UltimateDisney.com Presents: Winter 2007 DVD Roundup

Between the first Tuesday in November and the next-to-last one in December, Buena Vista Home Entertainment released approximately 800 DVD titles. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but that's what it felt like late last year as UD's reviewers dove from one mammoth DVD release to another, continuously providing you the type of candid and comprehensive critiques you've come to expect of this site while trying to stay aware of other responsibilities that demand one's attentions around the holidays, like families and such.

There are a few major holdovers we've still got to tackle in this new year, but in the meantime, we've got perhaps the most informative, entertaining, and thorough reviews of five Buena Vista DVDs that reached stores between late November and early January. As usual, there is no all-encompassing shared trait among the subjects aside from their recent release dates and lesser status. There are two new compilations of "Power Rangers Mystic Force", the 2006 incarnation of the interminable action-driven boy-targeted series. On two separate DVDs, there are three low-budget films produced by Roger Corman -- The Cry Baby Killer, The Little Shop of Horrors, Grand Theft Auto -- that provided a showcase for the young talents of Jack Nicholson and actor-director Ron Howard. Finally, there is The Night Listener, an R-rated suspense thriller starring Robin Williams that is among the latest offering of Disney's indie branch Miramax.

Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 2 - Legendary Catastros
Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 3 - Fire Heart | The Night Listener | Grand Theft Auto: Tricked Out Edition
The Cry Baby Killer & The Little Shop of Horrors: Back-to-Back Jack Edition

Index of all UD's DVD Reviews | Index of all UD's CD Reviews

Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 2 - Legendary Catastros
68 Minutes / Rating: TV-Y7 / Original Airdates: March 20 - May 15, 2006
Director: Mark Beesley
Cast: Firass Dirani (Nick/Red Mystic Ranger), Angie Diaz (Vida/Pink Mystic Ranger), Richard Brancatisano (Xander/Green Mystic Ranger), Melanie Vallejo (Madison/Blue Mystic Ranger), Nic Sampson (Chip/Yellow Mystic Ranger), John Tui (Daggeron), Peta Rutter (Udonna), Antonia Prebble (Clare), Barnie Duncan (Toby), Kelson Henderson (Phineas), Holly Shanahan (Leelee), Antonia Prebble (Niella), Geoff Dolan (voice of Koragg), Donogh Rees (voice of Necrolai), Andrew Robert (voice of Morticon)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio); Dolby Digital Surround (English); Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / DVD Release Date: November 28, 2006 / Black Keepcase with Side Snaps / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Sneak Peeks: Meet the Robinsons, Cars, Ratatouille, Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition, Peter Pan, Air Buddies, "Yin Yang Yo!", Roving Mars

By Ed South

One could argue that "Power Rangers" is everything that is wrong with children's television programming. It's loud, it's obnoxious, it's hyperactive, and, most of all, it's violent. The violence comes in heavy doses as teenagers dressed in rainbow-colored jumpsuits and motorcycle helmets battle an unending array of giant robots, giant mutated reptiles, and giant robot reptiles who may or may not also be mutated. These stories are told with as few plot points as possible and as much action as the producers can cram into a 22-minute run time.

This three-episode collection from the latest "Power Rangers" incarnation is strictly for fans of this 2006 series. "Power Rangers Mystic Force": Volume 2 - Legendary Catastros starts right off with episode-specific exposition and doesn't take anytime explaining to an outsider (like me) why the Power Rangers are now living in a tree, why they are friends with the Sorceress from "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe", and why the whole Power Ranger universe now looks more like Lord of the Rings than Godzilla. Instead, we get some brief back-story about a legendary black horse named Catastros who is stronger than 100 men, a fact illustrated by several shots of the horse knocking down guys in Halloween masks.

It turns out that Catastros was captured by evil during "the Great Battle of Good and Evil." (Isn't every battle between good and evil?!) This setup seems irrelevant until the next day when the Power Ranger kids, at work at their record store, are all summoned on their magical cell phones. The Rangers rush downtown to jump into a battle with some giant robots. During the fight, Red Ranger Nick gets sucked into another dimension where he ends up meeting Catastros face to horse face. While the Power Rangers scramble to find some way to rescue Nick, a giant hammerhead shark robot and some half-bat/half-woman try to get their hands on the horse. Before long, the Rangers end up in another battle, this time against a purple giant robot and a giant rock-guy from an old Fruity Pebbles commercial. After plenty of CG-aided battle, Catastros disappears into another time warp with the purple giant robot.

