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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!