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Aisle Seat Back to the '80s Assault

MGM Premieres Special Editions of cult favorites
Plus: SOLARIS, Guy Pearce, and more on DVD

By Andy Dursin

Happy August, everyone (is it August already?!?). After a brief sabbatical spent authoring the liner notes for RCA's forthcoming DIRTY DANCING soundtrack re-issue (at stores everywhere later this year!), I'm back with a thorough DVD shakedown of long-awaited '80s favorites, which are out this week from the fine folks at MGM.

I promise to finally get around to the International DVD column that's been long-in- development here at the Aisle Seat, but we've got plenty of business to tend to this week, starting with a flashback to 20 years ago -- where were you in '82??

'80s Classics Out This Week on DVD

THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN. 93 mins., 1982, R, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Lawrence Monoson, Diane Franklin, Steve Antin, Joe Rubbo, Louisa Moritz. COMPOSER: "Musical Supervision" by Lookout Management. SCRIPT-DIRECTOR: Boaz Davidson. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen and full-screen transfers, 2.0 Dolby Stereo sound.

We all know that the Cannon Group was never known for making intelligent, thought-provoking movies; Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus would have rather turned out "American Ninja 5" than "Rashomon." Still, every once in a while some quality shined through the exploitation -- or sometimes along with it -- and that happy combination occurred in 1982 with the release of "Lemon Popsicle" auteur Boaz Davidson's THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN.

This cable TV staple has become something of a cult classic over the years not so much because it offers silly, ridiculous high school fun (which it does to a degree), but rather because of its painful, realistic ending that punches the unsuspecting viewer right in the gut. It could have easily been an Afterschool Special titled "Look What Happens When You Fall in Love With the Pretty Girl."

Lawrence Monoson, who was last seen as a psycho rapist on "E/R," plays Gary, a high schooler who -- like pals Rick and David -- wants to "score" with the opposite sex. While the trio's attempts at sexual conquest include run-ins with willing classmates, a burned-out hooker, and a lonely housewife, Gary really just wants to find one particular girl to settle down with. And, this being 1982, Gary only cares about the most gorgeous girl in his class (Diane Franklin, who played high schoolers for years following this film), neglecting clear and obvious obstacles like she doesn't care about him whatsoever. Still, that doesn't stop our hero from falling for the mysterious Karen, even going so far as to help her out once she gets pregnant.

Yes, it IS heavy stuff for a brainless teen comedy, but it's what makes THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN such an audience favorite. Here's a movie that offers the requisite sex jokes and dumb fun of "Porky's" but takes a sharp, unexpected turn towards the dramatic in its final 30 minutes. If you've never seen the movie before, I wouldn't dream of spoiling the movie's painful conclusion, which seems to come out of left field but works so well that you'll be remembering it for days afterwards. In fact, a book on high school movies went so far as to compare it to the end of "Seven." (I have to admit that it might be even more jolting!).

MGM's long, long awaited DVD offers a superlative 1.85 transfer (a full-frame version is also included), along with the original trailer and a rowdy 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack. There's no original score in the movie, but there IS a song-filled collection of '80s favorites too numerous to even begin mentioning. However, you'll never think of the Quincy Jones/James Ingram classic "Just Once" quite the same way again after sitting through this one -- don't miss it!

THE SURE THING. 95 mins., 1985, PG-13, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. CAST: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Nicollette Sheridan, Tim Robbins, Viveca Lindfors. COMPOSER: Tom Scott. SCRIPT: Steven L. Bloom, Jonathan Roberts. DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Rob Reiner; retrospective featurette with new interviews with the cast and crew; mini- featurettes (split into three parts); on-screen trivia track. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, full-screen, "enhanced" 5.1 surround and original mono track.

Charming, engaging teen comedy hit from the winter of '85 is still one of director Rob Reiner's finest hours.

John Cusack plays an overly verbose college student whose buddy (Anthony Edwards) in L.A. secures a "sure thing" (Nicolette Sheridan) for him to romance during winter break. In order to travel cross-country to get there, though, Cusack has to reluctantly take up with a seemingly stuck-up, straight-arrow girl (Daphne Zuniga) from his English class. It's a clash of opposites who eventually fall for one another, though the journey to the pre-ordained conclusion is filled with often poignant and/or funny episodes, most notably Tim Robbins' ultra-Preppie who agrees to take the couple along for the ride.

