Movies Till Dawn: Comfort Cinema for Close Quarters

Sixteen Candles” (1984, Arrow Video) Her family’s failure to remember her 16th birthday is the first in a string of indignities endured by Molly Ringwald, who must also contend with her sister’s wedding, the attention of manic nerd Anthony Michael Hall, and her unrequited crush on stoic senior Michael Schoeffling. The best elements of John Hughes‘ directorial debut – Ringwald and Hall’s star-making performances, the brash, MTV-friendly aesthetic, the supporting cast led by Paul Dooley as Ringwald’s dad, as well as John Kapelos (Rudy the Bohunk), and briefly, John and Joan Cusack and Brian Doyle-Murray – all remain intact, thanks to the the underlying sweetness and tart, memorable dialogue of Hughes’ script (though so do thuds like Long Duk Dong and jokes about date rape). Arrow Films’s new Special Collector’s Edition Blu-ray is probably the most complete home video version, bundling the theatrical and extended (by two minutes) versions and the “home video” soundtrack (adds/removes Bowie, Altered Images, Kajagoogoo, etc.), numerous interviews (Hall, Dooley, composer Ira Newborn), the original shooting script and trailers and TV spots.

And: Arrow also has Hughes’ 1985 comedy “Weird Science,” with Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith as goofs who use their computer to create a fantasy woman (Kelly LeBrock), on a new Blu-ray. The film’s sniggering, frat-minded tone hasn’t aged well, though its few standouts – namely, Bill Paxton as Mitchell-Smith’s nightmarish older brother, Chet – are still anarchic and amusing. The Blu-ray includes three versions – the theatrical, extended and TV edits – with interviews with Hall, the shooting script and lots of promotional material (trailers, posters, etc.)

Tex Avery Screwball Classics Vol. 1” (1943-1951, Warner Archives Collection) Nineteen cartoon shorts by a pioneering figure in animation whose manic aesthetic informed many modern favorites. A former animator for Warner Bros. (he co-created Daffy Duck and gave Bugs Bunny “What’s up, doc?”), Avery hit his stride at MGM, where he took the Looney Tunes formula –self-reflexive, smart-alecky – and added what can only be described as amphetamine-level lunacy; his Screwy Squirrel, who’s represented by four cartoons on Warner Archives’ Blu-ray, takes Bugs and Daffy’s mischievousness and exuberance to near-psychotic levels. The no-breaks approach also allowed Avery to push gags and situations to surreal levels: in “Dumb-Hounded,” the Wolf (the animator’s favorite manifestation of unbridled Id) breaks the laws of physics – even stepping out of the film frame – to evade Avery’s beloved, zen-like Droopy, in his first cartoon appearance. The bullet-train speed of Avery’s cartoons also allowed him to tiptoe into risqué territory, best exemplified by “Red Hot Riding Hood,” a saucy jazz fairy tale in which the Wolf’s electric shock response to Red’s slinky frame is best described as a full-body erection. That sense of abandon occasionally drifted into bad taste, as evidenced by numerous blackface gags cut from TV broadcasts but included here. WAC is calling this set “intended for the Adult Collectors” but judicious parents can most likely curate or discuss the shorts with older kid viewers, who will undoubtedly connect Avery’s frenetic humor with current cartoons like “The Amazing World of Gumball.”

Swift” (2019, Shout! Factory) An orphaned bird (voiced by Josh Keaton) is taken in and raised by two seagulls (Kate Winslet and Willem Dafoe) as one of their own, but their bonds are put to the test. German animated film (with English dubbing) offers appealing views of French coastal life and a laudable message about celebrating differences, but production, scripting and execution unfortunately pale to American efforts; still, housebound parents and relatives of kids may appreciate the distraction. Shout’s Blu-ray includes a making-of doc and an interview with Dafoe.


While You Live, Shine” (2018, IndiePix) Obsessive record collector Chris King finds rare 78 rpm discs that feature raw and unfettered music recorded in Greece in the early 20th century and is captivated by its sonic connection to rural American folk and blues. The discovery begins an obsessive journey to discover the origins of the music, which date back to earliest recorded history, which in turn opens his eyes to a way of life focused on celebrating the present while honoring the past. Though the focus is granular, director Paul Duane‘s documentary plumbs veins of thought on connection and harmony between different cultures (and time periods), and the joys of finding inspiration and reinvention from unexpected places – in short, much-needed messages at this moment.

Return of Ultraman” (1971-1972, Mill Creek Entertainment) Killed in a landslide caused by two giant monsters, racecar driver Jiro Dan is revived by a version 2.0 of the alien superhero Ultraman, who merges their forms in order to fight a ceaseless horde of oversized and outrageous extraterrestrials and kaiju. Fourth title in the long-running Japanese science fiction TV series from Eiji Tsuburaya establishes a sort of “Ultra universe” by featuring appearances by Ultraman and Ultraseven; this mingling of past and present Ultra brethren (and creatures) would become a permanent part of the series (and continues to this day), with the “Return of Ultraman” hero (also known as Ultraman Jack) teaming up with the latest Ultra heroes. The series is also distinguished by the presence of “Godzilla” director Ishiro Honda behind the camera for several stand-out episodes; Mill Creek’s set spreads the entire series run over six Blu-rays (all featuring subtitled Japanese-language audio) and includes liner notes by illustrator and co-founder Keith Aiken.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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