Days of Thunder

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$29.99 Blu-ray, $29.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman, Michael Rooker, Cary Elwes, John C. Reilly, Fred Dalton Thompson.

Almost immediately upon its release in 1990, Days of Thunder was labeled by critics as a car racing version of Top Gun, a reputation that isn’t exactly unearned.

Days of Thunder shares the same production team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, the same director in Tony Scott, and also stars Tom Cruise, who plays another hotshot looking to fulfill his need for speed with reckless abandon.

In this case, Cruise’s character is named Cole Trickle, an Indy circuit washout looking to make a name for himself in NASCAR. He takes on the mentorship of a master pit crew chief played by Robert Duvall, but a devastating crash shakes his confidence.

Robert Towne’s screenplay (with Cruise sharing a story credit) throws not one but two rivals at Trickle. First is Michael Rooker’s Rowdy Burns, the top dog of the circuit whose career is cut short in the same wreck that impairs Cole. When they become fast friends due to shared misfortune, Rowdy asks Cole to take over his racing team, setting up the showdown with rival No. 2, another rookie driver named Russ Wheeler, played by Cary Elwes, whose blink-and-you’ll-miss-it introduction obscures a rise through the ranks so unexpectedly rapid that one wonders why the movie isn’t about him.

The requisite love interest, which like with Top Gun comes with professional complications, is Cole’s and Rowdy’s neurologist, played by Nicole Kidman, who was 22 at the time of filming lest anyone wish to question the likelihood of her character’s medical credentials. The swirling rumors of the day suggested Cruise became enamored with Kidman after seeing her in 1989’s Dead Calm and arranged for her to be in Days of Thunder so they could meet. When 1990 began he had been married to Mimi Rogers, but divorced her in February. Cruise and Kidman were married from December 1990, six months after Days of Thunder hit theaters, to 2001.

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For the most part, Days of Thunder comes across as a series of exciting racing scenes and establishing shots of NASCAR speedways strung together with a by-the-numbers plot and some perfunctory dialogue. Duvall is as good as he usually is, while Cole Trickle is such a stock character in the Tom Cruise mold that naming him is more a screenwriting formality than a necessity of the story.

This new edition of Days of Thunder is presented as both a standalone Blu-ray under the “Paramount Presents” label, as well as a 4K Ultra HD disc with digital copy. The 4K version doesn’t come with a separate Blu-ray Disc, which is something of a break from the industry norm of 4K/Blu-ray combo packs, so consumers will have to pick whether they want the higher-definition resolution of the 4K version or the fancy Paramount Presents slipcover with fold-out movie poster. The film looks great either way, particularly because the racing footage is so good.

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The new Days of Thunder Blu-ray seems to have avoided the fate of most of the other titles in the Paramount Presents line, which to this point has offered Blu-ray re-releases with most of the bonus materials from previous editions left out this go-around (it seems anything previously available only in SD got the axe, with maybe a new short retrospective featurette to replace it).  That’s because the previous Days of Thunder Blu-ray from 2008 had zero extras on it aside from the film’s trailer, so anything offered here is a step up. The extras, sparse as they may be, are the same on both the Blu-ray and 4K discs.

The new discs don’t include the trailer, but they do have a seven-minute “Filmmaker Focus” featurette which is essentially a retrospective interview with Bruckheimer interspersed with clips from the movie.

There’s also an isolated audio track containing just Hans Zimmer’s musical score, his first of many collaborations with the Bruckheimer/Simpson team. Zimmer’s music is a highlight of the movie, but compared with the rest of Zimmer’s works it comes across as one of the more generic efforts in a career built on establishing a baseline sound for reliable action cues.

