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'Joe Versus the Volcano' leads Blu-ray upgrades for vintage movies

Posted June 28

Several vintage movies have landed on Blu-ray for the first time, led by a quirky comedy from 1990.

“Joe Versus the Volcano” (Warner Archive, 1990, PG, featurette, music video, trailer). Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan co-starred in two of the mid- to late-1990s most beloved romantic comedy hits, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” But a few years earlier, they were paired in this outlandish farce that was a moderate financial success but has since gained a larger cult following. I confess that I loved it in 1990, which went against the general critical consensus, but watching it again, well, I still love it.

Hanks is perfect as a hapless working stiff diagnosed with “brain cloud” and told that he will soon die. Then an eccentric millionaire (Lloyd Bridges) makes a bizarre proposition: If Hanks will agree to jump into a remote South Seas island volcano to appease the natives who are reluctant to sell their mineral rights, Bridges will give him a blank check to live it up along the way. Hanks takes the leap, so to speak.

Writer-director John Patrick Shanley, an Oscar-winner for his “Moonstruck” screenplay, has stuffed this one with wry satire and off-kilter gags, as well as warmth and wit, and something to say about the human condition. Ryan is brilliant in three very different roles and the first-rate supporting cast includes Ossie Davis, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda and Dan Hedaya. It’s idiosyncratic, but if you can get into its wacky rhythms, there’s a lot of fun to be had. (The Blu-ray debut is available at wbshop.com.)

“The Ballad of Cable Hogue” (Warner Archive, 1970, R for sex and brief nudity, audio commentary, featurette). In 1908, with the frontier giving way to industrial encroachment, a failed but indefatigable prospector (Jason Robards) is stranded in the desert until he discovers a spring, lays claim to it and builds a surprisingly successful business. This episodic fable is a cheerful change of pace for filmmaker Sam Peckinpah and gives Stella Stevens one of her best roles. (The Blu-ray debut is available at wbshop.com.)

“The Gumball Rally” (Warner Archive, 1976, PG, trailer). A wealthy candy maker (Michael Sarrazin) gathers fellow auto enthusiasts to New York City for a cross-country car race with just one rule: “There are no rules.” A variety of characters show up in this amusing chase comedy, including a Los Angeles cop that tries to catch them. If the plot reminds you of the later “Cannonball” and the two “Cannonball Run” movies, it’s because all four were inspired by the same real-life British race, the Gumball 3000. (The Blu-ray debut is available at wbshop.com.)

“Car Wash” (Shout Select, 1976, PG, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer, radio spots). This popular ’70s comedy, which is surprisingly vulgar for its PG rating, was a showcase for then-up-and-coming comics in skits strung together with the meager plot of a day in the life of employees and customers at a Los Angeles car wash. Included are Richard Pryor, just before he hit it big with “Silver Streak”; George Carlin, just before he began his star-making string of HBO specials; and Garrett Morris, who was just beginning his second season as part of “Saturday Night Live’s” original cast.

“Trespass” (Shout Select, 1992; R for violence, language, drugs; deleted scenes, featurettes, music video, trailer). A kinetic and jarring crime thriller, this one is efficient in its story of a pair of firemen (nice guy Bill Paxton, greedy William Sadler), who learn of a cache of gold religious artifacts stolen some 50 years earlier, little realizing the building where they’re stashed will lure them into a confrontation with a ruthless gang of thugs. A typically violent action picture from director Walter Hill (“48 Hrs.”), with an atypical screenplay by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”).

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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