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Review: This week’s releases take a trip down memory lane

This week’s releases include library titles that range from a John Hughes classic to a good-natured frat movie

Planes, Trains and Automobiles on 4K
A scene from 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'
A scene from 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'

This week’s releases include library titles that range from a John Hughes classic to a good-natured frat movie to a moment in history to a bygone dream.

5-25-77 on Blu-ray
MVD Visual

5-25-77 (Blu-ray)
During the spring of 1977, sci-fi obsessed teenager Pat Johnson (John Francis Daley) finds himself torn between making 8mm sequels to his favorite movies and pursuing the girl of his dreams, Linda (Emmi Chen). Desperate to help her son escape his likely future in Wadsworth, Illinois, (population 750), his mother Janet (Colleen Camp) cold-calls the editor of American Cinematographer magazine and Pat soon finds himself on “the ultimate trip” to Hollywood, becoming the very first outsider to see the film that would change him (and movies) forever… Star Wars. But when Pat returns to his hometown existence, he struggles to choose between chasing a seemingly impossible dream and accepting the comforting familiarity of home.

This is a story that’s been told many times in recent years: a teen boy in a small town becomes obsessed with movies and filmmaking, roping his friends into all his projects. Daley is just the right mix of quirky yet likeable for the story to work, making his fixation endearing rather than annoying. The girl initially seems like a better match due to a misunderstanding, but that doesn’t stop Pat from trying to hold onto his first love. These are stories that could never occur today due to security and increased competition, but the idea that one could end up behind the scenes of a movie simply by asking — let alone watching a blockbuster epic before it’s even released —is a pleasant fantasy. The film’s culmination, however, doesn’t go entirely as planned, likely expected to be something similar to watching That ‘70s Show’s Eric Foreman return from the theatre.

Special features include: commentary by writer/director Patrick Read Johnson, moderated by Seth Gaven, founder of the A.V. Squad and editor of the film Spaced Invaders; Q&A from the 2013 Fantasia Film Festival with director Patrick Read Johnson; photo galleries; theatrical trailers. (MVD Visual)

Heartland of Darkness on Blu-ray
Visual Vengeance

Heartland of Darkness (Blu-ray)
In the small town of Copperton, Ohio, Paul Henson (Dino Tripodis), a former big-city journalist, buys a small local newspaper. He quickly falls into a wide-reaching conspiracy of ritualistic murder and cult mind control when he discovers that the entire town may be under the spell of a Satanic reverend (Nick Baldasare) and his flock. As the clues and corpses pile up, Henson and his family are thrust into a life-or-death struggle to expose the truth and stop the demonic cabal’s reign of evil.

This is a low-budget horror movie that relies on its evil conspiracy theory to propel the movie forward. The acting is mediocre, though they do go all-in on the special effects, which generally includes a gruesome after-shot. What’s most offensive is the cult’s lack of effort in hiding their existence. The school teacher dresses salaciously and the reverend barely keeps up appearances. Their direct attempts to recruit Paul are crude, but more subtle pressures from the rest of the town create a more eerie environment.

Special features include: commentary by director Eric Swelstad, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Woelfel; commentary with Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop magazine; “Deeper Into the Darkness”; “Linnea Quigley Remembers”; image gallery; and trailers. (Visual Vengeance)

Panther on Blu-ray
MVD Marquee Collection

Panther (Blu-ray)
A time of tension. Of rioting in the streets. A time of change. In Oakland, California, 1968, The Black Panthers led by Huey Newton (Marcus Chong) and Bobby Seale (Courtney B. Vance) have armed themselves and are ready to fight for freedom. To the people, they’re heroes, but to the FBI they’re Public Enemy Number One. Now the Feds will do everything they can — on the right or wrong side of the law — to bring them down.

The movie was written by Melvin Van Peebles, based on his own novel, and directed by Mario Van Peebles. Featuring a number of recognizable actors, the film tells the story of the rise of the Black Panther Party and the circumstances that made its existence necessary. It follows its expansion from a community organization to a national movement for equal rights. On the flipside, the movie depicts the government’s and authorities’ reaction to the Panthers’ ability to organize and unite groups with similar causes, blurring racial lines. From trying to sabotage the group from within to constantly surveilling them, the crux of the fight occurs when they work outside the law to introduce crack to inner city neighbourhoods — this has been a long held theory, for which the film builds a compelling case. It’s unquestionably one-sided, but an informative portrayal nonetheless.

Special features include: theatrical trailer. (MVD Marquee Collection)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles on 4K
Paramount Home Entertainment

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (4K Ultra HD & Digital copy)
Neal Page (Steve Martin) is an uptight ad exec trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving with his family. When rerouted to Wichita, Neal reluctantly partners with Del Griffith (John Candy), an obnoxious yet loveable salesman. Together, they embark on a cross-country adventure filled with outrageously funny situations and a generous helping of warmth.

While director John Hughes was primarily known for the teen dramas that gave birth to the “Brat Pack,” he also made some equally memorable comedies about adults. This is a classic story about two characters that couldn’t be more different, but are forced into impossible situations together. In this case, Neal will do almost anything to get back to his family on time… including spending several miserable days with a man he despises, but would grow to love. Del is loud, annoying, untidy and unreliable — though he does occasionally come through with a more-or-less feasible plan that provides minimal comfort or progress. The difficulties they run into during their travels are unimaginable and hilarious, making this a timeless comedy that never falters.

Special features include: “Getting There is Half the Fun: The Story of Planes, Trains and Automobiles”; “John Hughes: Life Moves Pretty Fast”; “John Hughes for Adults”; and “A Tribute to John Candy.” (Paramount Home Entertainment)

Ski Patrol on Blu-ray
MVD Rewind Collection

Ski Patrol (Blu-ray)
The lease on the Snowy Peaks Lodge, a popular ski resort, is up for renewal and its owner Pops (Ray Walston) has no worries about signing a new lease. Despite his Ski Patrol, an out-of-control group of skiers led by Jerry (Roger Rose) and Iceman (T.K. Carter), the resort has an impeccable safety record. However, a devious land developer (Martin Mull) has other plans in mind for the resort and hires the talents of a young blonde named Lance (Corby Timbrook) to undermine the Ski Patrol’s efforts to keep the slopes safe.

There’s been a lot of movies about ne’er-do-wells coming through for something they believe is right and this is a classic version of one of those underdog stories. It’s akin to Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds, but slightly less crude and more lighthearted. The Snowy Peaks patrol like to have a good time, but still take their duty to protect skiers seriously. Though that doesn’t stop them from playing practical jokes on one another. Conversely, Lance and his crew routinely put people in danger with their antics, solidifying their roles as the movie’s villains. And just to keep things interesting, there’s a maniac on the hills with multiple personalities and a penchant for going too fast.

Special features include: theatrical trailer. (MVD Rewind Collection)

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Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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