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to shine The Bottom Shelf
spotlight on the comedy section of your local video emporium. Let's
see what we come up with, shall we?
Jerk: 26th Anniversary Edition
1979 (2005) - Universal
Back in my very first wish list column, I nominated Steve
Martin's The Jerk as one
of the movies most in need of revisiting on DVD. Judging from
the e-mail I received, many of you agreed with that choice. So
when I heard that Universal would be giving The
Jerk an upgrade, I was downright jubilant, even
though I doubt very much that my tiny corner of cyberspace had
anything to do with Universal's decision. Now that I have the
new disc in my hot little hands, I feel kind of like a kid on
Christmas who almost got what he asked for but really didn't.
This is like if you asked for a PSP and your grandparents got
you one of those things with 50 video games jammed into them
that they advertise on the back of Parade
magazine. The difference, however, is that in that case, you'd
be downright rude not to thank your grandfolks for the crappy
game you didn't want. Fortunately, I am not Universal's grandson
and can complain all I want about this DVD.
First of all, though, some of you may actually be wondering why
this movie deserves a special edition in the first place.
Mind-boggling. I think you can find out a lot about a person
from their sense of humor and if I meet someone who doesn't
think The Jerk is funny...
well, I won't say that I can't get along with them. But there
will always be a gap there.
there's no real plot and the story is just a skeleton frame upon
which random and absurd gags can be hung. And yeah, it's a bit more
scattershot than a movie that barely makes it past the 90-minute
mark should be. But the jokes that do work are side-splitting
whether you've seen the movie once or, as in my case, over a dozen
times. I mean, come on! A discussion of the merits of Cup O' Pizza
versus Pizza in a Cup? "I'm Picking Out a Thermos for You"?
"Step right up and win some crap!" This is funny stuff
Anyway, Universal's 26th Anniversary DVD does do at least a couple
of things right. Their last release was fullscreen only. Finally,
The Jerk can be seen in all
its anamorphic widescreen glory. Sure, this isn't exactly Lawrence
of Arabia but still. It looks better than it used to and
all movies, no matter how rudimentary the photography, should be
seen the way they were meant to be seen. If nothing else, this disc
will remind you that The Jerk
actually was a theatrical release. In fullscreen, it just looks like
a TV special. The sound has also been upgraded to 5.1 surround
sound, which isn't nearly as big a deal but it still sounds good.
Unfortunately, it's the so-called "bonus features" that
turn this Jerk into a real
kick in the nuts for fans, one that even Iron Balls McGinty would
wince at. The TV version adds some extra footage to make up for the
stuff that standards and practices made them cut. I'm certainly not
advocating re-editing The Jerk
into a "special edition" or "director's cut" but
I do think that footage should have been included on its own. Of
course, it isn't. What we get instead is a lesson on how to play "You
Belong to Me" from the Ukulele Lady. Nothing against the
Ukulele Lady, she seems like a very nice person. But frankly, who
cares? And if you're going to do something like this, why not go all
the way and demonstrate how to play the cornet part, too? To make
matters worse, this isn't even the lamest bonus on here. The worst
is The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos
Las Vegas de Cordova. If you'll remember in the movie
itself Father Carlos shows Navin Johnson a scratchy black and white
film exposing the evils of Mexican Cat Juggling. What we have here
is someone's attempt (almost certainly not Steve Martin or Carl
Reiner) to push that joke too far with more films. This is obviously
something new shot just for this DVD and a worse idea, I can't
imagine. If you're producing extras for a Steve Martin DVD and your
name isn't Steve Martin, please, for the love of god, don't try to
The best extras on here are the original trailer and some extensive
production notes that read like a script for an unshot documentary.
Pretty pathetic when those are the best extras. So if these extras
are so lame, what exactly did I expect? I understand that Steve
Martin doesn't seem like he's too interested in revisiting his older
stuff and contributing to extras and that's fine. So how about
asking Carl Reiner to do an audio commentary? The production notes
talk about a promotional gimmick where they publicized the world
premiere of the trailer. How about a gallery of those ads? How about
that extra footage? Or how about including Martin's Oscar-nominated
short film, The Absent-Minded Waiter?
I could go on and on with suggestions but I shouldn't have to, since
I'm not the one getting paid to produce these DVDs.
So, much to my dismay, The Jerk
is still on my wish list of movies that need to be re-released. I'm
happy that at least I now have a watchable copy of the movie itself.