The Power Rangers use their cell phones to summon magic forces. [Standard text messaging rates may apply.] "Wild Power Rangers Can't Be Broken": Red Ranger Nick rides Catastros on a beach. There's not so much fighting in the bonus episode "Whispering Voices."

There are two more episodes in the feature program on this disc, "The Gatekeeper Parts 1 & 2." They follow the same formula of giant robots and computer-animated battle sequences. There's even a bonus episode on the disc called "Whispering Voices" which provides you with 22 more minutes of giant robots crushing small models of big cities.

Back in the day, the Power Rangers summoned their magical powers through their belt buckles. Today's sophisticated Power Ranger carries a cell phone that hits them when they are needed. The very same cell phones also double as the link between the teenagers and their super powers. (I can't figure out how to get a Little Mermaid wallpaper on my phone, and these kids use their cells for kicking giant robot butt!)

I'm told that "Power Rangers: Mystic Force" is the fourteenth series in the "Power Rangers" franchise. Perhaps you've had to have been watching for a while to make heads or tails out of what is going on in "Mystic Force." Beyond all the yelling and all the bright colors and explosions there is very little of substance going on here. I rewound and watched several segments over and over again trying to figure out what relationship some of the characters had with each other, or who the giant robots were that the Rangers keep fighting but unfortunately, none of it makes any sense! I guess it's safe to say that this DVD won't end up in the hands of too many non-Power Rangers fans. For followers of the show, the release puts four more episodes of the show into your collection, for non-fans: you'd be better off watching anything else!

UD Rating: out of 5

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Related Reviews: Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 1 - Broken Spell • Power Rangers Mystic Force: Dark Wish - The Blockbuster
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Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 3 - Fire Heart
68 Minutes / Rating: TV-Y7 / Original Airdates: March 27 - June 26, 2006
Director: Mark Beesley, Andrew Merrifield, Charlie Haskell
Cast: Firass Dirani (Nick/Red Mystic Ranger), Angie Diaz (Vida/Pink Mystic Ranger), Richard Brancatisano (Xander/Green Mystic Ranger), Melanie Vallejo (Madison/Blue Mystic Ranger), Nic Sampson (Chip/Yellow Mystic Ranger), Peta Rutter (Udonna), Antonia Prebble (Clare), Barnie Duncan (Toby), Kelson Henderson (Phineas), Holly Shanahan (Leelee), Geoff Dolan (Voice of Koragg), Donogh Rees (Voice of Necrolai), Andrew Robertt (Voice of Morticon), Nick Kemplen (Voice of Styxoid), Campbell Cooley (Voice of Skullington), Oliver Driver (Voice of Jenji)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio); Dolby Digital Surround (English); Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / DVD Release Date: November 28, 2006 / Black Keepcase with Side Snaps / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Sneak Peeks: Meet the Robinsons, Cars, Ratatouille, Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition, Peter Pan, Air Buddies, "Yin Yang Yo!", Roving Mars

By Aaron Wallace

"Power Rangers", the youth-targeted action superhero show that began as a pop culture phenomenon in the mid-1990s
and maintains a loyal audience under the corporate guidance of the Walt Disney Company today, returned for its fourteenth season in early 2006. Anyone who has followed the show from even a distance over the last decade knows that each new year brings with it a new theme and new set of Rangers. The most recent was "Mystic Force", which matched morphing with magic to produce an unabashedly fantastical spin on the Rangers. For fans of fantasy, that's undoubtedly a welcome change, but even the world's least devoted fans can breathe a sigh of relief. To dress the "Power Rangers" with adjectives kinder than "horrible", "disturbing", or "absurd" would be to mislead for politeness' sake. Still, the thirteenth season -- titled "S.P.D." -- had hit what I can only hope was an all-time low. In comparison, "Mystic Force" is much more enchanting. The acting, while still wanting, is vastly superior to that of "S.P.D.", and the heavy use of traditional hallmarks of fantasy (trolls, sorcerers, and giant forested spiders -- all are there) lend themselves to suspense and plot, two things that "S.P.D." seldom concerned itself with. That means that there's less time for mindless robot battles and nonsensical fighting on the part of Rangers who never remember to morph into their superhero suits until the action is underway.

