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Amazing Stories (S1)
DVD disk
08.16.2006 By: Jason Coleman
Amazing Stories (S1) order
Director:
Steven Spielberg, Various

Actors:
Kevin Costner
Charlie Sheen
Harvey Keitel

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In this case, it’s all in the title; a batch of amazing stories from the creative mind of maestro Steven Spielberg. This is the complete first season of the mid-80’s television series.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
It may date me a bit, but I remember watching this series on TV when it first came out. As a wide eyed kid, I have a vivid memory of being both fascinated and hooked by it. Seeing the show now and through a much more critical eye, my opinions have changed slightly, as I found I wasn’t as engrossed as I was so many years earlier. (Although it could also be because this show looks so dated, it’s pure 80’s through and through!) Not that there isn’t some good stuff too, but there are definitely peaks and valley’s, so let’s open the Stories book and take a quick and decisive look to see which ones are actual Amazing tales.

Disc One:

Ghost Train: One of two episodes directed by creator Spielberg, with an old man determined to get on a mystical train that is known only in legend. Much too heavy handed for a master like Spielberg, with a slow start that seems to get even longer as the story unfolds. It has a few cute moments, mostly involving a really young Lukas Haas (for a more impressive and grown up Haas check out BRICK!), but overall a disappointing tale that has far too much self importance and not enough of the magic one has come to expect from the man who has given the world so many great adventures.

The Main Attraction: I recall this one being my favorite episode when I was a kid, but my, my, how times change. This story of an obnoxious high school jock who finds himself with an unusual power is directed by Matthew Robbins (who also helmed the totally 80’s flick THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN) and it’s a complete period piece. Every frame, every piece of clothing, every prop used is immersed and dated firmly in 80’s culture and let me tell you folks, it has not aged well!

Alamo Jobe: This one starts with a great concept - what if the battle at the Alamo got time warped with modern day where there is no war but merely a gift shop and many tacky tourists? Unfortunately, this one then lags in the middle, not really knowing where to go, but ultimately bringing it back home for the end. Could have done much more with it, but there is a bit of Amazing in there!

Mummy, Daddy: A truly great tongue-in-cheek story of an actor who is so obsessed with getting to the hospital for the birth of his child that he forgets to take his frighteningly real mummy horror make-up outfit off. This one is helmed superbly by HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS’ Director William Dear and with 80’s staple actor Bronson Pinchot (love you Balki!) as a smarmy director, this one guarantees an amazingly funny time!

The Mission: Thankfully with this second Spielberg directed episode, the man behind the series redeems himself. And while The Mission, a story about a damaged WWII plane that becomes a life and death struggle for the crew, starts off a little slow, it’s only to build to a very unique and imaginative climax. (With a hint of cheese factor!) Plus this one is star studded, complete with Costner, a young Casey Siemaszko, and an even younger, baby faced Kiefer Sutherland! (Jack’s back…and he’s a teenager!)

The Amazing Falsworth: One of the more adult themed stories, with Gregory Hines playing a nightclub psychic who accidentally reads the mind of a serial killer. Could have been great if not for the obvious hints in the story, which early on ruin any and all suspense to anyone over the age of five. Director Peter Hyams had the talent, but needed a script that was a lot less obvious! (Shout out to character actor Don Calfa who plays “the messenger”, you rock bro!)

Disc Two:

Fine Tuning (17:28): What starts off as an interesting tale about a kid who builds an antenna that reaches out into space, quickly turns into one of the most sickeningly cute and schmaltzy episodes ever. And with 80’s geek Matthew Laborteaux (DEADLY FRIEND alert!) along for the ride, I wish I had jumped on the space ship and been taken away!

Mr. Magic (16:12): One of my favorites both then and now, with veteran actor Sid Ceaser giving a tour-de-force performance as an aging magician on his way out. The episode definitely walks the line of being over-sappy, but it’s Ceaser’s fine work that keeps this one on the right side of the road – an amazing story thanks to an amazing performance.

Guilt Trip (18:29): This tale of Guilt and Love (in human form no less) meeting on a cruise and falling in love is helmed by actor Burt Reynolds and it feels like it, as the cast is both familiar and wrong. Reynolds favorites Dom DeLuise and Loni Anderson are the two lovers in question and I have to tell you, I would believe that Brett Ratner is a directing genius sooner then buying that these two were in love. This one is light and fluffy which bodes well; it may float away!

