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Thursday, January 17, 2019

'Last Action Hero' Blu-ray: Schwarzenegger 'Purple Rose of Cairo'

Mill Creek Entertainment once again does the '90s proud regarding the January 15, 2019 Blu-ray release of "Last Action Hero" (1993) in retro VHS packaging. This release, which coincides with a MCE retro BD release of the John Candy comedy "Who's Harry Crumb," is among many examples of MCE facilitating a very worthwhile additional bite of the apple regarding these films. This is especially true as to the recent release of the (reviewed) 1998 teencom "Can't Hardly Wait."

The largest context for "Hero" is that it is from the waning days of the Silver Age of Hollywood in which art still (barely) often wins out over commerce. It also falls within the period between 1985 -95 in which proverbially emerging computer technology allows filmmaking to be especially cool.

One example of Hollywood embracing new tech. is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which takes blending live-action and animation beyond Disney fare, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," and other productions that have live actors interact with 'toons. A related innovation is the expert merging of black-and-white and color in the Tobey Maguire comedy "Pleasantville." 

A more widespread example of this is morphing, which allows having a character radically change his or her appearance in front of the audience. This is heavily used in "Terminator 2," which is a showcase for "Hero" star/former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Another innovation is even more relevant to "Hero." This relates to computers allowing characters in programs and films within the movie to enter each of those realities. The 1985 Woody Allen comedy "The Purple Rose of Cairo" arguably is the best-known example.

"Hero" plays homage to "Rose" by having tween fanboy Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien) enter the world of titular Dirty Harry style rogue cop Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). This adventure is courtesy of magic that a film projectionist/grandfather figure provides in a nod to Willy Wonka.

"Hero" additionally is from an era in which Schwarzenegger begins including more humor in his action-adventure films and does flat-out comedy. Comparing "True Lies" with "Kindergarten Cop" and "Jingle ALlthe Way" demonstrates which development is more successful. 

Part of the perspective related to watching "Hero" 25 years after its theatrical release is the relatability of Danny watching the Slater films in a once-grand movie palace that is now a run-down dump that is slated (no pun intended) to be converted into a multiplex. We also get a scene in which Schwarzenegger plays himself giving a red-carpet interview while future ex-wife Maria Shriver (a.k.a. Melania) stands in the background rolling her eyes. 

The final general note before discussing the merits of "Hero" itself is that the film looks great in Blu-ray. This extends beyond the scenes in sunny southern California looking bright and beautiful; this enhanced format highlights the differences between the grainy and often rainy scenes and/or darkness in the real world of New York and the aforementioned beauty of the reel world Los Angeles in the film.

The action aptly starts right away ala a "Simpsons" episode that begins with Bart watching a "McBain" movie. The first images are from "Jack Slater 3" and revolve around Schwarzenegger arriving on the scene in character to deal with a maniac holding elementary school children hostages as part of a grudge against Slater. This provides additional context from a 2018 perspective. The epidemic of 21st-century school shootings likely would preclude such a scene in a modern film. 

We then see Danny emerge from the theater into his hard-knock life in which he and his single mom Irene (Mercedes Ruehl) live in a slum; Dad is nowhere in the picture, and Irene must work hard at her menial dead-end job just to provide her and Danny minimal comforts. All of this establishes why Danny so highly values escaping into the world of Slater. 

The action fully gets underway when especially unnerving trauma and drama compel Danny to attend a verboten screening of "Jack Slater IV." It is all fun and games until the aforementioned magic drops Danny into the backseat of the vintage convertible of Slater during a chase scene. 

The real hilarity ensures after the chase concludes and Danny frantically tries to get Slater to believe him that they are inside a movie and that Slater is a Schwarzenegger character. This leads to great multiverse humor that includes satirizing buddy-cop films and includes alternative casting of a classic film role.

The aforementioned buddy-cop element leads to the stereotypical short-tempered police lieutenant (Frank McRae) assigning Slater to partner with Danny to investigate the drug kingpin (Anthony Quinn) who is making things personal for Slater. 

Things largely proceed as normal after that; our team closing in on their prey provides Schwarzenegger plenty of opportunity to deliver "knife to meet you" style puns as he battles bad guys.

Things soon turn very real when the action moves to the real world of "Hero." Slater learns about what it means to be human, and Danny is taught is even more tough truths about celluloid heroes. A bizarre Death (Ian McKellan) takes a holiday aspect of this likely is a reason for the unduly harsh panning of "Hero." Folks who still scoff should put this film in the context of recent ones such as "Tag," "Sausage Party," and even the big-budget train wreck "Batman v. Superman."

Another nice thing about "Hero" is that it largely puts right what once went wrong but is not unduly absurd regarding it. Slater does not have any life-altering experience beyond his relatively literal reality check, and Danny does not inherit the chocolate factory.​

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