BIG BUSINESS (1988) / MY FATHER THE HERO (1994). For approximately a 10-year span from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, Disney's live-action arms produced an astonishing number of films, so many that the impression was given that the cash flow was allowing even the studio errand boys to light their cigars with one-dollar bills. Some of these films prospered (Three Men and a Baby), most flopped (V.I. Warshowski), and a few barely saw the light of day (Patrick Swayze's Father Hood, anyone?). Disney has now licensed many of these films to Mill Creek Entertainment, which has just released about a dozen of them on Blu-ray. The offerings include Dolly Parton's Straight Talk and Tom Selleck's An Innocent Man, but for my money, the best of the bunch are Big Business and My Father the Hero.
The underrated farce Big Business is catnip to anyone who's a sucker for mistaken-identity plots (like, uh, me), as two sets of twins — one urban, one rural — are mismatched at birth, leading to complications when all four females end up in New York City decades later. Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin are terrific as they each tackle two distinct parts, while director Jim Abrahams (who had previously worked with Midler on their hit Ruthless People) adopts the right pace to complement the clever screenplay.
Whereas Big Business finds its humor coming from all corners (let's not forget Fred Ward, hilarious in a supporting role), My Father the Hero is basically a one-man show, with Gerard Depardieu generating ample amounts of goodwill toward a project that would be hopelessly lackluster without his towering presence. In this remake of the 1991 French film Mon pere, ce heros, Depardieu reprises his role as a dad who hopes to bond with his teenage daughter (15-year-old Katherine Heigl) during a Caribbean vacation. But the girl is more interested in other things — cute boys, to be exact — and to make herself seem older and more sophisticated, she tells everyone that her father is actually her lover, a lie that leads to all manner of awkward developments. The filmmakers find just the right approach to turn what on paper sounds like a sordid plotline into a breezy, likable comedy, and the scene in which Depardieu's oblivious dad cheerfully sings "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" would be a classic had it appeared in a higher-profile title.
There are no extras on the Blu-rays.
Big Business: ***
My Father the Hero: **1/2
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XX (2011). The good news for Joel Hodgson fans is that all four episodes in this twentieth edition, billed as a "Joel-bilee," are hosted by Joel, with nary a Mike Nelson show in sight. The bad news is that this is probably the weakest of the Shout! Factory-released sets, with two of the titles falling below expectations.
An episode from the shaky first season, Project Moonbase (movie made in 1953; featured on MST3K in 1990) centers on a black-and-white sci-fi cheapie in which a female astronaut (Donna Martell) and her sexist colleagues have to contend with a Russian spy hoping to gum things up for the U.S. space program. Any episode that riffs off a classic line from Apocalypse Now can't be all bad, but this is by far the weakest show in the set.
Much better, but still not up to the usual sky-high MST standards, is The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (movie made in 1953; featured on MST3K in 1993), a Russian import in which the title hero attempts to save his impoverished city by finding the Bluebird of Happiness. The wraparound segments are amusing (love the Rat Pack Chess Set in the "invention exchange"), and the gang gets off pop culture references both famous (The Guns of Navarone) and obscure (O.C. and Stiggs). But the tediousness of the film itself finds Joel and the 'Bots sometimes straining for material.
The final two episodes, however, make this worth the purchase prize. Master Ninja I (movie made in 1984; featured on MST3K in 1992) and Master Ninja II (ditto) are actually comprised of two episodes apiece from the 13-episode TV series The Master, which centered on an American martial arts specialist (Lee Van Cleef) and his cocky young sidekick (Timothy Van Patten). Concocted to quickly cash in on the Ninja rage enveloping the country during the early 1980s, the show is absolute junk, which makes these "movies" perfect fodder for our heroes. The wisecracks come fast and furious, and no one — especially the hapless Timothy Van Patten — is safe. Incidentally, Demi Moore and Claude Akins co-star in Master Ninja I, while David McCallum and one-shot 007 George Lazenby appear in Master Ninja II.
DVD extras include an introduction by cast member Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Clayton Forrester as well as the voice of Crow); a discussion between the original voice of Tom Servo, the annoying Elvis Weinstein, and his superior replacement, Kevin Murphy; the original wrap segments for the Mystery Science Theater Hour; an interview with Master Ninja I cast member Bill McKinney; and the theatrical trailer for Project Moonbase.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) / THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) / THE TERMINATOR (1984). MGM Home Entertainment continues to release its catalogue titles on Blu-ray at a rapid clip; the latest batch includes Leaving Las Vegas, Hotel Rwanda, The Misfits, and the three classics discussed below.
