Remember when you looked forward to Robin Williams' movies, long before "Old Dogs" and "World's Greatest Dad"? You may be reminded by a pair of his most famous early efforts released this week with Blu-ray upgrades.
"Dead Poets Society" (Touchstone/Blu-ray, 1989, PG, $20).
"Good Morning, Vietnam" (Touchstone/Blu-ray, 1987; R for language; $20). In "Dead Poets Society," Williams offers a low-key, heartfelt performance as a new teacher at a private boys school in 1959 who bucks cloistering tradition by urging the young men to think for themselves.
"Carpe Diem" ("Seize the Day") became a national catch phrase and Williams became accepted as an actor as much as a comic after this film, athough the focus is really on the boys (led by Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke).
"Good Morning, Vietnam" is perhaps the best movie showcase for Williams' manic comic talent. The film is based on a real-life disc jockey who held court on a military radio station during the war, and it gives Williams a lot of room to riff endlessly and hilariously on a variety of subjects as he tries to keep up the soldiers' morale over the airwaves in the war zone. Forest Whitaker also impresses in support.
Extras: widescreen, audio commentary ("Vietnam" only), featurettes, improv footage, trailers
"Il Cappotto (The Overcoat)" (Raro, 1952, b/w, $29.98). A put-upon clerk yearns for an overcoat and is eventually able to make the purchase. For a time it raises his level of respectability — but then the coat is stolen. This well-played comedy-drama, based on a short story by Russian author Nikolai Gogol but with the action transferred to modern-day Italy (in the 1950s), is a whimsical, ultimately tragic tale lifted by the performance of the central actor, Renato Rascel. Nicely realized if a bit overlong at 107 minutes.
Extras: full frame, in Italian with English subtitles, deleted scenes, audio commentary; 20-page booklet
"The Last Hard Men"/"Sky Riders" (Shout!, 1976, R/PG, $19.93). This James Coburn double feature leads off with the R-rated western "The Last Hard Men," which is essentially director Victor McLaglen attempting to ape Sam Peckinpah, amping up the violence and including an unpleasant rape scene. But it's well acted with Coburn as a prison escapee bent on revenge against retired lawman Charlton Heston. (Coburn's character is named "Provo.")
"Sky Riders" is better, offbeat and entertaining but strictly by-the-numbers in terms of plot, as terrorists kidnap Susannah York, prompting her ex-husband (Coburn) to gather a team of professional hang gliders to rescue her from a mountaintop lair.
Extras: widescreen, trailers/ad spots, photo galleries
"Treasure Train" (aka "Emperor of Peru," "Odyssey of the Pacific") (Odyssey, 1982, $19.98). Eccentric, very low-budget Canadian children's fantasy aims for whimsy but only partly gets there as three youngsters help a former train engineer (Mickey Rooney) restore his ancient locomotive.
Extras: widescreen, in English and French with English subtitles, new 2011 interview with Rooney (also on Blu-ray on Jan. 31, $24.98)
"Fistful of Bullets" (Mill Creek, 1964-75, four discs, $9.98). Spaghetti westerns galore, including "Apache Blood," "Gunfight at Red Sands" and "Twice a Judas," with such stars as Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Klaus Kinski and Richard Harrison.
Extras: widescreen, 16 movies
"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (Mill Creek, 1937-54, four discs, b/w, $9.98). The title comes from the 1954 British television series starring Ronald Howard (the entire series is here) but there are also four movies, one with Basil Rathbone ("The Woman in Green") and four earlier efforts: "Murder at the Baskervilles," "The Sign of Four" and "The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes."
Extras: full frame, four movies, 39 episodes, introductions by Christopher Lee
"Bombay Beach" (eOne, 2011, $24.98). Documentary on poverty-stricken residents of the title area, a small, nearly abandoned town in California's Salton Sea area, which was once a tourist destination. Cinema verite observations mixed with staged fantasy sequences.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurette, music videos
"Age of Heroes" (eOne, 2011, $29.98). The setting is World War II as Sean Bean takes a newly formed commando team into battle in occupied Norway. Based on a true story, this old-fashioned British wartime flick may bring to mind "Where Eagles Dare," but Bean and friends are no match for Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scenes, featurettes
"Cold Sweat" (Dark Sky. 2010, $24.98). Argentine horror film has elderly villains, luring young women to a deserted mansion to conduct illicit experiments. Gory, sleazy, dumb.
Extras: widescreen, in Spanish with English subtitles, deleted/extended scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, poster gallery, comic book, trailers/ad spots