"Power Rangers" hasn't been granted season sets on DVD, but a good many of the episodes are available on digital disc nonetheless. For their part, Disney has preferred single-disc episode compilation releases, which present only a handful of episodes at a time for a too-high price. That's the case with Fire Heart, the third volume of "Mystic Force" on DVD. Four episodes ("Fire Heart", "Petrified Xander", "Scaredy Cat", and "Ranger Down") are presented, one of which is inexplicably included as a "Bonus Episode." Though their presentation is not quite chronologically aligned with the original broadcast order, one episode flows into the next with ease (even the bonus episode). The 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer and Dolby Digital Stereo Sound don't get any serious complaints. They're far from amazing, but they get the job done without annoyance and are acceptable for a TV title like this one. Four episodes is one less than some previous releases have contained, so one might think that a few bonus features would be included to sweeten the deal. One would be mistaken, however, as there's nothing in the way of "extras" to be found.

Suddenly remembering that they are better fighters when in superhero form, the Power Rangers begin their mystical morphosis. When not on duty, the Power Rangers pass the time with hokey conversation. Jenji the cat jumps around and shouts without his face ever moving, producing a blend of fake and disturbing that seems to sum up the "Power Rangers" as a whole.

"Mystic Force" is an improvement for "Power Rangers", but sadly, that isn't saying much. The "Fire Heart" DVD is similar to previous single-disc releases for the series, though its roster of only four episodes and no bonus features puts it near the bottom of the pack in terms of value. "Rangers" fans already know that they're interested, so their complaints will chiefly concern the slim pickings. Any prospective newcomers are advised to save themselves a headache (literally) and stay away.

UD Rating: out of 5

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Related Reviews: Power Rangers Mystic Force: Volume 1 - Broken Spell • Power Rangers Mystic Force: Dark Wish - The Blockbuster • The Tick vs. Season 1
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The Night Listener
81 Minutes / Rating: R / Theatrical Release Date: August 4, 2006
Director: Patrick Stettner
Cast: Robin Williams (Gabriel Noone), Toni Collette (Donna D. Logand), Bobby Cannavale (Jess), Joe Morton (Ashe), John Cullum (Pap Noone), Rory Culkin (Pete D. Logand), Sandra Oh (Anna), Becky Ann Baker (Waitress), Lisa Emery (Darlie Noone), Maryann Plunkett (Alice, Female Realtor)
1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 / DVD Release Date: January 9, 2007 / Black Keepcase with Side Snaps and Cardboard Slipcover / Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Sneak Peeks: The Invisible, The Guardian, The Prestige, Renaissance, anti-piracy; Menu: The Heart of the Game, The Queen, The Roger Corman Collection, Blu-ray Disc

Robin Williams is no stranger to Disney; the studio has distributed three of his most significant films, each representing a turning point in the actor's repeatedly reinvented career. Twenty years ago, Touchstone's war dramedy Good Morning, Vietnam became his breakout movie hit. Fifteen years ago, his rapid-fire brand of comedy worked wonders for Disney's blockbuster Aladdin, declaring him a family-friendly entertainer and a viable voice actor. Ten years ago, Miramax's Good Will Hunting gave him an Oscar, validating his prowess as a serious performer.
The Night Listener arrives in the vein of Hunting, with shades of other bleak personas he's adopted this decade in case-referenced, R-rated dramas like Insomnia and One Hour Photo. In other words, this is more of the restrained work Williams now seems to relish when he's not cashing in on his unbridled comic powers for more profitable fare like RV and Happy Feet.

