BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979). The Poseidon Adventure was one of the first (and arguably the best) of the 1970s glut of disaster flicks, so perhaps it was only fitting that this pointless sequel was one of the titles that helped kill off the genre at decade's end. It's fairly worthless as a movie or a cultural artifact, but God bless its kitschy existence anyway. Picking up right where the original film ended, it finds a tugboat captain (Michael Caine), his right-hand man (Karl Malden) and their chirpy passenger (Sally Field) boarding the overturned ship with the intention of salvaging its valuable cargo. Instead, they find most of their time spent rescuing some survivors (Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, Shirleys Knight and Jones) and unconvincingly throwing themselves around the set after every camera cut to yet another internal explosion. Caine's clearly here simply for the paycheck, while Field's in full-on perky mode (she would win an Oscar for her other 1979 picture, Norma Rae). And did I mention that Telly Savalas portrays a villain named Stephan Svevo (not to be confused with Crank's Chev Chelios), or that Slim Pickens plays a Texan named (what else?) Tex? DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a disaster movies trailer gallery.
GREASE (1978). Critically slammed upon its original release (though its box office went through the roof), this adaptation of the Broadway smash soon had its standing revised due to the subsequent releases of such truly dreadful musicals as Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music. But for my money, this has always ranked as one of Hollywood's more invigorating musicals, brimming with more energy, imagination and dedication than many of the so-called "classic" musicals from the past (I'll take it over the stodgy Oscar winners Oliver! and Gigi any day of the week). Randal Kleiser's direction often lacks insight, but John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are enormously appealing as the romantic leads, and the soundtrack remains irresistible. What can I say? In the immortal words belted out by Sha-Na-Na, I guess I was born to hand jive, baby. Grease has been reissued in a new DVD package dubbed "Rockin' Rydell Edition" (complete with a leather jacket wrapper!); extras include audio commentary by Kleiser and choreographer Patricia Birch, deleted scenes, sing-alongs to several of the tunes and both recent and vintage interviews with cast and crew members.
PLAYTIME (1967). The character of Monsieur Hulot, created by French auteur Jacques Tati, seems to belong to the same world as Buster Keaton's sad sacks, Harold Lloyd's befuddled Everymen and Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. In other words, he's a perfect character for the realm of silent film, which is why a viewer always has to remind himself that Tati was not a silent film star and that his movies were made well into the sound era. Yet the dialogue employed in his pictures -- sparse and unremarkable -- is never the point; instead, it's Tati's complete mastery of the mise-en-scene that marks him as a comic genius. Playtime, equal to his celebrated 1958 Oscar winner Mon Oncle (also featuring M. Hulot), is a startling achievement, a brilliant comedy that took three years for Tati to make and perhaps even less time for it to bankrupt him (the most expensive film in French history at the time, it proved to be a financial flop). Running 124 minutes but requiring no more plot than a six-minute Looney Tunes cartoon, the picture tracks Hulot and other characters as they make their way around a Paris almost completely represented by modern, soulless architecture. Beginning at an airport, both citizens and tourists make their way to a high-rise office building and later a posh restaurant, with other stops in between (astonishingly, all the movie's sets were built from scratch on a stretch of land outside the city). Hulot's misadventures inside the office complex are hilarious, yet it's the hour-long segment set within the restaurant, where nothing goes right on opening night, that ranks as a truly astounding piece of finely honed comic deftness. Playtime makes for a unique viewing experience; I simply can't recommend it enough. Extras in this two-disc DVD set include selected scene commentary by film historian Philip Kemp, an introduction by former Monty Python member Terry Jones, a biographical film on Tati, a 1976 BBC interview with Tati, and behind-the-scenes footage detailing the film's production.