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Back to the Future
Universal DVD box set

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The quintessential 80s movie franchise finally makes it onto a deluxe DVD box set, a kind of time machine for those happy few who cherish their memories of down vests, flowered jeans and Huey Lewis.

The first Back to the Future film was an inarguably clever conceit - 80s teen goes back in time and inadvertently interferes with his parents’ courtship. It had the sort of sitcom wit and fussy design sense that typified the decade, and screamed for a sequel. The second film, a much clumsier piece of work, revealed Robert Zemeckis’ workmanlike tendencies as a director, and as Zemeckis admits in one of the half-dozen “making of” featurettes included with this set, probably suffered because he was editing the second film while shooting the third at the same time.

Back to the Future III, the “western” installment in the trilogy, isn’t a return to form as much as a chance for Zemeckis to flex his moviemaking muscle with a hit movie mega-budget. It feels at the same time more confident and less inspired, and hints at the stunt-packed perfunctory gigantism that would define blockbuster moviemaking for the next decade. The trilogy box set is a full-on package, packed with commentaries, bonus material, quizzes, outtakes and more.

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Solaris
Criterion DVD

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris has been described as the “anti-2001”, a rebuttal to Stanley Kubrick’s fantastic vision of the technological future, and it seems that history has been kinder to the Russian director’s version of the future as a place as clunky, crappy, and anxious as the present.

The Criterion reissue of the 1972 film is up to their usual standards - a pristine remastering of the original film with tons of thoughtful additional material for film buffs, released to complement the Steven Soderbergh re-make/re-imagining of the Stanislaw Lem sci-fi novel. Lem, who was more sympathetic to Kubrick’s kind of future, apparently fought with Tarkovsky over the director’s anti-technological take on his story. His Solaris, full of trademark slow pans and water imagery, is far more of a Tarkovsky film than a sci-fi film, and should be viewed accordingly.

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Sunshine State
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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As a director, John Sayles is a great screenwriter. Anyone looking for cinematic pyrotechnics from a film like Sunshine State will find instead the kind of rare talent for scriptwriting that manages the rare feat of making a cast of almost a dozen characters fully-developed and believable, while articulate beyond belief. Angela Bassett and Edie Falco are standouts in this beautifully cast story of real estate speculation and stranded lives on the Florida coast.

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The Emperor's New Clothes
Paramount DVD

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Ian Holm plays Napoleon in this low-key historical fantasy about the exiled emperor’s return to France. While a commoner look-alike takes his place on St. Helena - and dies in the role - Napoleon journeys back to Paris in the hopes of igniting another Bonapartist coup and returning to his conquering, megalomaniacal ways. He finds himself trapped in the identity of a humble grocer who happens to have Iben Hjelje for a wife. A winning trifle of a film, full of good performances and a light but plausible touch with history.

click here for a longer review of this film.

©2002 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.