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WIDESCREEN WINNERS

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Jan. 9, 2015

The manufacture-on-demand site Warner Archive has been releasing older movie titles for film buffs and aging fans for several years now — mostly titles that have never before been on DVD, and many that had never been released on any home-video format.

But now the site has taken to releasing widescreen versions of movies that have been on DVD for years but never in that format. These are films that were cropped for TV viewing back when the standard size was nearly square.

The best film in this first round is by far "Running On Empty" (1988), an excellent drama about 1960s activists (Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch) that have been on the run for nearly two decades as their two sons have grown up under false identities. But now that the oldest son (River Phoenix) is approaching adulthood, he wants his own life, but recognizes that it could put his parents in jeopardy. Excellent in all respects, and this new widescreen version adds a scope that enhances audience involvement.

Here are the others:

"My Blue Heaven" (1990, PG) and "The Man With Two Brains" (1983). The thinking when these were released on DVD was that it didn't matter if comedies were widescreen or full frame, but the width here does add something even to these Steve Martin wild-and-crazy farces. In the first he's a hood in the witness-protection program and in the second he's a mad scientist in love with a brain in a jar.

"The Black Scorpion" (1957, b/w) is a low-budget creature feature about the title monsters climbing out of a fissure in the earth after an earthquake. Richard Denning stars, with stop-motion effects by Willis O'Brien, who also gave us "King Kong."

"Divine Madness" (1980, R) is Bette Midler's musical-comedy stage revue, released after she became an Oscar-nominated movie star with "The Rose" the year before.

"Joe's Apartment" (1996, PG-13). This gross-out farce stars Jerry O'Connell as a naïve Midwesterner taken advantage of when he moves to New York until a community of singing cockroaches help him find some confidence.