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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Comedy Tonight

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Time to shine The Bottom Shelf spotlight on the comedy section of your local video emporium. Let's see what we come up with, shall we?

The Jerk: 26th Anniversary Edition

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The Jerk: 26th Anniversary Edition
1979 (2005) - Universal

Back in my very first wish list column, I nominated Steve Martin's The Jerk as one of the movies most in need of revisiting on DVD. Judging from the e-mail I received, many of you agreed with that choice. So when I heard that Universal would be giving The Jerk an upgrade, I was downright jubilant, even though I doubt very much that my tiny corner of cyberspace had anything to do with Universal's decision. Now that I have the new disc in my hot little hands, I feel kind of like a kid on Christmas who almost got what he asked for but really didn't. This is like if you asked for a PSP and your grandparents got you one of those things with 50 video games jammed into them that they advertise on the back of Parade magazine. The difference, however, is that in that case, you'd be downright rude not to thank your grandfolks for the crappy game you didn't want. Fortunately, I am not Universal's grandson and can complain all I want about this DVD.

First of all, though, some of you may actually be wondering why this movie deserves a special edition in the first place. Mind-boggling. I think you can find out a lot about a person from their sense of humor and if I meet someone who doesn't think The Jerk is funny... well, I won't say that I can't get along with them. But there will always be a gap there.

Sure there's no real plot and the story is just a skeleton frame upon which random and absurd gags can be hung. And yeah, it's a bit more scattershot than a movie that barely makes it past the 90-minute mark should be. But the jokes that do work are side-splitting whether you've seen the movie once or, as in my case, over a dozen times. I mean, come on! A discussion of the merits of Cup O' Pizza versus Pizza in a Cup? "I'm Picking Out a Thermos for You"? "Step right up and win some crap!" This is funny stuff here, people!

Anyway, Universal's 26th Anniversary DVD does do at least a couple of things right. Their last release was fullscreen only. Finally, The Jerk can be seen in all its anamorphic widescreen glory. Sure, this isn't exactly Lawrence of Arabia but still. It looks better than it used to and all movies, no matter how rudimentary the photography, should be seen the way they were meant to be seen. If nothing else, this disc will remind you that The Jerk actually was a theatrical release. In fullscreen, it just looks like a TV special. The sound has also been upgraded to 5.1 surround sound, which isn't nearly as big a deal but it still sounds good.

Unfortunately, it's the so-called "bonus features" that turn this Jerk into a real kick in the nuts for fans, one that even Iron Balls McGinty would wince at. The TV version adds some extra footage to make up for the stuff that standards and practices made them cut. I'm certainly not advocating re-editing The Jerk into a "special edition" or "director's cut" but I do think that footage should have been included on its own. Of course, it isn't. What we get instead is a lesson on how to play "You Belong to Me" from the Ukulele Lady. Nothing against the Ukulele Lady, she seems like a very nice person. But frankly, who cares? And if you're going to do something like this, why not go all the way and demonstrate how to play the cornet part, too? To make matters worse, this isn't even the lamest bonus on here. The worst is The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova. If you'll remember in the movie itself Father Carlos shows Navin Johnson a scratchy black and white film exposing the evils of Mexican Cat Juggling. What we have here is someone's attempt (almost certainly not Steve Martin or Carl Reiner) to push that joke too far with more films. This is obviously something new shot just for this DVD and a worse idea, I can't imagine. If you're producing extras for a Steve Martin DVD and your name isn't Steve Martin, please, for the love of god, don't try to be funny.

The best extras on here are the original trailer and some extensive production notes that read like a script for an unshot documentary. Pretty pathetic when those are the best extras. So if these extras are so lame, what exactly did I expect? I understand that Steve Martin doesn't seem like he's too interested in revisiting his older stuff and contributing to extras and that's fine. So how about asking Carl Reiner to do an audio commentary? The production notes talk about a promotional gimmick where they publicized the world premiere of the trailer. How about a gallery of those ads? How about that extra footage? Or how about including Martin's Oscar-nominated short film, The Absent-Minded Waiter? I could go on and on with suggestions but I shouldn't have to, since I'm not the one getting paid to produce these DVDs.

So, much to my dismay, The Jerk is still on my wish list of movies that need to be re-released. I'm happy that at least I now have a watchable copy of the movie itself. And I guess really, that's all I need. That and this ashtray. And that's it! That's all I need. Just a watchable copy of the movie... and this ashtray... and this paddle-game. And I don't need a single other... oh, I need this! This lamp. And this paddle-game and the ashtray and a watchable copy of the movie... and this chair. But that's all I need! Just the chair and the lamp and...

