Travolta musicals, Hanks’ ‘Big’ lead latest Blu-ray party

[5 May 2009]

By Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

A pair of memorable musicals starring John Travolta, “Grease” (Paramount, 1978, $39.99) and “Saturday Night Fever” (Paramount, 1977, $39.99), and a delightful Tom Hanks comedy, “Big” (20th Century Fox, 1988, $34.98), top this week’s lineup of Blu-ray releases.

“Grease” is a nostalgic and energetic look at those high schools days of the 1950s (or at least the way most of us like to visualize them). Travolta is outstanding as Danny Zucko, complete with leather-jacket and slick hair, who is back for his senior year at Rydell High.

Olivia Newton-John shines as Sandy Olsson, the girl from Australia who fell for Danny when the two met at the beach during summer vacation. Danny also felt the tug at his heartstrings but the two never thought they would see each other again. Imagine Danny’s surprise when Sandy also shows up at Rydell.

Sandy is puzzled when Danny all but gives her the cold shoulder and goes into his “I’ve-got-to-be-cool-in-front-of-the-guys” routine. That’s enough of a story line to jump start one of Hollywood’s last great movie musicals, which sounds and looks terrific in the high-definition format.

It’s all here — a hot rod race, a night at the drive-in movies, a dance in the school gym and a rockin,’ rollin’ good time. Some of the top musical moments include “Summer Nights,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Born to Hand Jive” and the climatic “We Go Together.” The topper, though, is Travolta and Newton-John teaming up for the rousing “You’re the One That I Want.”

The two are aided by an all-star cast, with Stockard Channing in top-notch form as Betty Rizzo, leader of the Pink Ladies. Also lending a hand are Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Sid Caesar, Ed “Kookie” Byrnes and Dodie Goodman. Among the extras are Travolta and Newton-John reminiscing about making the film as well as some deleted and extended scenes.

“Grease” was the top box-office hit of 1978. Highly recommended.

“Saturday Night Fever” is the film that made Travolta a full-fledged star. This is not a musical in the sense that everyone breaks into song, but it is the music that gives the film extra allure. Couple that with Travolta’s performance as Tony Manero and you’ve got one of the most popular films of the disco-oriented ‘70s. It’s not a stretch to say that it was a chronicle of the mores and attitudes of many of that decade’s young people.

Tony works in a Brooklyn paint store and lives with his family, who spend most of their nights bickering at the dinner table. Tony’s one escape comes on Saturday night when he heads to the 2001 Odyssey, a club where he and his friends dance the night away. (OK, they do a few others things, too.) With his dancing ability, Tony has become something of a local legend.

The film is not all music and dancing. Part of it deals with Tony’s eventual realization that there must be more in life than hanging around a disco every weekend.

Still, it is the music and Travolta on that dance floor which linger in the mind long after the film has ended. The Bee Gees contributed the bulk of the soundtrack with such numbers as “Staying Alive,” “Night Fever,” “More Than a Woman,” “How Deep is Your Love” and “Jive Talkin.” Also heard are songs from K.C. & the Sunshine Band, Rick Dees and Kool & the Gang. “Saturday Night Fever” is definitely recommended.

Tom Hanks was still a few films away from superstardom when he made “Big,” but it demonstrated that his box-office appeal was on a rapid rise. Josh Baskin (David Moscow) is a 13-year-old kid who wishes he was big. The next morning he wakes up in an adult body (Hanks’). Inside, though, Josh is still a kid.

Josh finds himself out on the street after his mother takes him for a stranger in the house. Hanks is terrific at showing us how a kid might act in an adult body and the situations he faces while trying to adjust to the grown-up world. Josh ends up in New York, where he gets a job at a toy company testing toys. What kid wouldn’t like a job like that?

His boss (Robbert Loggia) takes an immediate liking to him after the two play chopsticks with their dancing feet on a giant floor piano. It’s one of the film’s many highlights, as is Josh’s relationship with co-worker Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). A comedy with heart, “Big” earned Hanks his first Academy Award best actor nomination. Recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (Paramount, 1986, $39.99): Matthew Broderick stars as Ferris, who decides to take a day off from high school to show his friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) a good time. Just to make sure they have plenty of fun, Ferris persuades Cameron to “borrow” his dad’s Ferrari. They also get Sloane (Mia Sara) out of class so she can come along. It’s a fun film about a wise guy who does a lot of things we wished we could have done and gotten away with when we were in high school. Recommended.

“Bleak House” (BBC, 2005, $49.99): This richly layered adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel is filled with mystery, murder and unforgettable characters. Gillian Anderson so immerses herself in the role of the rich but often bored Lady Dedlock that you forget she once played Scully on “The X-Files.” The production is beautifully mounted and also benefits from fine performances by Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther and Charles Dance as the dastardly attorney Tulkinghorn. Recommended.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount, 2008, $39.99): This fantasy was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won three for art direction, makeup and visual effects. It is, as the title indicates, a curious film, but it is difficult to stop watching it. Brad Pitt plays Benjamin Button, who is born old and looks like someone in his 80s. As he begins to grow up, he also begins to grow younger. That makes for some strained romantic relationships including the one with Daisy (Cate Blanchett). Recommended.

“Dexter: The Complete Second Season” (Paramount, 2007, $59.99): Michael C. Hall is back for 12 more episodes of playing Dexter Morgan, the Miami forensics expert. When he’s away from the lab, Dexter deals out his own brand of justice to the human vermin that inhabit the area. This Showtime series has gained much praise.

“There’s Something About Mary” (20th Century Fox, 1998, $34.98): Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller and Matt Damon star in this romantic comedy that is most noted for its gross-out elements. Stiller plays Ted, who had a big crush on Mary (Diaz) when the two were in high school together. Now, as an adult, Ted gets a second chance to impress Mary. But can he pull it off?.

“Roxanne” (Sony, 1987, $28.95): Steve Martin plays long-nosed Charlie Bales, who tries to win the heart of Roxanne Kowalski (Daryl Hannah). Charlie may not have the looks but he has plenty of personality. Inspired by “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Also in the cast are Shelley Duvall, Fred Willard and John Kapelos.

“Incendiary” (Image/ThinkFilm): Michelle Williams plays a young mother in London whose life is jolted when she learns her husband and son have been killed during a terrorist bombing at a soccer stadium. Making it even worse is the fact that she was having an affair with journalist Jasper Black (Ewan McGregor) while the deaths took place. The film focuses on how she copes with the aftermath and the events that follow.

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