Teen Angst -- The Twisted Version
The pain, the awkwardness, and the occasional triumphs of growing up have been fodder for any number of movies, but two teen classics, both available for the first time on Blu-Ray, give this weathered genre some interesting twists.
Better Off Dead (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment) stars John Cusack as a high schooler so devastated after getting dumped by his girlfriend that he stages a series of disastrous but hilarious suicide attempts before finally noticing the adorable French exchange student (Diane Franklin) who’s just moved in across the street. Not only has this cult comedy contributed “I WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!” into the pop culture lexicon, but it’s also become something of a holiday favorite, since much of the movie takes place around Christmas.
Oddly enough, despite the fact that writer/director Savage Steve Holland and several members of his cast have done live “commentary” screenings of the film in Los Angeles, the only extra to be found here is the trailer.
A far darker spin on the coming-of-age story is the cult favorite Donnie Darko (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), now available in a four-disc 10th Anniversary Edition. If you’re already a Darko fan who’s picked up previous incarnations of the movie on DVD, there’s not much new here besides Blu-Ray versions of both the theatrical and director’s cuts of the movie as well as digital copy of the former. (And that’s a shame, because many would argue the director’s cut is the inferior one.)
In any event, Richard Kelly’s breakthrough sci-fi/comedy/thriller still holds up after a decade, even if it’s unbelievable that stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone used to be such babies by comparison. Fans of Kelly’s subsequent films Southland Tales and The Box are used to getting blank stares from people who really hated those sharply divisive movies, but Donnie Darko still feels fresh and weird and wonderful. (And, of course, still committed to Sparkle Motion.)
Buried Treasures from Italy
From his one-of-a-kind filmography (which covered everything from ahead-of-their-time explorations of gay sensuality to a nitty-gritty Gospel According to St. Matthew) to his violent death (which was possibly a political assassination), Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini has fascinated fans and scholars for decades. And anyone who cares about Pasolini, or Italian film in general, will be thrilled to discover La Rabbia/The Anger (Raro Video), a 1963 political dialogue between leftist Pasolini and conservative journalist and director Giovanni Guareschi that’s been little-seen in this country until now.
If you thought Karl Rove invented divisive left-right politics, check out the diametric opposition between these artists, who each directed half of the film. Some five decades later, many of the ideas expressed in La Rabbia are still being hashed out from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and the film weds Pasolini’s filmmaking skills with his fervent and impassioned ideology.
Another long-out-of-print film of interest to gay fans is 1970’s The Secret of Dorian Gray, which Raro is bringing to DVD for the first time. Starring ’70s sexpot Helmut Berger (The Garden of the Fitzi-Continis), this rather loose adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray follows its hero through a very mod whirlwind of hedonism and sexual revelry while he remains ageless, with only his portrait showing the ravages of time. The fashions and decadence feel a little dated, but it’s a fun and trashy romp.
Cheesy TV for Your Inner 12-Year-Old
Grab a big bottle of soda, some irredeemably unhealthy snack food, and tuck in some wonderfully dopey kids’ TV from yesteryear. Warner Archive Collection brings us two DVD sets featuring Patrick Duffy’s pre-Dallas adventures as The Man from Atlantis — one box contains the complete TV series while the other boast four telefilms featuring the fishy hero.
And then there’s Ultraman: Series One, Volume 2 (Mill Creek Entertainment), with two discs and 19 episodes of everyone’s favorite martial-arts robot taking on the universe’s fiercest zipper-backed creatures. For those who aren’t fans of the hilariously chirpy English-language dubbing, this set features a Japanese audio track with English subtitles.
Of course, if your TV tastes run to more adult fare, don’t miss Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Series (HBO Home Entertainment), starring the hilarious Danny McBride in the ongoing saga of has-been pro baseball player Kenny Powers.
Disney Digs Into the Vault, Again
When The Fox and the Hound was released in 1981, most critics at the time dismissed it as second-tier Disney animation at best. But never underestimate the power of thirty years, especially among the now-thirty-somethings who got their first taste of Disney when this film was in theaters. Which leads us to The Fox and the Hound 30th Anniversary Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, available August 9), featuring the Blu-Ray debuts of that film as well as its 2006 direct-to-video sequel The Fox and the Hound 2.
It’s still fair to say that neither film represents the studio’s best, but give me so-so Disney over an Ice Age movie any day.