Mike’s Picks: ‘King Creole’ and ‘Destry Rides Again’

King Creole

Paramount, Musical, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones,Walter Matthau, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger.
1958.
King Creole was, like most of Elvis’ pre-army screen outings, shot in black-and-white. But there was nothing stingy about the production, and the New Orleans locales that producer Hal Wallis sprung for add immeasurably to the ambience right from the opening, synching beautifully with the studio-shot material that makes up the bulk of the drama.
Read the Full Review

Destry Rides Again

Criterion; Western; $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray; NR.
Stars Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Brian Donlevy, Jack Carson, Irene Hervey, Charles Winninger.
1939.
Destry Rides Again is likely the most respected film from director George Marshall, and also the best comic Western of all time.
Extras: Criterion’s extras are very cool, including Marshall talking about working during Hollywood’s formative years. And the insights from Donald Dewey, author of James Stewart — A Biography, are impressive.
Read the Full Review

 

‘Pretty in Pink’ Making Blu-ray Debut June 16 Through Paramount Presents Line

Paramount Home Entertainment June 16 will re-release the 1986 teen comedy Pretty in Pink on Blu-ray Disc for the first time as part of its Paramount Presents line.

Designed for collectors and fans, Paramount Presents showcases notable films from the studio’s library in collectible slipcases that include a foldout image of the film’s original theatrical poster.

Produced and written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch, Pretty in Pink stars Molly Ringwald as a girl from a working class family and Andrew McCarthy as the rich heartthrob who asks her to the prom. But as fast as their romance builds, it’s threatened by the painful reality of peer pressure. The cast also includes Jon Cryer, James Spader, Harry Dean Stanton and Annie Potts.

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The Blu-ray offers the film ewly remastered from a 4K transfer supervised by Deutch. Extras include a new “Filmmaker Focus” featurette with Deutch and, for the first time, the film’s isolated score track from composer Michael Gore. Also included is the previously released featurette “The Lost Dance: The Original Ending.”

Paramount Releasing 40th Anniversary ‘Airplane!’ Blu-ray July 21

Paramount Home Entertainment July 21 will re-release the comedy Airplane! on Blu-ray as part of its Paramount Presents line to celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary. A limited-edition Steelbook Blu-ray also will be available.

Robert Hays stars as an ex-fighter pilot forced to take over the controls of an airliner when the flight crew succumbs to food poisoning.  The all-star cast also includes Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The film spoofs airplane disaster flicks, religious zealots, television commercials and anything else the filmmakers want to take aim at.

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The new Blu-ray will include the film newly remastered from a 4K transfer supervised by writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker. Extras include a new “Filmmaker Focus” featurette on the directors, a new Q&A with the directors recorded at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood in January 2020, an isolated music score by Elmer Bernstein, and previously released audio commentary with the directors and producer Jon Davison.

King Creole

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Drama;
$29.99 Blu-ray:
Not rated.
Stars Elvis Presley, Carolyn Jones,Walter Matthau, Dolores Hart, Dean Jagger.  

Well known to even cursory fans as Elvis Presley’s fourth and final film before Uncle Sam got him — and also, in the opinion of many, his best film — 1958’s King Creole was, like three of his four pre-army screen outings, shot in black-and-white. But there was nothing stingy about the production, and the New Orleans locales that producer Hal Wallis sprung for add immeasurably to the ambience right from the opening, synching beautifully with the studio-shot material that makes up the bulk of the drama. A lot of writers claim that KC is in VistaVision as you’d expect a Paramount realease of that time to be, but neither posters nor the on-screen credits say this, nor does it look like VistaVision to my eyes. It does, though, boast a first-rate cinematographer, Russell Harlan (Red River and To Kill a Mockingbird are two of many shot by him).

One of several seemingly endless projects intended for James Dean and taken over by other actors upon his death, Elvis’s character was changed to a busboy-turned-nightclub-singer caught between competing owners and two very different women. Of the latter, Carolyn Jones — heavily into that “kookie” phase that defined her entire career — is a bag of neuroses as mistress to the drunken nasty one of the two club rivals (Walter Matthau in one of the best of his early movie roles). The other woman is a dreamboat “nice girl” played by Dolores Hart, still my absolute favorite of that era’s newcomers, lover of porcelain beauty that I am. Working the counter at a local five-and-dime, she seems surprisingly OK with wanting to date Elvis, even though she’s the one employee who picks up on the fact that his singing-troubadour stroll through the store for the customer’s enjoyment is in reality an planned distraction so that his so-called colleagues ran rifle the joint.