Written by Brown University graduates Steven Bloom and Jonathan Roberts, THE SURE THING has all the classic ingredients of both the teen movie and romantic comedy genres. The film has a young, enthusiastic cast, a smart and consistently amusing script, and two lead characters who you come to care a great deal about. Cusack and Zuniga don't overplay their parts (and watching this again, it's a shame Zuniga's future roles were comprised of "The Fly II" and "Melrose Place"), and Reiner wisely avoids the pitfalls of the genre by refusing to clutter the movie with cliches and stupid gross-out gags. THE SURE THING is a surprisingly warm and winning movie of its kind, and one that holds up splendidly on DVD.

MGM's full-blown Special Edition package offers a great 1.85 widescreen transfer, along with a standard full-frame version. The letterboxing mattes out the top and bottom of the image, though as the DVD's on-screen trivia track points out, you can tell the movie's supposedly Northeastern college campus is really in California by palm trees visible outside a window (these are blocked out in the 1.85 transfer). Though originally released in mono, MGM has included a 5.1 "enhanced" track that gives a small but noticeable stereophonic dimension to the mix.

For supplements, THE SURE THING boasts an excellent new documentary on the making of the movie, tracing the film's genesis as a spec script to Reiner's involvement and the casting of Cusack and Zuniga. The interviews are candid and informative, discussing how Embassy Films became attached to the project, its filming and the acclaim the movie received upon its release. Three mini-featurettes are also included, along with Reiner's audio commentary and the before-mentioned trivia track, which pops up with on-screen factoids more interesting than most of its type.

VALLEY GIRL. 99 mins., 1982, R, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***. CAST: Deborah Foreman, Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth Daily, Michelle Meyrink, Cameron Dye, Lee Purcell, Colleen Camp, Frederic Forrest. SCRIPT: Andrew Lane, Wayne Crawford. DIRECTOR: Martha Coolidge. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director commentary; making of documentary with new interviews with the cast and crew; interview between Cage and Coolidge; on-screen trivia track; video commentary; storyboards; trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, full-screen, 5.1 surround.

Like, totally tubular, dude! Another vintage '80s classic is here granted the Special Edition treatment courtesy of MGM.

Nicolas Cage, in his first leading role, plays an L.A. punker who falls for cute Valley Girl Deborah Foreman after crashing a preppie party. They fall for each other, but Foreman's snobby friends (including Elizabeth Daily) and social status stand in the way of the couple staying together -- not to mention her aging hippie parents (Colleen Camp, Frederic Forrest).

An entertaining, if predictable, romantic teen comedy ensues, with director Martha Coolidge ("Rambling Rose," "Real Genius") fortunately more interested in detailing time and place than adhering to idiotic hijinks. Sure, the movie has ample '80s period tunes and fashions to spare, but VALLEY GIRL is surprisingly a lot smarter than you might anticipate. The relationships between the characters are more developed than usual, and the central performances of Cage and Foreman are both fresh and appealing.

MGM rounded up all the cast and crew from this cult classic, with the notable (and glaring) absence of Foreman herself, who didn't participate in the disc's production. It's a shame, too, since Cage is on-hand for both a lengthy chat with director Coolidge, as well as putting in an appearance during the disc's Making Of segment. There's an on- screen trivia track, a sporadic video commentary, storyboards, music videos and the original trailer to compliment a superb 1.85 transfer and 5.1 surround mix (a full-frame version is also included).

FOXES. 105 mins., 1980, R, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Jodie Foster, Scott Baio, Sally Kellerman, Randy Quaid, Marilyn Kagan, Cherie Currie. COMPOSER: Giorgio Moroder. SCRIPT: Gerald Ayres. DIRECTOR: Adrian Lyne. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, full-screen, original mono sound.

They're young, hot, and out of control -- so goes Adrian Lyne's in-your-face 1980 look at what happens to high schoolers in the San Fernando Valley after dark without their parents' supervision.