Billy Wilder's immortal Some Like It Hot was voted the best comedy of all time by the American Film Institute in 2000, and you won't find many movie fans who don't at least agree that it's near the top of the heap. Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time — specifically, front-row seats for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre — musicians Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Curtis) evade the mobsters hot on their trail by disguising themselves as Daphne and Josephine, two members of an all-female jazz band. Leaving Chicago and ending up in Florida, both guys have their hands full trying to keep up the ruse; additionally, Joe decides to occasionally disguise himself as a millionaire in order to romance band singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) while Jerry elects to marry a real millionaire (Joe E. Brown) who actually believes he's a woman. There isn't much to say about this masterpiece that hasn't long ago entered into cinema folklore, whether it's the off-screen troubles with Monroe, the endless barrage of classic quotes (the film's final line is legendary, though I have a soft spot for Jerry's description of a sashaying Sugar: "Look how she moves! That's just like Jell-O on springs!"), or the risqué double entendres that somehow slipped by the censors (presumably, they were too busy laughing to care). An Oscar winner for Best Costume Design, this earned five other nominations, including bids for Wilder (as both director and co-scripter with I.A.L. Diamond) and Lemmon; inexplicably missing were the nods for Monroe (in the finest performance of her career) and Best Picture.
John Frankenheimer's Cold War thriller The Manchurian Candidate was last issued as a stand-alone DVD back in 2004, to tie in with the theatrical release of the remake starring Denzel Washington. At that time, during the George W. Bush era, it was frightening how it appeared as if the movie had been ripped from the headlines of the day: right-wing zealots who would corrupt the process in order to win the Oval Office; a prominent Republican who's popular with half the populace even though he's an absolute moron ("Run along; the grown-ups need to talk," he's told at one point); a political party that uses fear tactics to keep a nation on edge. Based on Richard Condon's novel, the film stars Frank Sinatra as a Korean War vet who, plagued by nightmares, begins to suspect that something's not quite right with a former member (Laurence Harvey) of his platoon, a decorated hero who's constantly having to contend with the political aspirations of his ruthless mother (Angela Lansbury) and her Senator husband (James Gregory). The movie rightly suggests (before the notion was popular) that the political spectrum isn't a straight line on which fascism and Communism exist on opposite ends but rather a circle on which these two ideologies occupy the same space — it's heady stuff in a nail-biting chiller that still has the power to make viewers perspire profusely. Lansbury earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the monstrous mom, yet she's matched by Harvey in a superb characterization as her aloof son, a tortured man whose humanity ironically only emerges once he's turned into a political pawn.
Unlike Some Like It Hot and The Manchurian Candidate, The Terminator has already been available on Blu-ray — in fact, this is at least its fourth incarnation in this format. Still a toss-up between this and Aliens as to which James Cameron picture ranks as his best (don't anybody even breathe the word Avatar), this propulsively exciting yarn about a murderous cyborg has long staked its claim as a classic — science fiction or otherwise — for the ages. (The Library of Congress added it to its National Film Registry in 2008.) In retrospect, it's hard to believe it only grossed $38 million during its original run (by comparison, the first sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, made $198 million) and received reviews that, while largely favorable, were hardly raves (give Time credit, then, for including it on its year-end "10 Best" list). But the film found its sizable audience on video and, for better or worse, went on to spark Arnold Schwarzenegger's superstar status (although I would argue that the real star of this first picture is Linda Hamilton, terrific as Sarah Connor). And yes, the rumor is true: Cameron originally considered O.J. Simpson for the role of the Terminator but ultimately felt audiences wouldn't accept him since he was "too nice."
The additional features on all three Blu-rays are carried over from past DVD editions. Extras on Some Like It Hot include audio commentary by Paul Diamond (son of scripter I.A.L. Diamond) and scripters Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel (Splash, Parenthood), featuring an interview with Curtis and an archived interview with Lemmon; a 26-minute making-of featurette; a 20-minute featurette on the film's legacy, including interviews with writer-director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, and others; a 30-minute interview with Curtis, conducted by film critic Leonard Maltin; and a Virtual Hall of Memories. Extras on The Manchurian Candidate include audio commentary by Frankenheimer; an 8-minute interview with Sinatra, Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod; a 15-minute interview with Lansbury; and a 13-minute interview with director William Friedkin. And extras on The Terminator include a 20-minute discussion between Cameron and Schwarzenegger; seven deleted scenes; and a 13-minute piece on the visual effects and the music.
All Three Movies: ****
Some Like It Hot extras: ***1/2
The Manchurian Candidate extras: **1/2
The Terminator extras: **