Remote Control Man (15:46): I don’t remember and I couldn’t find any record of it, but Amazing Stories must have been aired on NBC, 'cause this episode, which features a man who changes his entire life via a TV remote, is chocked full of celebs – all stars of hit NBC shows! An awful excuse for an episode (did Bob Clark, the genius behind A CHRISTMAS STORY and PORKY’S really direct this turkey!?), as this one feels like a stab at getting ratings for sweeps week – shame on you Dirk “Faceman” Benedict!

Santa ‘85 (18:33): While we need another disillusioned person at Christmas tale like a hole in the head, this one is like a sip of hot chocolate, it will warm the cockles for a moment, but leave one needing more. Especially because this one is directed by Phil Joanou, who made the great 80’s classic THREE O’CLOCK HIGH. (Jerry Mitchell vs. Buddy Revell + hot and under-rated actress Anne Ryan = instant classic!) A good one to put on during the holiday season if you have nothing else to watch!

Vanessa In The Garden (18:33): A truly embarrassing episode directed by none other than…Clint Eastwood? This is definitely prior UNFORGIVEN, as Eastwood has absolutely no finesse with the camera, actors or storytelling, it’s a complete mess. When you can’t use an actor like Harvey Keitel in a role as a grieving character (see BAD LIEUTENANT, THE PIANO, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, the list goes on and on!) devastated by the death of his wife and make it work, someone needs to go back to directing school. (Thank God he did!)

Disc Three:

The Sitter (17:28): What starts off as a turkey, turns out to be very clever, with a spiritual nanny giving two obnoxious brats a taste of their own medicine. And while it’s cute to see a very small Seth Green with a high pitched voice running around, it’s definitely actress Mabel King’s charisma that kept this one going. (She can make a voodoo doll of me any day!)

No Day At The Beach (16:12): This one gets the award for being the best looking of all the episodes, with a black and white tone that gives an authentic WWII feel. So while this one sports a young Charlie Sheen as a member of platoon that teases a dorky soldier, who turns out to be a most unlikely hero, it’s the cinematography and set design that make this one a classic.

One For The Road (18:29): Again, yet another episode with an interesting premise - a bunch of losers at a bar decide to take out a life insurance policy on an old local drunk, hoping to reap the windfall – that comes up short because of being too drawn out and just plain slow. More a Tales From The Crypt episode than an Amazing Story, where actors like James Cromwell, Geoffrey Lewis and Joe “Pants” Pantoliano can’t even hold it together.

Gather Ye Acorns (15:46): This is the epitome of what an Amazing Story should be – with plenty of human drama, magic and a little something for the geeks out there - this one’s got it all. A troll tells a boy to take life easy (meaning forget work!) and never throw anything away. The result, which spans over a lifetime, is one of suffering and redemption. Add to it a rare and memorable piece of work by Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill and you’ve got a real winner! (Watch for young a Forest Whitaker as a comic book geek!)

Boo! (18:33): With the great comedy team of Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel writing and Joe “don’t call me the GREMLINS guy” Dante directing, this one should have been way better. Instead, the story of a house haunted by two old spirits, whose new inhabitants are porn people, goes from bad to pure 80’s cheese. (Look at the hair and tight spandex on Robert Picardo!) No Boo! here, just a slight whimper from me in the corner trying to get away from this one!

Dorothy And Ben (18:33): Playing on the heartstrings is one thing; pulling them right out of the chest is another. Director Thomas Carter, who also unsurprisingly helmed One For The Road, tries way too hard and the result is an episode that weighs to heavy on emotions, almost to a sickening point. Man wakes from coma, only to hear the voice of a girl in a coma, sounds like a simple and easy story, no? I want to say less is more, but I have to remember, it was the excess 80’s!

Disc Four:

Mirror, Mirror (17:28): This one, surprisingly directed by Martin Scorsese, seems like his ode to Romero and Fulci, as it’s about a horror movie director that keeps seeing a zombie coming for him - but only in the mirror. And even though it really doesn’t feel like a “Scorsese Picture”, it’s effective none the less. (In a CREEPSHOW kind of way!) Weird cameo alert – Tim Robbins plays the Zombie, but in make-up is virtually un-recognizable!

