BABE (1995). An unexpected sleeper hit back in '95, this adaptation of Dick King-Smith's book The Sheep-Pig relates the story of a naive and sweet-natured pig who pursues his dream of becoming a champion sheepdog. The comic sequences will delight both young and old alike, while more mature viewers will also be able to appreciate the story's message that it takes only one guileless individual to rightly shake up a society's established class structure. Chris Noonan's sure-handed direction is aided by Nigel Westlake's charming music score and, of course, the various animals stars — a mix of real critters and ones created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett), this beat out fellow nominee Apollo 13 for the Best Visual Effects Oscar.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by co-writer/co-producer George Miller; a 4-minute making-of piece; and a 6-minute discussion with Miller about the film.
BLOW OUT (1981). Director Brian De Palma's first picture following the success of his brilliant (and highly controversial) Dressed to Kill proved to be a box office bust, and one can't help but speculate that it might have fared better had it been made during the 1970s. After all, the previous Watergate-soiled decade was known for a plethora of "paranoia thrillers" on the order of The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor and, of course, All the President's Men, and this downbeat conspiracy yarn would have been right at home next to those classics. John Travolta and Nancy Allen, who had previously been paired as Carrie's wicked tormentors in De Palma's Carrie, here play the likable protagonists. He's Jack Terry, a movie sounds effects man who witnesses a car plunge off a bridge into the waters below. He manages to rescue the trapped woman (Allen) but not the man, who turns out to have been a politician pegged to become the next U.S. president. Everyone believes the tire blowing out was an accident and tells Jack to forget about it, but his own intuition — to say nothing of the sounds recorded that night on his equipment — convinces him that it was an assassination. Only Sally, the sweet but dim woman who was in the car with the married governor, can help him uncover the truth, but she's being stalked by the psycho (John Lithgow) responsible for the murder. De Palma detractors who carp that he used to rip off Hitchcock might feel that Blow Out is little more than a cross between Antonioni's Blowup and Coppola's The Conversation, but as is often the case with De Palma, his rich sense of film history allows him to use other works as jumping-off points, not the sum total. Blow Out is very much its own film, with the narrative levity and technical grandstanding inherent throughout much of the first half eventually disappearing altogether during the tightening dread of the second hour. Travolta and Allen are both excellent; the superb cinematography (love that deep-focus owl shot!) is by Vilmos Zsigmond, who — trivia alert! — once served as a camera operator on The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (see review below).
DVD extras include an hour-long interview with De Palma (conducted by Noah Baumbach); a 25-minute interview with Allen; a 15-minute discussion and demonstration with Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown, who shot the film-within-the-film, Co-ed Frenzy; and 1968's Murder a la Mod, which was De Palma's feature-film debut (not Greetings, as often reported).
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: BEGINNING OF THE END (movie made in 1957; featured on MST3K in 1997) / MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED-UP ZOMBIES (movie made in 1964; featured on MST3K in 1993). Shout! Factory has been releasing the MST3K catalogue in four-episode box sets (look for a review of the latest, Vol. XX, shortly), but the budget-conscious will appreciate these two single-disc entries.
Beginning of the End is a low-budget sci-fi cheapie from the 1950s, with Mission: Impossible's Peter Graves as a scientist who teams up with a reporter (Peggie Castle) to figure out how to stop a marauding army of gigantic, murderous locusts. One of the earliest efforts from size-obsessed producer-director (and MST3K regular) Bert I. Gordon (Village of the Giants, Attack of the Puppet People), this contains enough stolid acting and dubious special effects to keep Mike Nelson and his robot friends engaged, although for once, the highlight might be a sequence outside the screening room: Crow's hilarious impersonation of Peter Graves during his college years.
The Laserblast episode of MST3K found Mike repeatedly riffing on Leonard Maltin for giving that awful film **1/2 in his annual movie guide. It's too bad he didn't save that routine for The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, which likewise earned **1/2 from Mr. Maltin — higher than Blade Runner (*1/2), Memento (ditto), even Taxi Driver (**). Then again, perhaps Maltin just recognized the special brand of genius required to pull off a film as extraordinarily bad as this one. Mike and the 'bots certainly find its wavelength, cracking wise about this abysmal oddity in which a surly rebel (director and Nicolas Cage look alike Ray Dennis Steckler, performing under the moniker Cash Flagg) and his friends attend a carnival populated by a sultry stripper, a sneering fortune teller, her snarling assistant, and a cage full of mutilated monstrosities. The Satellite of Love crew shows no mercy toward this so-called "monster musical," and the retorts include digs at Bob Dole and Ross Perot (yes, this episode aired during the early 90s).
There are no extras on the DVDs.
MST3K: Beginning of the End: ***
MST3K: Incredibly Strange Creatures: ***1/2
SOMEWHERE (2010). Sofia Coppola's 2003 Lost in Translation was such an unblinking masterpiece that it's a shock to witness the near-worthlessness of Somewhere. In a sense, both films are similar, focusing on a Hollywood superstar who combats his loneliness by spending time with a younger woman. But whereas Lost in Translation — merely one of the best films of its entire decade — managed to be both personal and universal, Somewhere feels like the desperate last act of a filmmaker who was at a loss for her next project and decided to simply film some navel-gazing ruminations that will mean little to anyone aside from herself. A somnambular Stephen Dorff is cast as Johnny Marco, an A-list actor who passes endless amounts of (screen) time driving his Ferrari in circles, watching strippers pole-dance in his hotel room and fielding idiotic questions from journalists. One day, his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (one-note Elle Fanning) from his failed marriage turns up, and he attempts to get to know her; the pair end up spending endless amounts of (screen) time skating, playing Guitar Hero, and knocking back a dozen Jagerbombs apiece. Oh, wait, scratch that last one — that's what my fiancee and I each had to do to make it through this endurance test passing itself off as a motion picture. Frankly, I've seen more "motion" in a taxidermy display.
The only Blu-ray extra is a 17-minute making-of piece.