Night Listener also emanates from Miramax, which makes it one of the rare projects to deliver star power for the indie branch in the post-Weinstein age. That was enough to make this psychological thriller the division's second highest-grossing release of 2006, but its nearly $8 million intake was still a tiny blip on the summer box office radar and the unquestionably weak link on Williams' potent annual earnings report (which included modest political comedy Man of the Year and cinema's currently reigning king Night at the Museum as well). Alas, I can only ponder Williams' other outings so much before it's time to talk about the subject at hand.

In The Night Listener, he plays Gabriel Noone, a writer who's shown to be more of a radio storyteller. If those two words trigger an image of Williams' memorable turn as the breathless, troop-pleasing Vietnam disc jockey, you're about 180 degrees off-course. Noone's solemn tales are delivered in the low voice of a jaded New Yorker who overdramatizes life. Hence, the grizzled white beard suggesting masked personal anguish, the anxiety that troubles him while recording episodes in the studio, and the inevitably messy separation from his no longer live-in boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale). One source of hope comes from a manuscript that Noone's publisher (Joe Morton) is about to put out. It tells the true story of a 14-year-old boy overcoming nightmarish molestation initiated by his parents. Over the phone, Gabriel develops a friendship with the potty-mouthed young author (Rory Culkin), who is said to be dying of AIDS.

When the existence of the boy comes into question, Gabriel resents the accusation that his long-distance friend's protective, adoptive caretaker (Australia's chameleon-like Toni Collette) could be that delusional and manipulative. Further consideration, however, introduces second thoughts, and leads the suspicious Manhattanite to both get the book cancelled and set off for Wisconsin in search of his sick pal. Through convenient twists, he encounters the surrogate mother -- who is blind but clever -- and her trail of explanations and excuses does little to quench Gabriel's doubt. Suspense arises less from the central uncertainty than it does from the volatile personalities, who are made believable by Williams and Collette's solid efforts in spite of the flimsy contrivances and awkward exchanges they are burdened with.

In "The Night Listener", Robin Williams plays the host of a late-night radio show who befriends a dying young fan over the phone. Blind, overprotective, delusional, and social worker are labels that may or may not apply to Donna D. Logand, Toni Collette's character in "The Night Listener." Author, screenwriter, producer, and gay Armistead Maupin appears in the disc's lone featurette "The Night Listener Revealed."

Both the front and back covers reference the movie's inspiration by true events, though the direct source -- the semiautobiographical 2000 novel by Tales of the City serialist Armistead Maupin (who is credited as producer and one of three scribes) -- is largely imagined. Proof of the movie's shortcomings: the truly-published faux-memoir in question -- Anthony Godby Johnson's A Rock and a Hard Place (1993) -- itself, archives of the author's website Tony's World, and definitive information on the hoax discovery (led in 2001 by a Tad Friend article in The New Yorker and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann) all are way more fascinating than the fictional spin given here.

The movie merits its R rating which is attributed to "language and some disquieting sexual content." The former refers to a somewhat steady flow of the F-word, while the latter covers the brief, hazy, and surreal depiction of the pornographic productions scarring the movie's boy. "Grey's Anatomy" Golden Globe winner Sandra Oh appears in a supporting role as a housekeeper who's apparently well-versed in psychology and forensics.

Picture and sound are both without incident; the fairly dark visuals hold up fine while the subdued soundtrack only shows signs of life in Peter Nashel's intermittent score and the occasional well-realized multiple-phone rings. The disc includes the featurette "The Night Listener Revealed" (11:40), which interestingly addresses the real-life inspiration as much as it tackles the journey to film the roman ΰ clef novel. There is also a weak 3-minute deleted scene which director Patrick Stettner introduces as "our mistake" -- that's accurate, but it ignores the missteps that made it into the film. Fans may think a commentary by the author, the director, and/or the star would have been an obvious, welcome inclusion, but somehow, life seems too short for all the commentaries being served up today.

With The Night Listener, Robin Williams again proves himself adept at handling drama and the general public again proves itself less than interested. For a simplistic, somewhat suspenseful movie, this one makes for a passable rental for adults, though anyone fooled into expecting Williams' more familiar hyper shtick will be in for a surprise far greater than the scripted twists found here.