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D+

Cry-Baby: Director's Cut

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Cry-Baby: Director's Cut
1989 (2005) - Focus/Universal

Finally! It took long enough but at long last, one of the major gaps in the John Waters DVD collection can be closed. Cry-Baby was Waters' first film after the surprise mainstream success of Hairspray and so far, it's the only movie he's made for a major studio (not that New Line isn't a major studio these days but his relationship with them goes way back before they hit the big time). At the time, fans of Waters' earlier films like Pink Flamingos accused him of selling out. Back then, all we knew was that he was following the PG-rated Hairspray with a retro comedy starring the kid from 21 Jump Street. Little did we know. Today, Cry-Baby still isn't a complete success but it makes a lot more sense, fitting comfortably in both the filmographies of John Waters and that kid from 21 Jump Street, Johnny Depp.

Depp plays Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, a rockabilly teen whose bad-ass attitude attracts the eye of good girl Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane). He takes her to watch him sing one night and they fall for each other like a ton of bricks. But in 1954 Baltimore, drapes and squares did not mix and Allison's square boyfriend comes after her, landing Cry-Baby in juvie. Can love conquer all?

Cry-Baby is Waters' attempt at a full-on musical/juvenile delinquent picture and he does a good job capturing the essence of those 50s movies. It's certainly better than most of those Rebel Highway remakes that some big-name directors made for Showtime awhile back, like Shake, Rattle and Rock or Robert Rodriguez's Roadracers (the best of that bunch was Joe Dante's Runaway Daughters). But while Waters nails the look and sound of those movies, he doesn't really capture the reality of the era itself. That's what made Hairspray such a great movie and it's why Cry-Baby, while often entertaining, just stays on the surface. However, most of the musical numbers are very entertaining and Depp is a lot of fun, as always. It's weirdly thrilling to see him in the middle of a typically odd Waters cast. He's surrounded by Ricki Lake as his very pregnant sister, Traci Lords in her first major non-porn movie, Iggy Pop and Susan Tyrrell as his guardians, Patricia Hearst, David Nelson (son of Ozzie and Harriet, brother of Ricky), Joe Dallesandro, Polly Bergen, Troy Donahue, and Willem Dafoe in a funny cameo as a guard.

New Line has done some very good work with their John Waters movies, so I was a little concerned that Cry-Baby, a Universal release, would fall through the cracks. Thankfully, they did a fine job with this disc. Waters was allowed to release this as a director's cut, reinstating a few scenes and getting rid of some MPAA-mandated "bleeps" that ruined a perfectly good and totally harmless joke in the theatrical version. So while this new version is officially unrated (the theatrical version was a PG-13), there's nothing in this movie that's even remotely offensive. The image and audio are both good, if not exactly great.

The disc also includes three special features, each of which are outstanding. It Came from Baltimore is a 47-minute making-of, featuring new interviews with Waters, Depp, Traci Lords, Amy Locane, and many others involved in the film. It's very extensive and full of fond memories and funny anecdotes. One of my favorites has Lords, then under investigation by the FBI for her underage porn past, asking Patty Hearst if she'd ever been arrested. It's a terrific documentary. Waters again contributes another A+ commentary track, rarely repeating what was covered in the doc and talking about the MPAA, his experiences with the studio, and his influences. Finally, we get seven minutes of deleted scenes, some of which are very funny and a bit more in line with what one might usually expect from a John Waters movie.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Cry-Baby did not replicate Hairspray's financial success and Waters hasn't had to worry about studio politics again since. But it has quietly picked up a cult since 1990 thanks to the music, the style, and of course, Johnny Depp. If you're a John Waters fan and it's been awhile since you've checked out Cry-Baby, give it another shot. You might be pleasantly surprised. And if you're a Johnny Depp fan... well, you really should see this movie. It was the first sign we had that this guy was not going to be your typical teen idol.

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A-

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004

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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004
2004 (2005) - Comedy Central (Paramount)

When it comes to the ever-exploding world of TVD (my pet name for TV on DVD), I've reviewed everything from Schoolhouse Rock to Late Night with Conan O'Brien. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had to review the nightly news. Granted, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a fake news show, one of the best satires on TV for my money. But still, releasing a collection of this show, which is so dependent on timeliness for its success, seemed a little odd. Fortunately, the episodes collected on Indecision 2004 hold up remarkably well and capture some of the show's best and brightest moments. So let's load up the DVD player and get ready to party like it's 2004!

