The Day The Earth Stood Still
As the world simmers with Cold War tensions, a spaceship comes streaking across the sky and lands on the Mall in Washington D.C. A man in a silver suit gets out, and a giant robot who melts the guns and tanks that threaten the alien visitor. If the plot sounds painfully familiar, it’s because it was already as old as H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds, and while Robert Wise’s film was the first major movie about aliens landing on the Earth, it would be far from the last.
Most of what would come, for the quarter century until Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters, would descend into laughable kitsch by the second reel - you could argue that it has again, either intentionally (Mars Attacks) or not (Independence Day). But The Day The Earth Stood Still stands out, not only because of top-notch production values, but for the unblinking, almost messianic earnestness of the message, a dark fantasy where only the threat of destruction from space stands a chance of averting mankind’s death wish lunge toward nuclear war.
In an hour-plus “making of” feature included with this impeccable film transfer, Patricia Neal refreshingly admits that she had a hard time keeping a straight face as the film’s romantic interest and “good human”, while on the commentary track, director Robert Wise admits to his own, longstanding belief in UFOs, priceless bits of context for a film that’s probably remarkably familiar, even for anyone who’s never seen it before.
Disney’s movie version of Natalie Babbit’s bestselling proto-teen novel gets right to the point. It’s early summer, and time stands still on the verge of great changes, while Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) strains against the dull propriety of her rich, snooty family.
The woods behind their house is home to the Tucks and their strapping boy Jesse (Jonathan Jackson), who hide an incredible secret from the world - a magic spring and the gift of eternal life. It doesn’t take much to see that Babbitt, and director Jay Russell, have created a world shaped by the restless anxiety of early adolescence.
For the young girls who’ve made the story a longtime hit, it’s about the first fearful longings for romance; for their nervous parents, it ends with a moral about growing up and moving on. The quality cast (Sissy Spacek and William Hurt as the Tuck parents, Ben Kingsley as the villain) is a plus, the unlikely, hurtling plot twists probably only a problem for viewers over twenty. Includes commentary tracks, a featurette on the author, and a “Lessons of Tuck” viewing mode that acts as a study guide.
From Here To Eternity
Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s ardent clinch in the roaring surf is the salient image from this hypermasculine melodrama, set in a Hawaii army barracks in the prelude to Pearl Harbor. Most melodramas - “women’s pictures” - are powered by tears and frustrated love; this macho weepy moves from seething slow-burns to drunken rages. The effect, though - a sort of barely-suppressed hysteria - is the same. The superbit version of this Oscar-winning picture is as rich and sharp as you’d expect, but seems a bit pointless with a source print still full of scars and scratches.
Zhang Yang’s ambitious movie, chronicling star Jia Hongsheng’s drug addiction, is the sort of smart film made mostly for export in China’s absurdly creative film scene. It’s a no-frills DVD package, but the performances - Jia and his family playing themselves - are spectacular, as is this stark record of China undergoing wild social changes.