August 30–September 6, 2001
I’d call this the DVD no one was waiting for, except it would get me pummeled by several City Paper employees, who are queuing up for borrowing rights as I write. Richard Donner’s 1985 adventure tale was executive produced and conceived by Steven Spielberg (who also directed a few reshoots) and it has every mark of a hack director (that would be Mr. Lethal Weapon 4 ) striving to replicate Spielberg’s wide-eyed optimism. Spielberg’s story (converted to script form by yet another hack, Chris Columbus) plays like a marketing conference in narrative form: A group of misfit kids stumbles onto a map for hidden treasure, outwits a gang of bumbling thieves, befriends an even bigger misfit (the misshapen Sloth) and comes out of it with nothing but shared memories. In truth, the movie (which runs a punishing near-two hours, even without the octopus), is basically unwatchable without the sticky sheen of nostalgia — personally, I’d rather sit through Adventures in Babysitting again. But luckily enough, you don’t have to suffer alone. The disc comes complete with commentary from the director and the entire Goonies gang — Sean Astin, Martha Plimpton, Corey Feldman, Ke Huy-Quan, Kerri Green, Jeff Cohen, even Josh Brolin. (That’s Mikey, Stef, Mouth, Data, Andy, Chunk and Brand to you.) And not just audio commentary, either: At times, the movie shrinks mercifully into the corner while the assembled throng chat it up at a studio conference table. (Astin sneaks out halfway through, either to fine-tune The Fellowship of the Ring or because he can’t stand Corey Feldman anymore.) It’s not exactly a substitute for film school, but it’s pretty amusing to watch Plimpton wince over her performance (and recollect how her stage turn as Hedda Gabler was interrupted by a fan screaming "Goonies!" at the beginning of Act II), or to learn that Cohen successfully ran for class office with the slogan "Chunk for President." There are rumors a-plenty about a Goonies sequel (which Donner cannily acknowledges without confirming), but hopefully the powers-that-be will realize that Goonies is one relic that’s best left in the attic. It hasn’t aged nearly as well as the 12-minute Cyndi Lauper video that accompanies it — and considering that the video mostly consists of cameos by "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and André the Giant, that’s a frightening thought.
Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire
There’s many a slip betwixt filmfest buzz and theatrical release: Not so long ago, this amiable romantic comedy, directed by Kevin Jordan from a script co-written with brothers Derick and Steve Martini, was the talk of Toronto. Roger Ebert wrote a whole column about how the film had been taken under the wing of famed dealmaker Jeff "the Dude" Dowd (the basis for Jeff Bridges’ character in The Big Lebowski ), and a sale to tiny Stratosphere Entertainment soon followed. But after opening in a handful of U.S. cities (not including Philadelphia), the film sank more or less without a trace. Now, make no mistake: It’s no Jules and Jim. But considering the crap that passes for light entertainment, it’s rare to find a film this genuinely good-natured that isn’t hopelessly sappy or cynically calculated. The Martinis play a pair of orphaned L.A. brothers (their titular nicknames given by an American Indian aunt) who’ve both lost direction in their lives, or perhaps never had it. You can spot the indie clichés, from the obligatory guy-bonding sports scenes (it’s rugby this time) to the quirky professions of their love interests (mail carrier and animal trainer). But hey, if it ain’t broke, why tinker? Straying further from the norm is Bill Henderson’s performance as an elderly African-American sound man whose reminiscences of holding a boom on Bringing Up Baby help defuse the film’s bouts of sameness. The DVD includes a jokey commentary and some comically awful deleted scenes, but considering that almost no one’s had a chance to see it yet, the film itself serves as ample attraction.
Waiting for Guffman
When, while flogging Best in Show during last year’s Toronto Film Festival, Christopher Guest started talking about the fact that his 1996 mock-doc was slated to have half an hour of outtakes added for its DVD release, I could already feel my salivary glands working overtime. Like This Is Spinal Tap and Best in Show, Guffman is an all-improvised affair, which means that much of the off-the-cuff ranting of talents like Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Don Lake, Bob Balaban, not to mention Guest himself, gets left on the cutting-room floor (or, to use a more apt but less gainly metaphor, stored in the Avid’s databanks). The story of a group of amateur players who devise a musical to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the crushingly small Blaine, Mo., Guffman is a delight at a breezy 84 minutes, but once you’ve taken a shine to its motley crew of small-town theatricals, it’s hard to get enough. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see more of Eugene Levy’s criminally unfunny standup routine, or the pretty boy’s mother (Frances Fisher) proclaiming confidently that "he could be the next Keanu Reeve-suh"? Best of all are a pair of outtakes from the climactic Red, White and Blaine written like the rest of the film’s songs by Guest and his Tap cohorts Michael McKean and Harry Shearer.
A Place in the Sun
Adapted from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, George Stevens’ 1951 melodrama defuses the novel’s critique of capitalism in favor of a tale of doomed romance. But Montgomery Clift’s haunted, trapped-rat performance provides what Stevens excised; you can feel his desperation to transcend his holy roller background and live up to his wealthy name. A threadbare relative to the wealthy Eastman family (who’ve made their fortune in clothing, not photography), Clift starts out with a noblesse oblige job in the Eastman factory, where he strikes up a romance with dowdy Shelley Winters. But just as she gets pregnant, he finally wins the heart of wealthy, beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, which sets the stage for the tragedy of Dreiser’s title. Stevens’ elegant long takes sometimes seem more sluggish than omnipotent, and Hays Code morality forces a turn for the heavy-handed, but the haunted, stunned look on Clift’s face when he stumbles into a clearing after disposing of his "problem" is simply stunning. Commentary includes reminiscences by Stevens’ son George Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat.