Video Picks Archive
This week my picks are Animal House (1978 - ), 1941 (1979 - ), and The Blues Brothers (1980 - ).
This week, I'll be reviewing the selections from the newly-released DVD boxed set: The John Belushi Collection. While it may not be as impressive as the Stanley Kubrick Collection, it still provides a look at the peak of a great comedian's career. After his film debut in Goin' South, original "Saturday Night Live" cast member John Belushi went on to his most successful film: Animal House. He followed with the mega-bomb 1941 and the mega-hit The Blues Brothers. He made two more unsuccessful films, then tragically died from a heroin overdose on March 5, 1982. These three works are what he is best remembered for, so let's take a look.
After making the independent cult comedy The Kentucky Fried Movie, John Landis directed his first studio film with a writing team from National Lampoon. Belushi was among a large ensemble cast (including Tim Matheson, Tom Hulce, Peter Riegert, Mark Metcalf, and debut roles for Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen) in this campus comedy set in the early 1960s. The guys in the Delta House fraternity party constantly, and Dean Wormer (John Vernon) wants to take away their charter and expel them. Animal House is a basic premise brought to near comic perfection, with Belushi stealing the show. His irreverent persona would inspire thousands of teen and college sex comedies through the next ten years. Of course, those cheap imitations drove the genre into the ground, killing it completely by the late 1980s. For pure laughs and a vintage rock soundtrack, you can't beat the original.
With his first two studio films being phenomenal successes, Steven Spielberg set out to make his first big-budget World War II epic. Unfortunately, he tried to make a comedy. Belushi's part is small in 1941, but nobody else does more for the picture. The film is supposedly based on a Japanese attempt to attack Los Angeles a few days after the Pearl Harbor bombing. It seemed that Spielberg's chief objective was to pack as many meaningless characters as possible into a single film, and to never go for more than two minutes without a massive explosion. The laughs are few and far between, with the only really good moments coming from Belushi's crazed pilot. However, this film should be seen. There are two reasons for any serious film buff to watch a particular film: because it's great, or because it's important. Some films fall into both categories, but this one is firmly in the latter. First of all, it's Spielberg's only attempt at a regular comedy. The horror of the production (oddly similar to Coppola's experience making Apocalypse Now) and the failure at the box office have prevented another. Secondly, you must have the surreal experience of watching Slim Pickens do schtick with Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee. It's Mifune's only American comedy (he even has a few lines in English) and Lee delivers most of his lines in Japanese with a German accent. It's even the film debut of Mickey Rourke. Best of all, you can get the full 146-minute director's cut on DVD. As if the 118-minute cut isn't torture enough!
And now we come to the best reason to get this collection, Landis' follow-up to Animal House, and his best film to date: The Blues Brothers. Based on the tongue-in-cheek R&B act created by Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on "SNL", this film takes their characters on a musical adventure through Chicago. They are on a "mission from God" to save an orphanage, and they enlist the help of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, James Brown, and others to put on a benefit show. While not on stage, Belushi is extremely subdued, but he and Aykroyd were never funnier. The music is great, and the screenplay by Landis and Aykroyd is brilliant. Unfortunately, it was the first "SNL" spin-off film, and proved to be an impossible act to follow. The key to this film's success was the absence of any 5-minute sketch plots to stretch out to feature length. Instead, they could be totally creative and take full advantage of the film's scope.
There you go: three films worthy of watching for one reason or another. These DVDs are all labeled "Collector's Edition" and packed with features. Buy your own set today.
For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
Animal House (1978)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Guide to Star Ratings
Capsule Reviews © 2000 Matt Heffernan