Ahhhhhh, Sister Dolores, who is what Hart became after leaving Hollywood to become a nun in the early ’60s, but that’s for another time. Other than to note that this was the second time she’d performed heart-melting labors in an Elvis pic, following the previous year’s Loving You (which, by the way, is in VistaVision and badly needs a restoration.)

Elvis has, as they used to say, “fallen in with a bad lot” — partly in response to his proclivity for being forbidden from graduating from high school (this time, he pops a guy on school grounds before the very last day of classes). And partly in response to the lifelong wimp-dom of his pharmacist father (Dean Jagger), which was exacerbated by the death of the Elvis character’s mother, which led to the loss of the old man’s pharmacy and his worsening life reality of taking the worst kind of guff from everyone. (Including his new boss, something that Elvis covertly witnesses. This is after dad preaches unyielding adherence to the idea of graduation from school in lieu of the much bigger bucks his son can make headlining as a singer. Elvis sees how far that got him.

Of course, he’s hardly a headliner right off the bat and has to take patronizing guff himself of the kind busboys sometimes endure — until, in standard showbiz movie fashion, Matthau tries to humiliate him by asking him to sing for the customers, whereupon he’s a smash. At this point, what has been a straight drama becomes a drama with lots of music — too much for my taste, given that the score has its share of clunkers. Oddly, the tune that RCA Victor elected to release as an RCA Victor single — “Hard Headed Woman” (b/w “Don’t Leave Me Now”) is totally thrown away, though it went to No. 1, as did the soundtrack LP. Of course, this isn’t to say that winners don’t abound as well, including the title tune, also “Trouble” (which he reprised to kick off his 1968 comeback TV special), and “As Long As I Have You,” one his best ballads ever, which contributes to one of the most emotionally satisfying movie wrap-ups I know.

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Man, no wonder this is Elvis’ longest picture because his sister is falling for Matthau’s owner rival (Paul Stewart) despite a 20-year age difference (I love it that no one in those days, morals police or otherwise, gave a damn). To say nothing of mistress Jones going off the rails increasingly by minute, Matthau now trying to pimp her out, a needless production number by Liliane Montevecci, whose big-screen appeal I never got, and Elvis’s punk buddies (led by a very young-looking Vic Morrow) back in the alley with weaponized broken bottles trying to reengage him in crime. Maybe this is an argument for staying in school, but the money is suddenly good.

Directing this is veteran onetime superstar Michael Curtiz, whose career kind of fell apart after the collapse of the studio system, but he did manage White Christmas, this semi-ringer and my very soft spot for swan song The Comancheros, but by that time Curtiz was dying, and star John Wayne reportedly took over as director. Elvis responded with enthusiasm to having a name filmmaker, and both the star’s smirkily amused reactions to Jones’s machinations and reciprocated affection are credible. As natural as Elvis’s raw talent was, I doubt if frequent director and career-long albatross Norman Taurog could have gotten nearly as much out of him.

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For the launch of “Paramount Presents,” its sparse so-called Blu-ray “line,” Paramount has employed my old bud Leonard Maltin to give about a seven-minute overview — a pro job, obviously, but hardly an example of hoopla. He opines himself that this is Elvis’ best movie, but by a sliver-and-a-half, I think I’ll go with the second movie he made back from the army (Don Siegel’s Flaming Star), which was a commercial flop but tighter.

King Creole was Elvis’s only predominantly serious drama to catch on and sent him off to the army with great screen promise that Colonel Parker ultimately wouldn’t let him fulfill upon his return.

Mike’s Picks: ‘King Creole’ and ‘Destry Rides Again’