Jodie Foster gives a valiant performance under the circumstances as a girl trying to cope through the depravity in a movie that offers relentless sex, drugs, parties, and depressing relationships. Gerald Ayres' script attempts to chronicle what happens to a foursome of friends -- Foster, Cherie Currie, Kandice Stroh, and ex-talk show gabber Marilyn Kagan -- who, in the words of Foster's mom (Sally Kellerman), act like they're 40 when they're closer to 14. Currie's got an abusive policeman stepdad, Kagan wants to get married to Randy Quaid (check out the stylin' haircut), and Foster tries to be the glue holding them together in spite of countless, seemingly endless obstacles.

FOXES is a movie that might have been deemed "shocking!" and "controversial!" in its day, but in actuality plays out like an R-rated Afterschool Special about the horrors of having near-total independence in your teen years. Characters recite dialogue that's so heavy-handed that you can virtually taste the message being forced down your throat (particularly in Kellerman's conversations with Foster), while Lyne uses soft filters and a typical Giorgio Moroder song-filled soundtrack to simultaneously condemn the lifestyle at the same time the movie glamorizes it. (Aaah, the '80s -- back when you could have it both ways!). Aside from Foster's performance -- and early appearances by Scott Baio, future "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" alumnus Robert Romanus, and a teenage Laura Dern -- FOXES isn't much fun at all.

MGM's DVD offers both a fine 1.85 transfer with an OK full-frame version on the disc's flip side. The mono soundtrack is energetic enough, and the movie's theatrical trailer -- which predictably plays up the "adult" material while playing down the story's more violent, tragic elements -- is included as an extra.

THE FLAMINGO KID. 100 mins., 1984, PG-13, MGM. ANDY'S RATING: ***1/2. CAST: Matt Dillon, Richard Crenna, Hector Elizondo, Jessica Walter, Janet Jones, Fisher Stevens, Brian McNamara, Bronson Pinchot. SCRIPT: Neal Marshall, Gary Marshall. DIRECTOR: Gary Marshall. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 (not 16:9 enhanced), full- frame, mono sound.

Winning slice-of-life comedy from "Happy Days" creator Gary Marshall, starring Matt Dillon as a Brooklyn kid who gets a job as a cabana boy at a posh Long Island beach club during the summer of '63. Richard Crenna plays a car dealer and local card shark who tutors Dillon in the game and life itself, much to the consternation of Dillon's blue-collar dad Hector Elizondo, who is troubled by his son's fascination with people from a higher class.

Co-written by Neal Marshall (no relation) with the director, THE FLAMINGO KID is a great coming-of-age picture, boasting many funny and quietly poignant sequences. The supporting cast includes early appearances by Janet Jones, John Turturro, Marisa Tomei, and Fisher Stevens, but it's the triangle between Dillon, Crenna and Elizondo that really sings, bringing a memorable and realistic dramatic angle to a super movie.

Culled from the ABC Pictures vaults, MGM's presentation seems to be a straight re-issue of the earlier FLAMINGO KID release from Anchor Bay. The transfer is generally colorful and clean, with only a bit of digital shimmering here and there. The 1.85:1 transfer (not enhanced for 16:9) looks noticeably better than the full-frame presentation on the other side, which actually crops out the left and right edges while adding nothing at the top or bottom. Though no extras are included, the movie is a gem of its kind and still holds up as Marshall's best film. Highly recommended.

THE RACHEL PAPERS (**1/2, 94 mins., 1989, R; MGM): A coming-of-age '80s tale with a British flavor, as writer-director Damian Harris adapts Martin Amis' novel about a young man's (Dexter Fletcher) infatuation with a beautiful American girl (Ione Skye, at the apex of her on-screen appeal). This barely-released tale of unrequited love has a decidedly bittersweet flavor, with Fletcher talking directly to the camera (a la Michael Caine in "Alfie") while Skye spurns a committed relationship with him. James Spader also appears, along with Jonathan Pryce and Michael Gambon, in a well-acted though somewhat heavy-handed movie that can't seem to settle on a consistent tone. Still worth a look, though. MGM's DVD offers somewhat soft 1.85 and full-frame transfers, plus a stereo soundtrack featuring a soundtrack padded with rock tracks (and an original score by Chazz Jenkel and David Storrs).

