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HomeVideodrome: Jackie Gleason, Steven Seagal, 'Boyz' and 'Amelie'


Here it is, fans of Jackie “The Great One” Gleason, the wait is finally over: Otto Preminger’s weirdo comedy curiosity item Skidoo is now available on DVD. While it came out before counter-culture exploded into mainstream cinema with Easy Rider, Skidoo was an attempt to tap into the hippie audience of the late sixties, even going so far as to feature a soundtrack by Harry Nilsson, as well as a script by Brewster McCloud scribe Doran William Cannon. The cast of the movie is easily one of the daffiest ever assembled, including not only Gleason, but names like Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, John Phillip Law, Mickey Rooney, Carol Channing, Richard “Jaws” Kiel, Fred Clark, and Slim Pickens. Oh, and Groucho Marx appears here in his final screen role, playing God, a casting decision that somehow seems more absurd than George Burns, and yet infinitely more palatable.

Skidoo has been seen as something of an oddity in Preminger’s body of work, a director primarily known for heavier films like Laura, Exodus, and The Man With the Golden Arm. The film was largely panned upon release as a cynical attempt to pander to a hip crowd, Preminger even brought in a young Rob Reiner to do uncredited rewrites on the script, reportedly telling him to “write scenes for the hippies.” This DVD release marks the first time that this movie has even gotten a home video release, it’s current advent to video being probably due to the cult appeal it’s gained playing late nights on Turner Classic Movies’ TCM Underground, where bizarre not-quite-classics of yesteryear find their modern audience.

The DVD details on this one are virtually non-existent, though I can happily report it’s being released in it’s original anamorphic widescreen, and not a cropped frame. Other than that though, we get no special features to speak of. Given that this is the first and only release of Skidoo available to date, those of us wanting to own it will have to as our current President commands of we his subjects: shut up and eat our (Preminger) peas. Though, really, this movie had me at Jackie Gleason and Harry Nilsson. Sold.

Available on DVD

So, here’s where I ask everyone to indulge me for a second: I love Steven Seagal movies. The early Seagal movies are legit, flicks like Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Out for Justice, all of those are great. Then Seagal’s ego got so big it began to eat itself, which was in direct disproportion to his physical weight. He directed what is one of the greatest so-bad-it’s-good movies ever, On Deadly Ground, in which Seagal blows up an Alaskan oil rig, no doubt wrecking the local ecosystem, and then proceeds to preach to us about the environment. It’s action movie stupidity that is too good to pass up. Then the studios decided they didn’t want to do movies that starred Seagal anymore, while Seagal decided he didn’t want to stop starring in movies either. Thus the direct-to-video era of Seagal’s career was born, in which we got two or three sub-par action movies from the rotund action star each year. Nine out ten of these movies are completely worthless, and devoid of entertainment. There is, however, the occasional diamond in the rough, a movie that actually delivers some cheap Seagal thrills, and one of them is coming to Blu-ray this week: Belly of the Beast.

What Belly of the Beast is, is a Hong Kong style action movie with the belly of Seagal being dragged around on wires instead of Chow Yun Fat or Jet Li. It’s directed by Ching Siu-tung, one of Hong Kong’s premiere choreographers, the man responsible for the balletic action in films like A Better Tomorrow II, Shaolin Soccer, Hero, and Peking Opera Blues to name a few. He also directed excellent movies like the hyper-kinetic Duel to the Death (which if you haven’t seen, do yourself a favor and do so), and the classic A Chinese Ghost Story. With a resume like that, you know we’re not working with the usual hacks behind the camera. The problem is that Seagal’s rotund figure looks silly gliding and flying around in epic action movie bullet ballets (though Tom Cruise didn’t fare much better when John Woo did the same thing to him in Mission: Impossible 2). But as far as Seagal movies go, though, it’s one of the best movies he’s done in his direct-to-video doldrums in that it’s relentlessly entertaining, even when it’s as silly as it gets.

The plot is a bit like Taken, Seagal is an ex-CIA/NSA/other mysterious government organization acronym agent, whose daughter gets kidnapped by terrorists, therefore Seagal must stomp the crap out of their colons. Pretty simple stuff, it’s action movie comfort food. It’s not the second coming of Above the Law, this is Seagal in his lazy period of body doubles after all. But it does what most Steven Seagal movies these days fail to do: get your action flick rocks off.

I have this movie on a cheap DVD, and frankly, I see no reason to upgrade to the Blu-ray. It’s not exactly a visual delight, and I doubt the studio has spent time lovingly restoring it, so if I were you, I’d just hunt down a cheap-o DVD, used if possible. Or better yet, just NetFlix it, your wallet will thank you, and you’ll probably hate me less if you don’t like it.

Also, a big PS to Seagal junkies out there: if you’ve never read the book Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal by Vern, do yourself a favor and pick this bad boy up from Amazon. It exhaustively covers every Steven Seagal film from Above the Law, to Pistol Whipped, including a breakdown of his hilarious musical ventures, as well as movies he was involved with that never got made. Vern makes some mildly obnoxious political statements here and there, but the rest of the book is a hilarious, excellent read by a true, blue Seagal nut that proudly sits on my shelf.

Available on Blu-ray

Other Noteworthy Releases

Limitless: Bradley Cooper is a writer who takes a pill that unlocks the other ninety percent of his brain and makes him awesome, or something like that. Robert De Niro shows up for a paycheck.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Take Me Home Tonight: An homage to eighties teen comedies, word on the street is it stinks.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Tekken: Fun fact: this video game adaptation was directed by Dwight H. Little, the guy who made Halloween 4, Marked for Death, and Phantom of the Opera starring Robert Englund.

Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo and DVD

Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and The Beast: Criterion is upgrading their edition of Cocteau’s classic with a brand new Blu-ray edition.

Available on Blu-ray

The Music Room: Satyajit Ray’s 1958 film about modernity catching up with the old Indian aristocracy doesn’t look like the sort of film we associate with today’s Bollywood productions, and it’s getting a release this week from Criterion.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

We Live in Public: A collector’s edition of this bizarre documentary on the sociological possibilities of the internet based on the insane experiments of Josh Harris comes out on DVD this week.

Available on DVD

Boyz ‘N The Hood: John Singleton’s breakthrough hit comes to Blu-ray

Available on Blu-ray

Amelie: I gotta say, every idealistic girl I met in college was in love with this movie. I think director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a unique visual style that’s all his own, unfortunately most of his movies do nothing for me, and this is one of them.

Available on Blu-ray

Chocolat: Another movie a lot of people I know adore that I never caught the appeal of. I fully admit that I’m probably the problem in this faulty equation.

Available on Blu-ray

Bridget Jones’s Diary: To whom it may concern, it’s out on Blu-ray, so there you go.

Available on Blu-ray

This article originally appeared over at Parcbench


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