The last Charlie Chan films from Twentieth Century Fox lead off this look at movies released on DVD.
"Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 5" (Fox, 1940-42, b/w, four discs, $49.98). These are the final films in Fox's series, all starring Sidney Toler. But unlike the previous Chan box sets with four or five titles each, there are seven here, rounding out the lengthy run that began in 1931 (with Warner Oland, until his death in 1937). These films also feature Sen Young as Chan's "No. 2 son."
• "Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise"/"Charlie Chan in Panama" (1940). The first is a familiar shipboard murder mystery, bolstered by a good cast that includes Marjorie Weaver, Lionel Atwill and Leo G. Carroll a remake of Oland's debut as Chan, "Charlie Chan Carries On" (which is, sadly, one of four lost Chan films). The second also features Atwill, this time a story about Navy ships in peril during World War II. (Both are making their home-video debut.)
• "Murder Over New York"/"Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum" (1940). "Murder" is an enjoyable wartime spy yarn set in Manhattan (with Weaver again in support), while "Wax" has atmospheric horror overtones as Chan tracks down an old nemesis. (DVD debut.)
• "Dead Men Tell"/"Charlie Chan in Rio" (1941). Pirates figure in "Dead," a treasure-hunt thriller, while "Rio" has Chan in Brazil to solve a double murder (a remake of Oland's "The Black Camel"). (Home-video debut.)
• "Castle in the Desert" (1942). Arguably the best film in this set has Chan in California where a secluded castle in the Mojave Desert provides the venue for murder. A sort of a variation on Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." (Though this was Fox's swan song for Chan films, Toler donned the role again in 1944 when poverty-row studio Monogram revived the character.) (DVD debut.)
Extras: full frame, featurette (on "Castle in the Desert"), photo galleries, trailers; eight-page booklet
"Bright Lights, Big City" (MGM, 1988; R for violence, language, drug use; $14.98). Michael J. Fox gives a strong performance in this melodrama about alcoholism and cocaine addiction. He's an aspiring writer on the verge of losing his job when he succumbs to the out-of-control lifestyle of a pal (Kiefer Sutherland). The film benefits from strong support by Jason Robards, Frances Sternhagen, Swoosie Kurtz and Dianne Wiest.
Extras: widescreen, audio commentaries, featurettes, photo gallery
"High School Flashback Collection" (Universal, 1984-85, three discs, $39.98). These three '80s high school comedies DVD reissues with new bonus features could just as easily be called "The John Hughes Collection," since they are the first three films the screenwriter also directed. In fact, maybe we should call the decade "The John Hughes '80s."
• "Sixteen Candles" (1984, PG) stars Molly Ringwald, who is completely charming as a girl whose parents have apparently forgotten her 16th birthday due to distractions with her sister's wedding. Costars include Anthony Michael Hall, Utah native Gedde Watanabe, and in smaller roles, Joan Cusack and John Cusack. Unfortunately, the film is laced with tasteless, smutty gags that undermine its best intentions (it was released just before the PG-13 rating came into play).
• "The Breakfast Club" (1985, rated R for language) is the best of these films, Hughes' observant look at troubled teens as they talk about themselves during detention, with Ringwald, Hall, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy as the kids.
• "Weird Science" (1985, PG-13) is the raunchiest, with nerds Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith using a computer to create sexy Kelly LeBrock. Co-stars include Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Paxton.
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