HOT DOG: THE MOVIE (**1/2, 96 mins., 1984, R; MGM): David Naughton tries "Makin' It" on the ski slopes in this studio-backed, amiable enough youth comedy. The script is strictly mindless genre fare -- an American skiier attempts to win the hand of a gorgeous babe (Shannon Tweed) who just happens to have broken up with the reigning Austrian ski champ -- but the execution is, well, virtually "expert" for this kind of film. Peter Markle ("Bat 21") helmed the movie, Peter Bernstein scored it, and the cast -- including Naughton and Patrick Houser -- seems to have had a good time "Makin' It" (okay, two references to Naughton's hit disco tune is enough!). MGM's DVD offers only a full-screen transfer, but since HOT DOG wasn't shot in widescreen, it doesn't make much of a difference on that front. The transfer looks decent, the mono sound is perfectly okay, and the original trailer is included as an extra.

BREAKIN' (**1/2, 86 mins., 1984, PG; MGM): It certainly doesn't get any more "80's" than Cannon's box-office hit about a would-be classical dancer (Lucinda Dickey) who joins up with a pair of street dancers (Adolfo "Shabba Doo" Quinones, Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers) in this guilty pleasure mix of "Flashdance" and an old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney musical. Early appearances by the likes of Ice-T (as a club DJ) and Christopher McDonald -- chewing up the scenery even back in '84 -- add a bit of flavor to the colorful moves and grooves in Joel Silberg's movie. MGM's DVD includes a clean, vibrant full-frame transfer with a bouncy 2.0 stereo soundtrack, plus the original trailer. (If you're looking for the essential sequel "Breakin' 2: Electric Bugaloo," MGM already issued it back in the spring time).

Also New on DVD

TILL HUMAN VOICES WAKE US. 96 mins., 2003, R, Paramount. ANDY'S RATING: **. CAST: Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter. COMPOSER: Amotz Plessner. SCRIPT- DIRECTOR: Michael Petroni. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital surround.

Low-key Australian character study stars Guy Pearce as a psychiatrist who returns to his small, rural hometown where, as a child, he was involved in a tragedy that's haunted his entire life. Along the way, he meets an enigmatic young woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who may be the adult version of a crippled teenage girl he once loved -- or a ghost that's just a figment of his imagination.

Writer-director Michael Petroni's sensitive and moody film sounds compelling enough, particularly with the two leads acting opposite a series of flashbacks from Pearce's teenage life. The inter-cutting, though, only pads the running time leading to its predictable conclusion, where we find out that the build-up has hardly been worth the effort. Petroni's central idea makes for an interesting premise, yet the story is so languid and depressing that it's impossible to become involved in it. Pearce broods about, while Bonham Carter fares slightly better in a typically quirky performance.

At least the movie is vividly shot (in widescreen by Roger Lanser), and scored in a predictably low-key manner by Amotz Plessner. Paramount's DVD offers a razor-sharp 2.35 transfer with somber 5.1 Dolby Digital audio.

Film buffs may want to note that, in the original Australian version of the movie, the flashback sequences reportedly preceded the Pearce-Bonham Carter element of the plot. The film was re-cut (inter-cutting the two story lines) for its U.S. release, and a Region 4 DVD available from Down Under apparently preserves both versions for interested viewers.

LOVING. 89 mins., 1970, R, Columbia TriStar. ANDY'S RATING: **1/2. CAST: George Segal, Eva Marie Saint, Janis Young, Sterling Hayden, Nancie Phillips, Keenan Wynn, Roy Scheider. COMPOSER: Bernardo Segall. SCRIPT: Don Devlin. DIRECTOR: Irvin Kerschner. DVD TECHNICAL SPECS: 1.85 Widescreen, mono sound.

All I could think about while watching the highly-rated 1970 drama LOVING was -- haven't I seen this before, when it was called "The Ice Storm"? Obviously, Ang Lee's critically praised film followed this Irvin Kershner movie by a few decades, but other than seeing George Segal and Eva Marie Saint (as opposed to Kevin Kline and Joan Allen), some viewers would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two stories.

Like "The Ice Storm," LOVING delineates about the disintegration of the American family in the 1970s. It chronicles the then-contemporary aspects of infidelity, marriage, sex, and what drives the Modern American Man to throw away a seemingly good wife and picture-perfect kids for the sake of a few kinky thrills.

George Segal gives a strong performance in LOVING as Brooks Wilson, who lives in the suburbs with his wife (Eva Marie Saint) and young daughters. He has a mistress (Janis Young), a successful job in the city, and proceeds to lose it all through the course of Dean Devlin's script -- right down to the melodramatic ending, where Segal makes the mistake of fooling around in front of the era's most technologically advanced home surveillance system.

