March 22, 2011

Sex, drugs and Corey Feldman

A quarter-century after its release, Rob Reiner’s nostalgic return to the glory days of post-war era Middle America still stands as a true-blue American classic

Also this week: Jackson County Jail + Caged Heat!, Au revoir les enfants, The Windmill Movie 

Before River Phoenix died of an overdose, Corey Feldman slummed it in Meatballs 4, Wil Wheaton became a twitter junkie and Jerry O’Connell lost his penis to 3D piranhas, these young thesps starred as four foul-mouthed friends on a two-day odyssey in search of a dead body. 

Exhibiting a level of authenticity rarely seen in today’s child stars, these kids dodge trains, stand up to a switchblade-wielding psychopath (a wonderfully insane Kiefer Sutherland, in his first major role), gaze into the blank stare of a corpse and endlessly pour their little hearts out.

It comes as little surprise when Reiner calls Stand by Me (Sony) the highlight of his filmography on this Blu-ray’s newly recorded video commentary featuring the director alongside Feldman and Wheaton. It’s pleasing to discover a high-def re-issue that not only augments the look and sound of a film, but also adds a substantial extra such as this. 

Wheaton and Feldman offer their candid accounts of the shoot, which they compare to summer camp. As Wheaton describes his afternoons spent at the arcade, Feldman confesses to losing his virginity and drinking booze and smoking pot for the first time with Phoenix. The actors also admit how cool Sutherland and costar John Cusack appeared as they partied non-stop, racing around town in their suped-up cars. Things go from amusing to somber when Feldman regrets being unable to reach Phoenix during his final drugged-out days. 

Also on hand is Reiner’s original DVD commentary — far drier, with more info on the filming process — as well as a music video and retro making-of that includes insights from Stephen King, whose novella “The Body” provided the source material. Though these extras are definitely worth your while, the group commentary is as genuine and endearing as the feature itself. 

Also Available
While some of Shout!’s previous Roger Corman titles have stretched the limits of what should be defined as a “Cult Classic,” each release has been assembled with TLC — whether it’s the phenomenal Death Race 2000 or its awesome-lame counterpart, Death Sport. That being said, their latest double-bill Jackson County Jail / Caged Heat! (Shout! Factory) is a bona fide underground gem. Both women-in-prison features were breakthroughs for Hollywood A-listers — JCJ had Tommy Lee Jones in his first starring role in a feature-lengther, while CH! marked Jonathan Demme’s thrilling directorial debut. Like in the past, this double-header can be streamlined as “The Grindhouse Experience,” which lets viewers watch the films back-to-back, with outlandish trailers preceding each title. Also available are commentaries and brief interview clips with Leonard Maltin and Corman. 

Based on his own childhood experience at a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France, Louis Malle’s heartrending Au revoir les enfants (Criterion) gets the well-deserved high-def treatment, enhancing its cold, clammy look that befits its narrative. Keeping up with this week’s string of sensational child actors, Gaspard Manesse and Raphaël Fejtö play two students whose friendship and childhood naiveté are shattered. One of Malles’ most devastating masterpieces, Criterion’s sublime set of extras enhance it with interviews from the late director, his wife and scholars, in a addition to Charlie Chaplin’s lovely two-reeler, The Immigrant, which plays an integral role in the film.  

The self-examined life of experimental filmmaker Richard P. Rogers was cut short when he died prematurely ten years ago. Sifting through hundreds of hours of footage, Alexander Olch completes Rogers’ meta-autobiography with explicit, exquisite results. The Windmill Movie (Zeitgeist) is an avant-garde project that crosses the limits of fiction and documentary, and even time and memory. Rogers never got to see the fruits of his labour, but his life and art will live on thanks to this beautiful and bittersweet sendoff. Zeitgeist has put together a DVD worthy of its subject, offering two excellent shorts by Rogers and a thoughtful essay booklet.