being one of the biggest box-office hits of the genre (apparently outgrossing "Conan" domestically), the movie has fallen off the radar screen over the years for an obvious reason -- it's not all that good.

SWORD stars Lee Horsley (yep, "Matt Houston" himself) as a mercenary who goes up against evil sorcerer Richard Lynch in order to save belle Kathleen Beller. Plenty of slimy effects and cheap action scenes abound in this "Brandon Chase film," one of the few examples I can think of where the producer (not the director) takes full credit for the production! (Of course, director Alberty Pyun parlayed his success here into a lengthy stint with Full Moon Productions, so perhaps the movie's box-office gold wasn't entirely the director's doing). The 1.85 transfer is murky and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound muffled, sporting a formula score by David Whitaker, but if you're a fan of the movie, it's still worth checking out. If not, steer clear, and revisit "Conan," "Excalibur," "The Beastmaster," Ralph Bakshi's "Fire and Ice," or "Dragonslayer" instead.


FOREIGN FILMS

Paul Verhoeven was a master of over-the-top '80s epics ("Robocop," "Flesh + Blood"), but his start came in Dutch cinema during the 1970s. And if you thought Verhoeven's insanity was restricted to his American picturesÖ

Anchor Bay has rolled out no less than three Special Editions of the director's early work on DVD: the 1973 TURKISH DELIGHT ($29.98) with Rutger Hauer venturing into the fun world of sexual adventure with Monique Van de Ven; the 1977 SOLIDER OF ORANGE ($29.98), witrh Hauer again as one of several Dutch college students whose lives are altered forever by WWII; and the truly nutty 1983 thriller THE FOURTH MAN ($29.98), with Jeroen Krabbe being thrown into one strange relationship with widow Renee Soutendijk, in a bizarre mix of black comedy and suspense-thriller.

All the titles have been restored to their full-length versions here, and feature 1.66 transfers enhanced for widescreen TVs, while retaining their original monophonic soundtracks. Verhoeven gives a commentary track on each disc, discussing the myriad themes of his films and his career in his own, distinct manner. Trailers and still galleries are included on each disc, which are all presented in Dutch with English subtitles.

The films are clearly not for all tastes (just like Verhoeven's American work), but for adventurous viewers looking for something a little different, each has the unmistakable mark of its director -- especially the outrageous "Fourth Man."

Just as intriguing is the original Danish version of NIGHTWATCH ($29.98), Ole Bornedal's 1994 thriller that was remade as a heavily-reshot Dimensions Films remake several years ago with Nick Nolte, Ewan MacGregor, and Patricia Arquette. Though both films were directed by Bornedal, the original is clearly superior, a deft chiller that's here presented in its original 1.85 transfer with a remixed 5.1 soundtrack from Chase Productions. Borendal also delivers a commentary track, while the original trailer is also included with the movie, presented with English subtitles on AB's DVD.

Finally, Anchor Bay has also released a DVD of the little-seen 1987 Swedish fantasy MIO IN THE LAND OF FARAWAY ($29.98), with an international cast comprised of Timothy Bottoms, Susannah York, Christopher Lee, and Christian Bale. This children's adventure, based on a book by the author of "Pippi Longstocking," is interesting enough, like "The NeverEnding Story" but with music by ex-ABBA musicians instead of Giorgio Moroder. The 1.85 transfer is OK, and the Dolby Stereo soundtrack is functional. A theatrical trailer has also been included.


NEXT TIMEÖIt's back to the present with new DVDs, plus a round-up of all the latest cinematic offerings we've been too busy to write up here at the Aisle Seat! Send all comments to dursina@att.net and we'll catch you next time. Excelsior!


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