Devlin (father of "Stargate" and "Independence Day" auteur Dean Devlin) wrote and produced LOVING, which sports fine performances by the leads under the direction of the versatile Kershner. One has to give credit to the filmmakers for making a movie that pushed the boundaries of its particular era -- this was a frank, adult look at marriage and infidelity at a time when studios were just learning to take advantage of the liberties an "R" rating could afford.

Now, though, LOVING comes off as a dated movie that's best appreciated for its performances and Gordon Willis' superb cinematography. The relationships between the characters are complex and Devlin, working from a J.M. Ryan novel, does as good a job as possible developing them within the confines of the movie's somewhat limited 90- minute structure. Overall, though, the movie leaves you with a dated, slightly sour taste in the mouth, with an abrupt ending (the credits roll in the middle of the scene!) smacking of the era's more pretentious filmmaking.

Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a fine 1.85 transfer that seems a bit tightly matted but overall looks pretty good considering the movie's age. The movie's pop-ish score also doesn't help, having been written by Bernardo Segall, whose credits are mostly comprised of "Columbo" episodes.

SOLARIS. 99 mins., 2002, PG-13, Fox. ANDY'S RATING: *1/2. CAST: George Clooney, Natascha McElone, Jeremy Davies ("he's terrible!"), Viola Davis. COMPOSER: Cliff Martinez. SCRIPT-DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary with Soderbergh and James Cameron; HBO Making Of; featurette; script; teaser and trailer. TECHNICAL SPECS: 2.35 Widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's novel runs nearly half as long as Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Russian adaptation, but the abbreviated running time results in a movie that barely scratches the surface of the original's deep meditation on life and human existence.

George Clooney, who also co-produced (along with James Cameron), plays Chris Kelvin, a psychologist called into space to retrieve the crew of a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The crew members have become prone to illusions and the two surviving members -- Snow (Jeremy Davies) and Helen (Viola Davis) -- attempt to persuade Kelvin to leave before he, too, becomes the victim of Solaris' unseen, possibly extraterrestrial force. Instead, Kelvin stays and succumbs to the temptation of seeing his dead wife, Rheya (Natasha McElhone), brought back to life as a seemingly living organism. In the process, her resurrection not only brings back Kelvin's love and affection for his deceased bride, but also the pain, guilt, and anxiety that stemmed from Rheya's ultimately suicidal impulses. Despite the fact that Rheya isn't REALLY Rheya, Kelvin becomes convinced to stay in the space station's orbit around Solaris in an attempt to change the past and make it right.

Soderbergh has fashioned a beautifully shot and hauntingly scored (by Cliff Martinez) film, no question there. SOLARIS raises timeless issues of coming to terms with the past, neglecting reality and settling guilt, but somehow Soderbergh's 99-minute film -- reportedly re-cut from a longer, two-hour version -- never satisfyingly elaborates upon the topics it so tantalizingly raises. It's a pretentious, dull, and cold misfire that rarely instills in its viewers the emotions that are supposed to be gripping its protagonists. It's a great-looking picture that will still be worth a look for aficionados of the original version (for curiosity's sake if nothing else), but dramatically and emotionally, it ultimately fails on almost every level.

One final note: while I certainly wouldn't pin the movie's downfall on his acting, Jeremy Davies' absolutely dreadful performance as a scatterbrained space station survivor has to go down as one of the worst in recent memory. The preview screening audience I viewed the movie with roared with laughter when an elderly audience member shouted out "he's TERRIBLE!" during the last of Davies' endless speeches.

Fox's DVD predictably looks outstanding (2.35) and sounds potent (5.1 Dolby Digital). The audio commentary with Soderbergh and producer James Cameron is actually a good deal more involving than the film, with the two discussing the genre and the movie. Unfortunately, Soderbergh does so much talking that Cameron only talks about what HIS version would have been like when the end credits begin to roll! Even in the span of a few seconds, Cameron's vision seems as if it would have been a good deal more "accessible" -- and likely entertaining -- had the filmmaker gone through with his original concept for the picture.

NEXT WEEK: The Mailbag returns with your questions and comments. Plus: more summer movie reviews. Email me at and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!

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