One of this week’s most delightful home video releases (as we’ve mentioned) is the new 20th anniversary re-release of Tom DiCillo’s uproarious indie-movie satire Living in Oblivion, which comes loaded with new special features, a lovely transfer, and an… interesting cover. Said cover turns over nearly half its square footage to Game of Thrones superstar Peter Dinklage, and bills him third behind Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener — a sharp contrast to the film itself, where he’s billed seventh and doesn’t show up until the last half hour.
It’s of kind of heartwarming that Dinklage is now a marketable name, considering that part of his role in the film is complaining about how people of his stature are used (and underused) in cinema; it’s also the most recent example of DVD and Blu-ray distributors using a secondary actor’s subsequent fame as a slightly dishonest selling point.
Marilyn Monroe was still very much a struggling up-and-comer when she made her third credited film appearance in the Marx Brothers’ final (and handily worst) big-screen vehicle Love Happy. Credited as “Grunion’s Client,” she shows up near the end of the movie, slinking in to say exactly two lines to a leering Groucho before slinking out again in less than a minute. But when she became a megastar a few years later, United Artists eagerly re-released Love Happy with posters placing her front and center — a lead followed by the DVD release, in which Marilyn’s visage is even more prominent than that of the film’s stars.
The Little Shop of Horrors
Thanks to this Corman quickie’s public domain status, it’s seen more cheapo VHS and DVD releases than there are stars in the sky. And they all have one big common trait: prominent placement for a very young Jack Nicholson. Trouble is, Jack is barely in it; he’s not the lead or even a prominent supporting role, but makes a tiny appearance as a masochistic dental patient (the cameo Bill Murray assumed for Frank Oz’s musical remake). It’s a fun bit, but consumers looking for vintage Jack arching those famous eyebrows at the man-eating plant will be sorely disappointed.
Born to Win
This excellent 1971 comedy/drama is another fave on the public domain DVD circuit, thanks less to its junkies-in-New-York storyline or the draw of stars George Segal and Paula Prentiss than the presence of Robert De Niro in an early supporting role as a street cop. All of them use billing and art that make De Niro look like the star, and most choose a film still or publicity shot of a much older fellow than the scrappy kid in Born to Win. But the most hilarious is the cover above, which uses a still quite clearly pulled from Cape Fear, released 20 years later.
Mazes and Monsters
Another widely disbursed, fuzzily copyrighted title — though, to be fair, Tom Hanks is in fact the primary actor in the 1982 made-for-TV movie. The bait-and-switch here lies in that date: he was quite a bit younger than the man seen in this headshot, and the garden maze and full moon around that head promise something more akin to The Da Vinci Code than this cheapo riff on the D&D-related fears of the era.
The Room Upstairs
From the saucy font and the full headshot of ‘90s Sarah Jessica Parker, you’d think this was some kind of Sex and the City spin-off (what’s happening in the room upstairs, tee hee?). In fact, this was a 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie starring Stockard Channing and Sam Waterston, featuring a decidedly ‘80s version of SJP in a small supporting role — sixth-billed, just above Jerry O’Connell.
The First Turn-On!
The recent box art for this very early Troma Studios sex comedy doesn’t just oversell the participation of Vincent D’Onofrio, who makes his film debut in a role so small, you have to click through to the second page of the movie’s IMDb listing to find it. It also oversells the accomplishments of that very fine actor just a scosche, billing him as “Academy Award nominee Vincent D’Onofrio.” Mr. D’Onofrio has not, to date, been nominated for the Academy Award.
We’ve previously noted the less-than-bang-up job the folks at Walt Disney Home Entertainment did with the idiosyncratic indies distributed by specialty property Miramax in the ‘90s (lots of exclamation points! They build excitement!). So when it came time to sell this seriocomic drama set in a mental institution, they lifted third-billed Toni Collette into top placement and basically replicated the art for her 1994 hit Muriel’s Wedding, from the white backdrop to the floating confetti to the red (slammer filled!) pull quotes emphasizing its “Funny! Laughs!”
Jesse Eisenberg did exactly one day of work (for a mere $3,000) as a favor to friends on this low-budget thriller back in 2007; the real stars were Andrew McCarthy, Dana Delany, and Bruce Davison. Eisenberg logs less than five minutes of screen time, so he was plenty surprised when it appeared on DVD four years later (after his Oscar nomination for The Social Network), gussied up like an Eisenberg vehicle. He was so surprised, in fact, that he filed suit against Lionsgate and Grindstone Entertainment, demanding $3 million in damages.
A funny thing happened between production and release of this buddy crime comedy/drama from adult-film-director-turned-music-video-director-turned-indie-director Gregory Dark: Zach Galifianakis, who appeared in a one-scene role, went off and co-starred in The Hangover, one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time. So when this film hit DVD the following year, it was no longer a Matthew Modine/Callum Blue vehicle called Little Fish, Strange Pond; it was a Zach Galifianakis vehicle with the oh-so-2010 title Frenemy and a hilariously bad Photoshop job on its cover.
Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird
As anyone who’s seen I Am Big Bird or Being Elmo knows, giggly little Elmo didn’t become a major character (and marketing juggernaut) on Sesame Street until well after the release of this big-screen vehicle for Big Bird, then the show’s best-known character. In fact, Kevin Clash had barely taken over the character when the 1985 film was shot, so it’s not surprising that he barely appears in the movie, a background player at best. But Warner Home Video kept that on the QT when they released the “25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” in 2009 (the movie’s 24th anniversary, but who’s counting), prominently placing Elmo next to such actual co-stars as Grover, The Count, and Oscar the Grouch. Which meant a whole lotta parents had a whole lotta disappointed kids on their hands by the end of that movie.