Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills


Friday, January 26, 2007

Drive-In DVD Reviews... n' Other Stuff

I've got a lot of DVDs piling up on my desk waiting to be reviewed for my DVD Late Show column. Here's a few examples:

BCI Eclipse has acquired the old Crown International exploitation film library, and has been making good use of these classic drive-in crowd pleasers. Crown was around from the Sixties through the Eighties, and their prodigious output covered the gamut from horror films to action flicks to teen comedies – any genre that could be produced cheaply and profitably appeal to a young audience.


JOCKS (1986) is one such Crown "classic" from BCI, a college sports and sex comedy with a decidedly unusual supporting cast for the genre.

Directed by exploitation veteran Steve Carver (LONE WOLF MCQUADE, BIG BAD MAMA), JOCKS's performers include a very young Mariska Hargitay (LAW & ORDER SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT), Tom Shadyac (who later directed the Jim Carrey vehicles LIAR, LIAR and BRUCE ALMIGHTY) and B-movie stalwarts Richard Roundtree (SHAFT) and Christopher Lee (HORROR OF DRACULA, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT).

The story follows a small college tennis (!) team made up of misfit players (including REVENGE OF THE NERDS' "Ogre," Donald Gibb) who travel to Vegas for an tournament, unaware that if they fail to win the championship, their dean (Lee) will shut down the tennis program. Of course, the boys are more interested in partying in the pre-Disneyfied Sin City than playing tennis, and their coach (Roundtree) finds it nearly impossible to ride herd on them. Will they win the tournament and save their team? More importantly, will they get laid?

What, haven't you seen one of these flicks before?

Despite the racy cover art, the film is relatively tame sexually, with only a little bit of female nudity (not Hargitay, unfortunately) but lots of innuendo. While JOCKS is utterly predictable, the cast is appealling, the pace is good, and the movie is fairly entertaining, if not particularly memorable; the kind of movie that used to endlessly run on Cinemax in the wee hours.

BCI's DVD is quite nice. It's a bare-bones package, but the 20-year old movie is given a solid, sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that belies its age and low budget. The film looks damned good. The disc also includes trailers for four other Crown teen comedies of the era, THE BEACH GIRLS, WEEKEND PASS and the popular cable programmers TOMBOY and MY CHAUFFEUR – all of which will (hopefully) soon be on DVD from BCI, if they're not already.

If you happen to remember this movie or just have a fondness for teen comedies of the era, JOCKS is an inexpensive, nicely-packaged trip back to the Eighties.

Disney has really dropped the ball when it comes to their handling of the Roger Corman film library. They acquired the movies last year with some fanfare, assuring Corman and his fans that the company was uniquely positioned to handle the DVDs better than any other studio. Well, a year later, the releases have slowed to a trickle, they continue to offer the titles in an unmatted, full-frame format, and seem determined to give each title the ugliest, most misleading cover art imaginable.

Case in point: Ron Howard's 1977 directorial debut, the light-hearted car crash comedy GRAND THEFT AUTO, has been packaged as a FAST AND THE FURIOUS clone and labeled as a "Tricked Out Edition." Sigh.

In 1976, actor Ron Howard, who was then starring in the hit sitcom HAPPY DAYS, played the lead in a low-budget, rural car chase movie for Roger Corman entitled EAT MY DUST. The movie was hugely successful on the drive-in circuit, and Corman wanted an immediate follow-up in the same vein. Howard was agreeable – but only if Corman allowed him to direct the movie as well. Corman agreed. Immediately, Ron and his father, veteran character actor Rance Howard, began to put together the script for a fast-paced, funny car chase flick they called GRAND THEFT AUTO.

Here's the plot: young Sam (Howard) and Paula (Nancy Morgan) are in love and want to get married. Unfortunately, Paula's wealthy parents object – they intend for her to marry rich, spoiled Bigby Powers (Barry Cahill). Paula's the headstrong type though, and after storming out of her parents' house, she and Sam steal the family's Rolls Royce and heads for Las Vegas to elope. Paula's father puts a $25,000 bounty on his daughter, and soon the two young lovers find themselves chased by a motley assortment of pursuers – including amateur bounty hunters, inept private eyes, various cops, an ambitious radio DJ in a helicopter, and Paula's spurned fiance.

Of course the plot is just there to link the car stunts together, and it works. In fact, it's great fun, with plenty of well-staged car crashes, comedic appearances by Ron's whole family (or, at least, father Rance and brother Clint) and HAPPY DAYS mom Marion Ross, and even a little bit of pointed media satire.

Disney's DVD presents the film in an unmatted, nonanamorphic full-frame 1.33:1 transfer that makes a mockery of Gary Graver's fine cineamatography, leaving far too much image information on the top and bottom of the screen. Picture quality is good, but there's a bit of dirt and debris that probably could have been digitally cleaned up, if anyone had cared enouigh to do so. The audio's been given a decent 5.1 Dolby Digital remix, and it sounds fine.

As for the "Tricked Out" extras, there's a documentary called "A Family Affair" which is essentially an on-camera interview with Rance Howard and son Clint. Director/star Ron, however, is mysteriously and disappointingly absent. There's a short introduction to the film by Roger Corman, and the amusing original theatrical trailer.

The best extra, though, is the audio commentary by Corman and Ron Howard, who clearly has fond and vivid memories of his directorial debut. Corman doesn't contribute a whole lot to the discussion, but the two clearly are enjoying hanging out and watching the movie again, and they're obviously proud of the film.

And they should be. It's unassuming, funny, and damned entertaining. I recommend picking it up, even with Disney's stupid packaging and substandard transfer.

THE OTHER STUFF:

I'll be checking into the hospital in Boston on Tuesday morning for my surgery. They'll be removing my right kidney. Recovery period is expected to be three or four days in the hospital, and then I'll be heading back here to Maine, where I hope to get back to work by the following Monday.

I won't have access to my e-mail or internet during the hospital stay (I don't own a laptop), but I'll be back online by or before the 5th.

Wish me luck!

Also, Moonstone has quietly announced on their website that I'll be working on some Captain Midnight color comics for the company, so I guess it's okay for me to talk about it now. The company has some ambitious plans for the character, including a prose anthology among other things, and I'm intimately involved in the whole project, helping to define and shape Moonstone's version of the Captain. It's thrilling to be able to put my own stamp on such a venerable, classic adventure hero, while trying to remain true to the spirit of the original creation. Hopefully, the fans will like what we come up with.

But most of all, I'm looking forward to working with my pal Rich Clark on the Captain Midnight comics. We've been friends for a number of years now, and this will be our first chance to actually collaborate on a project. Should be fun.

Stay tuned!

5 comments:

Glen Davis said...

Good luck on your operation.

I've seen Grand Theft Auto, but for some reason have never found Eat My Dust.

Craig said...

Chris,

I've been away from your site for about a month due to some stuff... sorry to hear about your recent health problems.

Here's to a speedy recovery!

- Craig

Christopher Mills said...

Thanks for the good thoughts, guys.

Gary Chaloner said...

Good luck Chris!!

Bill Spangler said...

Good luck in Boston, Chris.