And I guess really, that's all I need. That and this ashtray. And
that's it! That's all I need. Just a watchable copy of the movie...
and this ashtray... and this paddle-game. And I don't need a single
other... oh, I need this! This lamp. And this paddle-game and the
ashtray and a watchable copy of the movie... and this chair. But
that's all I need! Just the chair and the lamp and...
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D+
1989 (2005) - Focus/Universal
Finally! It took long enough but at long last, one of the major
gaps in the John Waters DVD collection can be closed. Cry-Baby
was Waters' first film after the surprise mainstream success of
Hairspray and so far, it's
the only movie he's made for a major studio (not that New Line
isn't a major studio these days but his relationship with them
goes way back before they hit the big time). At the time, fans
of Waters' earlier films like Pink
Flamingos accused him of selling out. Back then, all
we knew was that he was following the PG-rated Hairspray
with a retro comedy starring the kid from 21
Jump Street. Little did we know. Today, Cry-Baby
still isn't a complete success but it makes a lot more sense,
fitting comfortably in both the filmographies of John Waters and
that kid from 21 Jump Street,
Depp plays Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, a rockabilly teen
whose bad-ass attitude attracts the eye of good girl Allison
Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane). He takes her to watch him sing one
night and they fall for each other like a ton of bricks. But in
1954 Baltimore, drapes and squares did not mix and Allison's
square boyfriend comes after her, landing Cry-Baby in juvie. Can
love conquer all?
is Waters' attempt at a full-on musical/juvenile delinquent picture
and he does a good job capturing the essence of those 50s movies.
It's certainly better than most of those Rebel
Highway remakes that some big-name directors made for
Showtime awhile back, like Shake, Rattle
and Rock or Robert Rodriguez's Roadracers
(the best of that bunch was Joe Dante's Runaway
Daughters). But while Waters nails the look and sound of
those movies, he doesn't really capture the reality of the era
itself. That's what made Hairspray such a great movie and it's why
Cry-Baby, while often
entertaining, just stays on the surface. However, most of the
musical numbers are very entertaining and Depp is a lot of fun, as
always. It's weirdly thrilling to see him in the middle of a
typically odd Waters cast. He's surrounded by Ricki Lake as his very
pregnant sister, Traci Lords in her first major non-porn movie, Iggy
Pop and Susan Tyrrell as his guardians, Patricia Hearst, David
Nelson (son of Ozzie and Harriet, brother of Ricky), Joe
Dallesandro, Polly Bergen, Troy Donahue, and Willem Dafoe in a funny
cameo as a guard.
New Line has done some very good work with their John Waters movies,
so I was a little concerned that Cry-Baby,
a Universal release, would fall through the cracks. Thankfully, they
did a fine job with this disc. Waters was allowed to release this as
a director's cut, reinstating a few scenes and getting rid of some
MPAA-mandated "bleeps" that ruined a perfectly good and
totally harmless joke in the theatrical version. So while this new
version is officially unrated (the theatrical version was a PG-13),
there's nothing in this movie that's even remotely offensive. The
image and audio are both good, if not exactly great.
The disc also includes three special features, each of which are
outstanding. It Came from Baltimore
is a 47-minute making-of, featuring new interviews with Waters,
Depp, Traci Lords, Amy Locane, and many others involved in the film.
It's very extensive and full of fond memories and funny anecdotes.
One of my favorites has Lords, then under investigation by the FBI
for her underage porn past, asking Patty Hearst if she'd ever been
arrested. It's a terrific documentary. Waters again contributes
another A+ commentary track, rarely repeating what was covered in
the doc and talking about the MPAA, his experiences with the studio,
and his influences. Finally, we get seven minutes of deleted scenes,
some of which are very funny and a bit more in line with what one
might usually expect from a John Waters movie.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Cry-Baby
did not replicate Hairspray's
financial success and Waters hasn't had to worry about studio
politics again since. But it has quietly picked up a cult since 1990
thanks to the music, the style, and of course, Johnny Depp. If
you're a John Waters fan and it's been awhile since you've checked
out Cry-Baby, give it another
shot. You might be pleasantly surprised. And if you're a Johnny Depp
fan... well, you really should see this movie. It was the first sign
we had that this guy was not going to be your typical teen idol.
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A-
Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004
2004 (2005) - Comedy Central (Paramount)
When it comes to the ever-exploding world of TVD (my pet name
for TV on DVD), I've reviewed everything from Schoolhouse
Rock to Late Night with
Conan O'Brien. So I suppose it was only a matter of
time before I had to review the nightly news. Granted, The
Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a fake news show, one
of the best satires on TV for my money. But still, releasing a
collection of this show, which is so dependent on timeliness for
its success, seemed a little odd. Fortunately, the episodes
collected on Indecision 2004
hold up remarkably well and capture some of the show's best and
brightest moments. So let's load up the DVD player and get ready
to party like it's 2004!