UD Rating: ½ out of 5

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Related Items: The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin • A Rock and a Hard Place by "Anthony Godby Johnson"
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin • Tales of the City: Collector's Edition


Grand Theft Auto: Tricked Out Edition
84 Minutes / Rating: PG / Theatrical Release Date: June 16, 1977
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Ron Howard (Sam Freeman), Nancy Morgan (Paula Powers), Marion Ross (Vivian Hedgeworth), Pete Isacksen (Sparky), Barry Cahill (Bigby Powers), Hoke Howell (Preacher), Lew Brown (Jack Klapper), Elizabeth Rogers (Priscilla Powers), Rance Howard (Ned Slinker), Clint Howard (Ace), Don Steele (Curly Q. Brown), Paul Linke (Collins Hedgeworth), Leo Rossi (Vegas Muscle Chief), Robby Weaver (Harold Hingleman), Jim Ritz (Officer Tad), Bill Conklin (Engle Hingleman)
1.33:1 Fullscreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / DVD Release Date: November 21, 2006 / Black Keepcase with Side Snaps and Cardboard Slipcover / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Sneak Peeks: Apocalypto, The Roger Corman Collection, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, anti-piracy

Long before Grand Theft Auto was a controversial video game series, it was a movie. Not just any movie, but one directed by Ron Howard, long before he would helm blockbusters and Oscar-honored fare like Apollo 13, Ransom, A Beautiful Mind, and The Da Vinci Code. In 1977, Howard was near the beginning of a decade-long run on "Happy Days", the popular (and enduring) nostalgia-fueled ABC sitcom. After starring in the previous year's profitable Eat My Dust, Howard got producer Roger Corman to finance this fellow wild ride comedy, Howard's directorial debut. That's really the only remarkable claim to the movie, which Howard also appeared in and co-wrote with his father Rance. Like many of the nearly 400 movies reigning B-movie king Corman has produced, Grand Theft Auto is heavily dated, short on sophistication, and appealing only in baffled "this was entertainment?" ponderings.

Nancy Morgan plays Paula Powers, a privileged young lady whose wealthy parents most definitely do not approve her selection of kind, ordinary Sam Freeman (Howard) over the aloof equestrian Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke) as boyfriend/fiancι. Rather than give in to Daddy's (Barry Cahill) gubernatorial campaign-driven disapproval, Paula sneaks out and takes his 1959 Rolls Royce. She picks up Sam and they head for Las Vegas to elope. Collins and his scatterbrained mother (Marion Ross, Howard's "Happy Days" mom) each offer $25,000 rewards for a safe return, news that radio host Curly Q. Brown (Don Steele) passes along to his listeners, inciting West Coast prize-hunters to take pursuit. Meanwhile, Daddy hires a team of private investigators to rescue his daughter. Needless to say, crashed cars, dust clouds, and quirky characters abound. Among the oddballs are a pair of mechanics (played by Ron's brother Clint Howard and Peter Isacksen), a money-hungry preacher (Hoke Howell), and an inept cop (Jim Ritz).

In "Grand Theft Auto", Ron Howard and Nancy Morgan illustrate how driving while on the phone was a laughing matter back in 1977. Those were simpler times. We know better today. Mrs. C (Marion Ross) gets repeatedly pestered by Officer Tad (Jim Ritz) in "Grand Theft Auto." Despite their smaller contributions to "Grand Theft Auto", Rance Howard and Ron Howard are the two Howards who appear on camera for the new featurette "A Family Affair."

Unless you have fond memories of seeing Grand Theft Auto in its original release or enjoying other car action/comedies that populated drive-ins of the late-'70s, you'll probably agree that this is a very bad movie. In many ways, it feels like an excuse for people to marvel at choreographed car crashes and for Ron Howard to wet his feet behind the camera.
For viewers today, there is nothing to suggest Howard's future filmmaking prowess. Outside of a handful of amusing moments and lines (and, for some, the very '70s soundtrack), there's not much to appreciate in this slight, stupid joyride which wears out its welcome long before its mere 84 minutes are up. The movie doesn't take itself very seriously either, which keeps it away from "so bad it's good" territory. In short, fond, thirty-year-old memories of independent cinema much different from today are the only way you'll want to watch this mess more than once.

