Is it just me, or did John Landis movies like Animal House and Blues Brothers help pave the way for comedy as we know it today? Before he started accidentally killing children and famous actors on his set, John Landis was absolutely on fire as a director. Look at this resume of consecutive slam-dunks: Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, and Trading Places. That’s five home runs, plus a pop-culture landmark in the form of Michael Jackson’s memorable “Thriller” music video, which Landis directed. Unfortunately, he then made his ill-fated segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie (read up on that tragic fiasco if you don’t know what went down), and things seemed to go south after that, with only Coming to America being up to snuff with his classic output.
Animal House is a movie with a level of success both creatively and commercially that Hollywood still tries to replicate to this day. Blues Brothers is simply heaven for fans of quality soul and blues music, as well as people who can’t get enough insane car chases and ridiculous car wrecks. Are there any horror fans who will argue that American Werewolf in London isn’t the gold standard for practical effects in horror movies? John Carpenter’s The Thing gives it a run for its money, but nothing beats Rick Baker’s ingenius werewolf transformation sequence.
I sometimes wonder if any comedy out there has been as openly imitated as many times as Animal House has. Movies like Van Wilder, Wedding Crashers and Old School strive for the gold standard of the frat boy comedy provided by Landis, Belushi, and company, yet none come within reach of this lofty goal. Over thirty years have passed, and now it gets re-released on DVD seemingly annually under any label the studio can slap on it (Double Secret Probation Edition?). A movie that influential doesn’t just come knocking. It’s hard to top John Vernon’s demonically intense Dean Wormer, or Bruce McGill as the human wrecking-ball that is D-Day.
Landis topped himself with The Blues Brothers, which gives passage to comedy nirvana. Not only does it feature insane car chases and Smokey & The Bandit-style auto-mayhem, but it also features breathtaking musical performances. The featured legends include legendary performers like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, John Lee Hooker, and Ray Charles. Landis and company show their knowledge and appreciation of the sounds behind the tunes of Stax Records by getting names like Steve Cropper, and Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T. and the MG’s to play in the Blues Brothers Band, a salute to the brilliant musicians who provided the foundation for great singers like Otis Redding and Rufus Thomas. Comedies are rarely this irreverent and respectful at the same time.
Both of these movies are getting a Blu-ray release, but frankly, I see no reason to purchase Animal House on Blu-ray. The movie has been dipped on DVD more times than the queso dip at a table for twelve at On The Border. Lord knows how many different ways the studio will find to repackage it on Blu-ray before the bottom falls out and we’re all viewing it digitally. There’s nothing here that should make you consider trading in your DVD, the only way you should grab it is if you don’t have it already, unless seeing Donald Sutherland’s ass in HD is just THAT important to you. The same goes for The Blues Brothers, as nothing new seems to be available, though it does have those totally sweet car crashes in hi-def. If you don’t own one or both, now is the time to do so. If not, just pop in the DVD you have and enjoy it again.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Lt. Dan Band – For The Common Good: Big Hollywood has been tirelessly promoting this documentary, featuring the great Gary Sinese and his efforts to give back to the soldiers in harm’s way. Big Hollywood editor John Nolte put it best: “Good man. Good band. Great cause.”
Available on DVD
Source Code: Duncan “Zowie Bowie” Jones directs this time travel thriller, in what is his sophomore effort. I wasn’t a huge fan of his debut feature, Moon, however I respect it as a piece of science fiction that relies on concepts and ideas, rather than action thrills the way so much so-called sci-fi does today. Source Code comes highly recommended, so I’ll no doubt be checking this one out.
Trust: David Schwimmer follows up Run, Fatboy, Run with a movie about parents (Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) who must help their daughter cope when she meets a boy she met online who isn’t the person he claimed to be. The subject of identity and trust in how they relate to the internet is always an interesting topic to explore, color me intrigued.
Dylan Dog – Dead of Night: This supernatural thriller starring Brandon Routh came & went in theaters and I never heard heads or tails of it. I admit I’m a sucker for goofy huntin’-vampires-on-the-bayou stuff like this, so I’ll probably be giving it a look.
Ironclad: A movie about the siege of Rochester Castle in 1215, sporting a cast with the likes of James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti (who hams it up as King John), Kate Mara, Charles Dance, and Brian Cox.
Life During Wartime: Todd Solondz has been revisiting the characters in his early works as of late. He brought back characters from his debut film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, in 2004 with Palindromes. This week, his latest film, Life During Wartime, drops in on the characters from his sophomore feature, Happiness. This is one of those rare occasions in which a movie gets its first home video release on Criterion.
High and Low: Akira Kurosawa’s classic kidnapping thriller, based on the novel King’s Ransom by Ed McBain, gets an upgrade to Blu-ray from Criterion
Available on Blu-ray
Léon Morin, Priest: Jean-Paul Belmondo stars in this film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, in which the French actor plays a priest who engages in long discussions with an athiest, communist widower.
This article originally appeared over at Parcbench