Secret Cinema (16:12): This is a rare treat; late subversive cult filmmaker Paul Bartel took the story from his 1968 film and re-made it here and the result is terrific. A woman feels as though her life is being filmed, with of course Bartel and regular Mary Woronov playing multiple roles and hijinks. (And a little Griffin Dunne ala AFTER HOURS, thrown in for good measure!) How this episode ever made it to TV I don’t get, but thank God it did. A real tribute to the legacy of Grade-B that was Paul Bartel, RIP. (Look for his other Amazing Stories episode Gershwin’s Trunk in a future Season release!)

Hell Toupee (18:29): Hell Toupee, the story of a toupee that climbs on heads and forces the recipient to kill, may have been simply just trying to be funny and flippant, but I wasn’t laughing. Bad story, bad acting, bad jokes, and bad direction (comedy is not Director Irvin Kershner’s strong suit – stick to action flicks!), leave a bad taste. I’d rather be bald.

The Doll (15:46): A very pretentious story, about a man who becomes obsessed with a beautiful doll and how it was created, is saved by a great piece of acting, in this case the work of actor John Lithgow. (Is he in every anthology series, or what!?) In any other actor’s hands, this one would have been laughable, but with the level of Lithgow, the episode gets more then it deserves.

One For The Books (18:33): This is one that’s so bad it’s good; it’s one of those guilty pleasures. A janitor at a local University begins to retain all information he sees, spouting off French and Math like a first language. It’s fluffy, but in a good way, with a cast that sells the story. Nuff said.

Grandpa’s Ghost (18:33): What could have been a really touching, haunting, and memorable episode in the hands of an experienced director, is instead given the snooze fest treatment by actor/director Timothy Hutton. Slow and very unsteady, everyone here, from the actors to the set designer, suffers at the hands of the unskilled director Hutton. Stick to acting, bro. (One point for including that great old sounding song!)
THE EXTRAS
While there are some Deleted Scenes, there is a very distinctive up yours smell in terms of extras coming off this set. Shame.

Disc One:

The Main Attraction (0:20): Again, does twenty seconds constitute being called a deleted scene? If so, this is no poster child, as it’s as short, bad and anti-climactic as it gets folks. Be ashamed Universal!

Disc Two:

Guilt Trip (0:41): More with DeLuise fawning over Anderson, in what seems to be gag reel material as opposed to a deleted scene. Mildly amusing.

Remote Control Man (0:43): Name that tune, huh? It sounds like…these scenes are short and they suck!

Vanessa In The Garden (3:45): We finally get a longer deleted scene and it’s for…the goddamn Eastwood episode, aka another boring dialogue sequence that goes nowhere! Is this someone’s idea of a sick joke!?

Disc Three:

One For The Road (1:01): Great, just what we needed, another heavy and obvious scene from Director Thomas Carter. Sometimes no extras are better!

Gather Ye Acorns (0:33): This scene isn’t needed, but it’s nice to see anyway! (Little extra Hamill hamming it up!)

Boo! (0:22): Short and not funny, kind of like Warwick Davis in those bad LEPRECHAUN movies!

Dorothy And Ben (1:33): Another scene laying it on super thick, man oh man!

Disc Four:

Secret Cinema (2:58): Universal gets one star from me for this extra piece of Bartel’s episode, with even more jerky Griffin Dunne and Bartel/ Woronov bits. But one star only!

The Doll (2:07): Now you can see why Lithgow is a genius – he can even make brushing his teeth interesting!

One For The Books (0:55): Filler and ambiance that takes away from the already popcorn feel of this episode, good riddens!

Grandpa’s Ghost (6:23): Turns out the longest of all the so called deleted scenes is for this bad boy and man does it hurt. More of the already painful scenes in the episode are not a good calling card for Hutton as a director. Some things need to stay buried.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
While some of these mid 80’s Amazing Stories are not as amazing as remembered, there are a few episodes that manage to make this one bearable – as a rental only. However, the glowing omission of any sort of credible extras is a real blight on this set and a real slap in the face to all who loved this series as kids. Why the non-existence of any and all bonus materials (the crappy “Deleted Scenes” included!) from distributor Universal? That is the truly amazing story I want to hear.
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