Disc one, The Race from the White House, collects four episodes from Boston during the Democratic National Convention, which originally ran on July 27-30.

Highlights include Rob Corddry's tour of the city, Stewart's appalled reaction to the media's dismissive coverage of Al Sharpton's keynote address, a biographical film about nominee John Kerry, and best of all, Stephen Colbert's "son of a turd-miner, grandson of a goat-ball-licker" monologue. How Colbert (and, to a lesser extent, Stewart) kept a straight face during this bit, I'll never know. The disc also includes a new introduction from Stewart and a bunch of promos for other Comedy Central releases.

Disc two, Target New York, finds the team back in their home base covering the Republicans' Convention from August 31 to September 3. Guests include Ted Koppel, John McCain and MSNBC's Chris Matthews discussing his memorable showdown with crazy firebrand Zell Miller. George W. Bush gets the short film treatment in episode 2 with a piece called "Words Speak Louder Than Actions" and, in one of my favorite moments, Samantha Bee interviews a delegate from Montana. "Have you had your picture taken with a black person yet? But that's something you'd be willing to try?" I've never been prouder to come from the Treasure State. Stephen Colbert provides the intro to this disc, "Requiem For a Show That Was Daily", a very funny send-up of all those maudlin TV retrospectives you see whenever a show goes off the air.

Disc three contains the bonus material as well as two more complete episodes. The Squabble in Coral Gables covers the first presidential debate between Bush and Kerry. Also included is the hour-long Election Night '04 special, Prelude to a Recount. Neither of these are quite as funny as the episodes on the first two discs, especially the live election special. They both have their moments but mainly they're interesting as cappers to the whole process, with Stewart getting visibly angry and depressed as election night wears on and it becomes clear that the horse he bet on isn't going to win.

The disc also includes a large number of individual segments. Each of The Daily Show's four correspondents gets their own section with highlights including Stephen Colbert assembling a panel of minorities at the Democratic Convention and Rob Corddry covering the first democratic debate. I love the bit in this last segment where Corddry asks Joseph Lieberman a reasonable, well-phrased question, then immediately turns away before he can answer, just happy that he got the question out like a real journalist. Ed Helms contributes a funny intro to his section and a few of the pieces have audio commentaries by Samantha Bee, Ed Helms, Rob Corddry and Stephen Colbert. They take the commentaries about as seriously as they do the news they're reporting, so if you're actually hoping for a real commentary track here, you're watching the wrong DVD. Other bonus segments on this disc includes the hilarious Schoolhouse Rock spoof, "Midterm Elections", John Edwards' announcement of his candidacy for President, Steve Carell's day on the Howard Dean campaign, and the national anthem sung in 4-correspondent harmony. No, seriously.

Sure, there's something surreal about watching election results and convention coverage on DVD. But if you're a political junkie or a Daily Show fan (and really, if you're one, you're probably the other), you won't mind at all. The Daily Show is very smart and very funny. You probably won't spin these discs very often, at least not in their entirety. But the best moments in this package are worth revisiting. I don't think we need to see every episode of The Daily Show immortalized on disc. But as a time capsule of important events, this sure beats a history book.

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C+/C+

Shelf Space - The Early Films of John Waters

Contrary to popular belief, Cry-Baby is not the last remaining John Waters film to be released on DVD. What self-respecting fan wouldn't want a box set that includes Waters' earliest shorts and features: Multiple Maniacs, Mondo Trasho, Eat Your Makeup!, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket, Roman Candles and The Diane Linkletter Story. I've never seen any of these movies and I'm the first to admit that I want them released just so I can see them. I'm sure some, if not all of these movies are in pretty rough shape and yeah, this little fantasy box set of mine isn't going to be a huge bestseller. That's why Waters needs to team up with a specialty label like Fantoma or Blue Underground or somebody to make it a reality. There are plenty of these smaller companies around now and more cropping up every day, seems like. I'm sure they'd all jump at the chance to work with John Waters on bringing his earliest films to light. Or even better, maybe he can do like David Lynch did with Eraserhead and release them himself through his own company. Sure, it would be a lot of work. But if you need a hand with it, Mr. Waters, drop me a line. Let's get these movies out there!

Adam Jahnke

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