***/**** DVD - Image A Sound A BD - Image A- Sound A+ Extras A- screenplay by Caroline Thompson, based on a poem by Tim Burton (adaptation by Michael McDowell) directed by Henry Selick
by Vincent Suarez You know the feeling: too many movies, too little time. You walk down the corridor of your local multiplex, relishing the titles on the marquees and posters, and you know that many will unfortunately have to be seen on home video. If you're lucky, you'll make wise choices, but, occasionally, your home viewing includes that film you regret not seeing theatrically. For me, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (hereafter Nightmare) is one of those films. Having grown weary of Burton's quirkiness after the disappointing Batman Returns, I passed up Nightmare in favour of movies I now cannot recall; what a shame. Fortunately, Touchstone's optical disc presentations of this magnificent film (the previous LaserDiscs and last year's DVD release) provide more than a glimpse of what was surely a wonderful theatrical experience.
by Angelo Muredda Michael
Winterbottom makes projects more than he makes films, and happy are the rare
few that bridge the gap. Everyday comes close at times, with no thanks
to the unnecessarily tricked-out structure, which picks up with a young British
family at holiday satellite points spread out over a five-year period and
watches them cope with separation anxiety in between. In theory, this
narrative-by-checkpoint strategy most resembles 2004's dismal 9 Songs, where Winterbottom
watched a dull relationship bloom and die over the course of nine dull concerts
and miserable sex scenes, but the film can't help but be improved by the
material this time.
Better Off Dead... *** Image B- Sound C- starring John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Diane Franklin, Kim Darby written and directed by Savage Steve Holland
by Jefferson RobbinsBetter Off Dead... probably wouldn't have outlasted its peers among cheaply-made '80s teen comedies minus three crucial factors. There's John Cusack's extraordinary Everyguy deadpan: He reacts to absurdity without visibly reacting, a still pivot for the scene around him and the best possible audience surrogate for a vehicle like this. There's writer-director Savage Steve Holland's visual wit, rooted in classic cartoons and well-abetted by editor Alan Balsam (Revenge of the Nerds). And finally, there's Holland's clearly-demonstrated understanding of what it's like to be a teenage male--collapsing in the face of spurned love, so immersed in one's own fantasies and neuroses that everyone, even relatives and close friends, seems a grotesque. This internal state gets externalized in Better Off Dead..., as no matter where Cusack's Lane Meyer goes, he's confronted with such bizarre contortions of humanity that he might as well be an astronaut among aliens.
LETHAL WEAPON (1987) **/**** Image B- Sound B Extras D starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Tom Atkins screenplay by Shane Black directed by Richard Donner
LETHAL WEAPON 2 (1989) **½/**** Image B Sound B Extras D starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland screenplay by Jeffrey Boam directed by Richard Donner
LETHAL WEAPON 3 (1992) ZERO STARS/**** Image B+ Sound B Extras D starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Jeffrey Boam (sic) & Robert Mark Kamen directed by Richard Donner
LETHAL WEAPON 4 (1998) */**** Image A Sound B+ Extras D starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo screenplay by Channing Gibson directed by Richard Donner
by Walter ChawIt's tough to convey exactly how fresh Lethal Weapon seemed in 1987. The leap that Woody Boyd's girlfriend--half-naked in frilly bloomers--takes off a high-rise in the early going, the character of unstable police sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson, before we knew he wasn't acting), even the buddying up of Riggs with "too old for this shit" partner Murtaugh (Danny Glover), were smart and groundbreaking. I must've watched this movie thirty times in those halcyon days when VHS made stuff like this and porn middle-class pursuits to be pursued in private. Lethal Weapon holds for me, still, this gritty, dirty allure: sexy, violent, nihilistic--like the first time a kid truly reads the Old Testament.
***½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester screenplay by Daniel Taradash, based on the play by John Van Druten directed by Richard Quine
by Jefferson Robbins What a strange companion piece this makes for Vertigo, released the same year by Paramount. Columbia issued Bell, Book, and Candle as a Christmas confection, but it's bitter chocolate--both for the extratextual residues carried over by Vertigo co-stars James Stewart and Kim Novak and for the conceit of a powerful woman who must rein herself in to become worthy of a clueless paramour. In each, Stewart is a bewitched man who throws away much of his dignity in pursuit of a sexual obsession and torments a beautiful apparition of a woman to tears. Re-examined now, despite its technical proficiency, its occasionally risqué dialogue, and its mindfulness of New York's post-Beat subculture of the time, Bell, Book, and Candle is also a fantasy of limited vision. It posits a world of real magic but never contemplates the ramifications beyond its heroes' immediate personal needs. This shortsightedness, unfortunately, is now engraved on the thirteenth chromosome of all romantic comedies; the exceptions that dare glance up at the wider world are mutations. Still, Bell, Book, and Candle carries off some covert gender reversals most contemporary comedies couldn't muster, and it echoes in the "Harry Potter" franchise of novels and films in ways that make me think J.K. Rowling was a fan.
ZERO STARS/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras A- starring Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson written and directed by Richard Curtis
by Walter Chaw I actively, aggressively dislike this film. Richard Curtis's Love Actually says something of its intentions in a subplot involving an aged rocker (Bill Nighy) who knows he's creating a reprehensible piece of garbage in an attempt to cash in on the gaffed demographic that champions boy bands as the pinnacle of the art. The picture is a sex comedy in the worst senses of the genre: It's puerile, misogynistic, and breathtakingly stupid, with a keen focus on pratfalls and serendipity--all the while hoping that you won't notice the inappropriateness of its plays for heart-warming uplift. Curtis, after scoring a couple of times in the genre as screenwriter with Notting Hill and The Tall Guy, chooses Love Actually as his directorial debut, and its hatefulness speaks to the source of the comprehensive misanthropy of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean (Atkinson makes a cameo; Curtis is a writer for "Mr. Bean"). A shame that Curtis's hyphenate turn begins to betray the man as ugly and self-indulgent.
**½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras A animated; screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don Dagradi directed by Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson
by Bill Chambers Given that it may have the most famous scene in the Disney oeuvre, it's odd that Lady and the Tramp doesn't enjoy a better, or at least bigger, reputation. The first animated feature in CinemaScope, as well as the studio's first original story1and its first dog movie (various Pluto-starring shorts notwithstanding), the film, despite earning the highest grosses of any Disney production since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, seems to have been eclipsed in the public consciousness from a genre standpoint by 101 Dalmatians and from a cinematographic standpoint by Sleeping Beauty, each of which followed so closely on Lady and the Tramp's heels as to reduce history's perception of it to a dry run. It's a bit better than that, but, coveted "Diamond" status to the contrary, frankly not one of the greats.