Disc one, The Race from the White
House, collects four episodes from Boston during the
Democratic National Convention, which originally ran on July
include Rob Corddry's tour of the city, Stewart's appalled reaction
to the media's dismissive coverage of Al Sharpton's keynote address,
a biographical film about nominee John Kerry, and best of all,
Stephen Colbert's "son of a turd-miner, grandson of a
goat-ball-licker" monologue. How Colbert (and, to a lesser
extent, Stewart) kept a straight face during this bit, I'll never
know. The disc also includes a new introduction from Stewart and a
bunch of promos for other Comedy Central releases.
Disc two, Target New York,
finds the team back in their home base covering the Republicans'
Convention from August 31 to September 3. Guests include Ted Koppel,
John McCain and MSNBC's Chris Matthews discussing his memorable
showdown with crazy firebrand Zell Miller. George W. Bush gets the
short film treatment in episode 2 with a piece called "Words
Speak Louder Than Actions" and, in one of my favorite moments,
Samantha Bee interviews a delegate from Montana. "Have you had
your picture taken with a black person yet? But that's something
you'd be willing to try?" I've never been prouder to come from
the Treasure State. Stephen Colbert provides the intro to this disc,
"Requiem For a Show That Was Daily", a very funny send-up
of all those maudlin TV retrospectives you see whenever a show goes
off the air.
Disc three contains the bonus material as well as two more complete
episodes. The Squabble in Coral Gables
covers the first presidential debate between Bush and Kerry. Also
included is the hour-long Election Night '04 special, Prelude
to a Recount. Neither of these are quite as funny as the
episodes on the first two discs, especially the live election
special. They both have their moments but mainly they're interesting
as cappers to the whole process, with Stewart getting visibly angry
and depressed as election night wears on and it becomes clear that
the horse he bet on isn't going to win.
The disc also includes a large number of individual segments. Each
of The Daily Show's four
correspondents gets their own section with highlights including
Stephen Colbert assembling a panel of minorities at the Democratic
Convention and Rob Corddry covering the first democratic debate. I
love the bit in this last segment where Corddry asks Joseph
Lieberman a reasonable, well-phrased question, then immediately
turns away before he can answer, just happy that he got the question
out like a real journalist. Ed Helms contributes a funny intro to
his section and a few of the pieces have audio commentaries by
Samantha Bee, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry and Stephen Colbert. They take
the commentaries about as seriously as they do the news they're
reporting, so if you're actually hoping for a real commentary track
here, you're watching the wrong DVD. Other bonus segments on this
disc includes the hilarious Schoolhouse
Rock spoof, "Midterm Elections", John Edwards'
announcement of his candidacy for President, Steve Carell's day on
the Howard Dean campaign, and the national anthem sung in
4-correspondent harmony. No, seriously.
Sure, there's something surreal about watching election results and
convention coverage on DVD. But if you're a political junkie or a
Daily Show fan (and really, if
you're one, you're probably the other), you won't mind at all. The
Daily Show is very smart and very funny. You probably
won't spin these discs very often, at least not in their entirety.
But the best moments in this package are worth revisiting. I don't
think we need to see every episode of The
Daily Show immortalized on disc. But as a time capsule of
important events, this sure beats a history book.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C+/C+
Space - The Early Films of John Waters
Contrary to popular belief, Cry-Baby
is not the last remaining John Waters film to be released on DVD.
What self-respecting fan wouldn't want a box set that includes
Waters' earliest shorts and features: Multiple
Maniacs, Mondo Trasho,
Eat Your Makeup!, Hag
in a Black Leather Jacket, Roman
Candles and The Diane
Linkletter Story. I've never seen any of these movies and
I'm the first to admit that I want them released just so I can see
them. I'm sure some, if not all of these movies are in pretty rough
shape and yeah, this little fantasy box set of mine isn't going to
be a huge bestseller. That's why Waters needs to team up with a
specialty label like Fantoma or Blue Underground or somebody to make
it a reality. There are plenty of these smaller companies around now
and more cropping up every day, seems like. I'm sure they'd all jump
at the chance to work with John Waters on bringing his earliest
films to light. Or even better, maybe he can do like David Lynch did
with Eraserhead and release
them himself through his own company. Sure, it would be a lot of
work. But if you need a hand with it, Mr. Waters, drop me a line.
Let's get these movies out there!
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