'The Mission' tops list of releases from Warner catalog
By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service
The DVD business plan is beginning to look like the music-industry strategy: Discount new releases for quick sales but depend on your back catalog which generally means lower royalty payouts for bread and butter. This week, Warner Home Video is opening its vaults to release enough must-own discs that even the most well-heeled collector will feel the pinch.
The biggest gem in Warner's jewel bag may be a two-DVD special edition of "The Mission," the 1986 epic that won the Cannes Film Festival's grand prize that year.
Directed by Roland Joffe ("The Killing Fields"), "The Mission" was not a hit when it was released. It was hard for adoring critics to persuade the public to go see a story of a Jesuit missionary in Paraguay (Jeremy Irons) who has the job of granting God's redemption to a bandit (Robert De Niro) who killed his own brother.
At the last minute, Warner Bros. changed the title of its upcoming remake of "The In-Laws" from "The Wedding Party" to "The In-Laws," which even star Michael Douglas thinks might be a mistake. That's because the titular remake now further begs comparison to the 1979 original, finally available on DVD.
This Andrew Bergman-written comedy stars Alan Arkin as a dentist who, upon meeting Peter Falk, father of his impending son-in-law, finds himself dragged into a series of misadventures that may or may not be a result of Falk's alleged employment with the CIA.
No one will ever accuse 1955's "Battle Cry" of being one of the great World War II films. Its soap-opera structure is obvious, and the narration by James Whitmore, as the lifer sergeant who has to whip the usual bunch of recruits into battle shape, becomes tedious quickly. But the wide-screen restoration (it was originally shot in CinemaScope) is welcome.
On the other hand, John Ford's 1945 "They Were Expendable" is one of the greatest of all World War II films, with Robert Montgomery commanding a Navy PT boat full of sailors after Pearl Harbor.
Another war the cold one is revisited in 1964's "Seven Days in May," a movie that scared me to death as a kid living under fear of the bomb. The dream team of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas was recruited by director John Frankenheimer for a story about a general who goes to unthinkable lengths to thwart the president's attempt at a nuclear treaty and the aide who has to decide between backing his boss or his conscience.
Moving into lighter territory, Warner is releasing 1963's "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," the comedy that inspired the TV series, with Glenn Ford as a widow looking for love and Ronny the then-Opie and eventually director Ron Howard as the precocious son determined to see his dad choose him a proper mother.
The 1950 "Father of the Bride," with the Oscar-nominated Spencer Tracy as the beleaguered dad marrying off headstrong daughter Elizabeth Taylor, was remade with Steve Martin. But the original is superior in every way.
Warner's other manly offerings are the 1968 Dean Martin Western comedy, "Five Card Stud," and three Clint Eastwood films: his 1982 action-in-the-skies thriller "Firefox," his tough-platoon-sergeant turn in 1986's "Heartbreak Ridge" and the 1970 "Dirty Dozen" rip-off "Kelly's Heroes."
From theater to DVD
The best of the week's recent theatrical releases is a film few people saw. "Comedian" (Miramax Home Video) documents Jerry Seinfeld's attempt to build a new standup act from scratch after the end of his acclaimed TV series. It's an eye-opening sausage-factory look at how a comedy act is developed.
"Analyze That" (Warner Home Video) is a contrived sequel to the surprise 1999 hit about anxious mobster Robert De Niro and analyst Billy Crystal.
"Equilibrium" (Miramax) is a dark, unoriginal sci-fi drama about a "Brave New World" future where fascistic control is maintained by a kind of super-Prozac all citizens are required to take.
And, while I might someday deny I ever said it, "The Hot Chick" (Touchstone Home Video) starring Rob Schneider as the hottest girl in high school, who wakes up in the body of a derelict who looks like Rob Schneider, is the funniest film he has ever made, and for a dumb comedy, pretty darn smart.