This "Tricked Out Edition" DVD is one of more than three dozen discs holding (mostly forgettable) Corman flicks that Buena Vista Home Entertainment has issued since signing a deal with the producer in 2005. A shortage of usable high-res photography and a feeble attempt to be associated with the video game series probably explain the dramatic, glitzy cover art, which has near-nothing to do with the movie it adorns. This release must compete with a still-available 25th Anniversary Special Edition DVD from New Concorde, which itself boasts a number of extras. Disney's disc provides the original trailer (2:19) hosted by Ron Howard and bookended by the '70s MPAA blue rating screens and a 35-second introduction by Roger Corman that discusses Howard's cool, collected debut. More significant are the other two extras: the featurette "A Family Affair" (8:40) with Rance and Clint Howard and a feature-length audio commentary with Ron Howard and Roger Corman. Both pieces talk about the movie's origins (spawned from a title and open-ended concept) and filming in the desert, while the commentary finds Corman with apparently no idea how bad his movies are. Picture quality in the 1.33:1 transfer is pretty good not great, though it probably should be matted widescreen. The audio is encoded as Dolby Digital 5.1, but there is little depth to what feels like broad mono.

Nostalgic fans of this movie should appreciate Buena Vista's fine DVD treatment, but everyone else is encouraged to avoid this first and probably worst directorial effort from the subsequently accomplished Ron Howard.

UD Rating: out of 5

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Related Reviews: Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) • Pete's Dragon (1977) • The Love Bug (1969) • Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) • Cars (2006)
Freaky Friday (1977) • The Black Hole (1979) • Candleshoe (1978) • Tex (1982) • Midnight Madness (1980) • Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)
The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) • The North Avenue Irregulars (1978) • No Deposit, No Return (1976) • The Village (2004)


The Cry Baby Killer: Back-to-Back Jack Edition
The Cry Baby Killer:
61 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Theatrical Release Date: August 17, 1958
Director: Justus Addiss
Cast: Harry Lauter (Lt. Porter), Jack Nicholson (Jimmy Wallace), Carolyn Mitchell (Carole Fields), Brett Halsey (Manny Cole), Lynn Cartwright (Julie), Ralph Reed (Joey Clayman), John Shay (Police Officer Gannon), Barbara Knudson (Mrs. Maxton), Jordan Whitfield (Sam), Claude Stroud (Werner), Ruth Swanson (Mrs. Wallace), William A. Forester (Mr. Maxton), John Weed (Police Sgt. Reed), Frank Richards (Pete Gambelli), Bill Erwin (Mr. Wallace), James Fillmore (Al), Ed Nelson (Rick Connor), Mitzi McCall (Evelyn)

The Little Shop of Horrors:
72 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated / Theatrical Release Date: September 14, 1960
Director: Roger Corman
Cast: Jonathan Haze (Seymour Krelboyne), Jackie Joseph (Audrey Fulquard), Mel Welles (Gravis Mushnick), Dick Miller (Burson Fouch), Myrtle Vail (Winifred Krelboyne), Tammy Windsor (Teenage Girl), Toby Michaels (Teenage Girl), Leola Wendorff (Sidde Shiva), Lynn Storey (Mrs. Hortense Feuchtwanger), Wally Campo (Sgt. Joe Fink/Narrator), Jack Warford (Frank Stoolie), Merri Welles (Leonora Clyde), John Shaner (Dr. Phoebus Farb), Jack Nicholson (Wilbur Force), Dodie Drake (Waitress)

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Cry Baby: Black and White, Little Shop: Colorized); Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Subtitles: English, French on Cry Baby; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / DVD Release Date: November 21, 2006 / Black Keepcase with Side Snaps and Cardboard Slipcover / Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Sneak Peeks: Apocalypto, The Roger Corman Collection, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, anti-piracy

