Warner Archive Brings Past Gems to DVD Including ‘Running on Empty,’ ‘The Man With Two Brains’ and ‘The Yakuza’
The Warner Archive Collection is WB’s label for “manufactured on demand” aka MOD discs ‐ DVDs that are essentially printed to order, burned instead of stamped from a mold like the ones you’re used to buying in stores. The discs are manufactured using the best source materials available and they’re strictly no-frills affairs, so the quality varies between releases, but they’re never less than perfectly acceptable. And remember, in many cases this may be the only opportunity to own these titles on DVD.
We took a look at six of their new releases, and they run the gamut across the years and the genres. Three of the films ‐ Joe’s Apartment, The Man With Two Brains and Running on Empty ‐ are presented for the first time on DVD in the widescreen format. The remaining three are lesser known titles ‐ Bad Moon, Wicked Wicked and The Yakuza ‐ but each feature at least an element or two to make them worth a watch.
Bad Moon (1996)
An adventurer (Michael Paré) is bitten by a werewolf and decides the best place to take his new taste for human flesh is to his sister’s (Mariel Hemingway) home where she lives with her son Brett (Mason Gamble) and dog Thor. He’s hoping the power of familial love will cure his lycanthropy, but thankfully for fans of bloody werewolf action the odds are pretty slim on that.
Eric Red’s masterpiece will always be the the script for 1986’s The Hitcher, but he’s delivered some mildly entertaining thrills as a director over the years too with films like Cohen and Tate and Body Parts. His best two-hander though is this werewolf romp thanks to an effective story, a solid quartet of characters and some wonderfully gory practical effects work. It never shies away from showing us the creature in all its hairy glory (see above), and the story keeps things moving without ever getting bogged down in unnecessary subplots. The film also earns bonus points for opening with a scene featuring coitus lupus interruptus before quickly losing them with a transformation ‐ the money shot of the genre ‐ accomplished via CGI and time-lapse. Yuck.
Joe’s Apartment (1996)
Joe (Jerry O’Connell) is new to New York City, and while he’s excited to be there the city isn’t reciprocating his love. He’s mugged three times in as many minutes, has a tough time finding work and is forced to live in a cheap, rundown, cockroach-infested apartment. Lucky for him these are very special roaches ‐ intelligent, playful and proficient in the English language. Their help might not be enough though as Joe not only faces off against some thugs after his rent-controlled apartment but also falls in love with a high class lady.
I’ve avoided this movie since first seeing its trailers back in the ’90s as it just looked too broadly stupid for my tastes. Watching it now nearly two decades later I’ve discovered that I was mostly correct. Some of the observational humor about NYC real estate and criminal culture are funny enough, but the majority of the intended laughs fall flat in their simplicity and broad nature. While the comedy is hit or miss, the visual effects work is a fun mix of stop-motion, puppetry and CGI that infuses the screen with an erratic energy. I can see this working as an entertaining short, but there’s just not enough here for me to like as a feature.
The Man With Two Brains (1983)
Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) is a world-famous brain surgeon who meets the woman of his dreams a few months after marrying someone else. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the love of his life currently only exists as a brain in a jar. Good thing David Warner is hanging around with an unproven scientific method to transplant someone’s mind into another person’s body.
Director Carl Reiner made four features with Martin, and I have to assume I’m in the minority in my belief that this one ‐ their third ‐ is the funniest. The Jerk and All of Me are both classics of course, but damn does this madcap, screwball adventure in love and murder make me laugh. While the broad comedy in something like Joe’s Apartment does nothing for me the genius here is in sharp, fast gags and brilliant line delivery by all involved. (Jerry O’Connell is no Steve Martin.) There are some amazingly funny dialogue exchanges, wonderfully ribald innuendo and probably the best killer reveal I can recall. There’s a sweetness to it all too though in Martin’s growing bond with the brain and the end revelation involving an eating disorder. I’d love to get a remastered Blu-ray of this film, but for now I’m happy having it in widescreen as intended on DVD.
Running on Empty (1988)
Arthur (Judd Hirsch) and Annie (Christine Lahti) accidentally maimed a man during a bombing they committed to protest the Vietnam War, and seventeen years later they’re still on the run. They move a lot, and while it’s the life they chose they’re also toting around their two beloved sons including the high school age Danny (River Phoenix). Their life grows more complicated as Danny’s life begins to blossom with interests extending to his musical talents and a new love (Martha Plimpton).
Sidney Lumet’s no stranger to thrillers about violent people trapped in violent worlds ‐ cops, crooks, courts ‐ but here he finds suspense and power in a decidedly non-violent tale. It’s more about the long-term costs of the lives they chose, and the actors do great work conveying the pride and pain involved. Phoenix is a stand-out in a role that, curiously, pairs perfectly with his other release from ’88 ‐ Little Nikita, which sees him as an all-American teenager who discovers his parents are actually Russian spies. He’s the right mix of teenage energy and old soul, and he brings real heart to the character.
Wicked, Wicked (1973)
Women are disappearing from a large, old hotel in sunny Southern California, but it’s unclear if they’re simply forgetting to check out or if they’re “checking out” at the end of the knife. Spoiler… it’s the second one. The hotel dick has a theory involving a serial killer somewhere in the hotel, but will anyone listen to him in time to save the next potential victim?
There’s a good reason for you most likely having never heard of this film in that it’s absent any name talent and is an objectively mediocre slasher flick. If you are familiar though it’s probably due to the film’s revolutionary format ‐ Duo-Vision! I use “revolutionary” loosely of course. The gist of it is that the majority of the film is presented in split screen ‐ sometimes it’s just opposing POV viewpoints, but other times we watch a potential victim in one frame while the killer stalks them in the other. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple, and for the most part adds nothing to the actual film. There are one or two instances where a flashback unfolds on one side while a character recounts its inspiration on the other, and it works as a way of avoiding having to cut to the flashback all together. Remove the gimmick though, and we’re left with a somewhat goofy slasher that avoids the mystery by revealing the killer early. The PG-rating isn’t a help either as it means a distinct lack of the genre’s bread and butter aka blood and skin.
The Yakuza (1975)
Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is a private eye who takes a case at the request of an old friend whose daughter has been abducted in Japan. Familiar with the country and its people due to his time spent there after WWII, Harry approaches the mission with caution and precision. He soon discovers he might not have all of the information necessary as he finds himself digging deep into a Japanese crime syndicate in search of the truth.
Director Sydney Pollack and writers Paul Schrader and Robert Towne combine talents to deliver one of the better East meets West-type films I’ve seen in some time. It’s clearly an inspiration for Ridley Scott’s equally good Black Rain and manages a fantastic mix of old school action and honest respect for the culture. Mitchum is the big American hero-type, but much of the action comes courtesy of the locals including the always great Takakura Ken. The film takes its time building story and character in equal measure while layering in the growing threat of the yakuza henchmen.
The DVD includes a vintage featurette and a commentary track from director Sydney Pollack.
Related Topics: Home Video