From Dick Kallman's opening title song "Cry Baby Cry" to its end credits reprise, The Cry Baby Killer is sixty-one minutes of cheesiness in the late-1950s' "good teenagers gone bad" mold of moviemaking. It's most noteworthy for marking the film debut of Jack Nicholson. At age 21, Nicholson holds the title role as Jimmy Wallace, a teen who stands up to the slickster (Brett Halsey) that has taken Jimmy's ex (Carolyn Mitchell) and made her his domineered girlfriend. It's not much of a showdown; the group scuffle quickly breaks up when gunshots are fired. A hostage situation ensues as the frightened but armed Jimmy locks himself into a diner's storeroom with a worker as well as a mother and baby who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's pretty much it in the way of plot; the movie is just as slight as you'd expect from the runtime. There are tough-talking cops, concerned relatives, a TV news crew on the outside; surprisingly little of interest goes on at the scene of the action, where Jimmy tries to sort out his thoughts without ever posing a genuine threat. Anyone who yearns for the good ole' days of movies need only watch this to realize that bad films have been around much longer than message board negativity and the IMDb's Bottom 100.

Playing for laughs doesn't help things out much in The Little Shop of Horrors. In this dark, broad 1960 comedy, a struggling flower shop on Los Angeles' Skid Row sees a boost in business when wimpy delivery boy Seymour Krelboyne (Jonathan Haze) brings in his exotic cross-bred plant. Alas, the plant, which he names Audrey Jr. after his workplace love interest, has a big appetite...for human blood. Accidental deaths begin to provide secret sustenance for the Venus Flytrap-derived man-eater. While wooing the human Audrey (Jackie Joseph), Seymour becomes a helpless servant to the insatiable plant. Answering its pleas of "Feed me!" sees the plant grow to remarkable heights. As authorities investigate a number of local disappearances, English-butchering shop owner Gravis Mushnick (Mel Welles) keeps quiet so as not to disturb the unsuspecting attention that is yielding unusual profits. Though he's been advertised as the main attraction for decades, Nicholson only makes a brief appearance as a masochistic dental patient. Joe Dante regular Dick Miller makes more of an impression as a quirky patron who likes flowers for food. Simple, stagnant, and only sporadically diverting, Little Shop owes much of its reputation to Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The pair turned it into an off-Broadway musical (itself adapted to a movie starring Rick Moranis) in the early 1980s before ringing in Disney's animation Renaissance later in the decade.

"The Cry Baby Killer" finds a young Jack Nicholson making his film debut as a teenager in the center of a minor media frenzy thanks to a gun and three hostages (right). Seymour talks things over with man-eating plant Audrey Jr. in the low-budget, Roger Corman-directed, original "Little Shop of Horrors." Jack Nicholson plays a masochistic dental patient in his small but memorable role in "The Little Shop of Horrors", presented here colorized and without chapter stops.

Picture and sound are lacking on both features, partially due to their low-budget roots. Cry Baby's black and white print is aged, but though excessively dark, it reflects some restoration efforts (granting some credence to the cover sticker's claim of a new digital master). Still, its end credits suggest a widescreen presentation was in order. Little Shop, strangely designated as a bonus feature, gets treated to a lacking late-'80s coloring job, replete with fluctuating hues and an overall spottiness. Both movies suffer from muffled audio, which though encoded as Dolby 5.1, sounds like plain mono to my ears.

Aside from Little Shop, the only extras are a couple of half-minute introductions to the two films from producer Roger Corman. In Little Shop's, he brags the movie was shot in two days and one night. Why Disney has buried and colorized the longer and more esteemed of the two featured movies is an oddity to be sure. It's one which is bound to disappoint the fan base that makes Little Shop a cult classic and one of Corman's best-known works. Letdown is also in store for the Jack Nicholson fans who should be most attracted by a disc billed the "Back-to-Back Jack Edition": his turn in the "bonus" film is a single blink-and-miss scene. While there are better DVD options for the long-public domain Little Shop, this is your only option for Cry Baby. Neither movie deserves more than a curiosity rental for all but Jack's most dedicated fans, but at least you'll get to borrow two movies for the price of one.

UD Rating: out of 5

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Related Reviews: Swiss Family Robinson (1960) • Kidnapped (1960) • The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition (1989) • Desperate Housewives: Season 1 (2004-05)
Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: True-Life Adventures, Volume 1 (1950-1961) • Walt Disney Treasures: Legendary Heroes: Elfego Baca & The Swamp Fox (1958-1960)

Related DVD: The Little Shop of Horrors (1986)


Roundup posted January 13, 2007.

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