#050

High School Reunion Collection
Universal DVD

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This collection of writer/director John Hughes 80s teen flicks could better be called the Anthony Michael Hall collection, since Hall appears as the same character - a randy but put-upon geek - in all three films.

A more natural set would collect Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club with Pretty in Pink to make the Molly Ringwald box, but since Paramount Pictures owns the latter film, (which was after all directed by Howard Deutsch, not Hughes) the inclusion of Hall’s star Hughes vehicle - Weird Science - forces these films into a slightly different context.

These are Hughes’ first three films as a director, and if you wanted to be clever you could argue that Hall was his onscreen stand-in, a Jean-Pierre Leaud to Hughes’ Francois Truffaut. It’s a lousy theory, though, and Weird Science proves it, without the sheer absurdity of comparing Hughes to Truffaut.

Hughes’ very palpable fascination with Ringwald’s characters is imbued with a sympathy that Hall’s hyperarticulate geek - probably a close match to Hughes, a onetime National Lampoon writer - strangely lacks. She wanders through the surprisingly sloppy, chaotic storylines of Hughes with a scripted gift of grace, while Hall’s geek is buffeted about by nearly every churning plot point.

Together, they make one involving character, and the absence of a Ringwald character from Weird Science renders the film a misfit boy’s noisy daydream, even despite Hall’s notably confident performance. Hall became unrecognizable in his post-Hughes career, playing Mutt Lange and Bill Gates in TV movies, a solid character actor in numberless b-movies.

Nostalgia is probably the main selling point for this set, which has a remarkably gentle vision of teen life compared to recent, sexually frank, pierced nightmares like Thirteen. Anyone expecting extras, however, will be disappointed, as all three films come with nice transfers and soundtrack remasterings but little else.

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Identity
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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It was a dark and stormy night, and then there were none. This pretty much sums up the plot of Identity, a psychological thriller with a very psychological twist and a remarkably decent cast.

A rain-battered motel is the venue for a collection of archetypes - none of whom, surprise, surprise, are whom them appear to be - to get picked off by the killer amongst them. It’s a mark of Hollywood’s utter devotion to genre films that this film, which seems a bit too pleased by its lunge at third-act cleverness, can attract a cast that includes John Cusack, Ray Lliotta, Amanda Peet and Alfred Molina, all of whom must have agents with better scripts on their desks.

Includes director’s commentary, a “making-of” featurette, and an “alternate ending” that feels more like cutting room trimming restored.

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The Simpsons: The Complete Third Season
20th Century Fox DVD

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The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror
20th Century Fox DVD

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The third season of The Simpsons is where things start to get really good, a good warm-up for the show’s “golden age”, and not coincidentally the first with Conan O’Brien as a staff writer.

Things begin a bit dubiously with “Stark Raving Dad”, which features a guest appearance by Michael Jackson - probably his last remotely sympathetic public moment before an awful descent into living freak show status. Things get much better with classics shows like “Lisa’s Pony”, the second “Treehouse of Horror”, “Black Widower” and the set’s highlight - “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk”, where Mr. Burns sells the nuclear plant to the Germans.

Considering the wait between box sets, it would be nice if the set came with little more than an increasingly giddy/tired set of commentary tracks, and a few commercials and TV appearances by the characters. A single-disc set that collects four “Treehouse of Horror” is just as bare bones, but it’s rich with Simpsons classics, the gem of which is the political satire “Mr. Kang Goes to Washington”, justly famous if only for one line: “What are you going to do? It’s a two-party system!”

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Titanic
20th Century Fox DVD

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A very decent 90-minute Fox News documentary on the Titanic phenomenon included with this 1953 Oscar-winner informs us that it was not the first film to be called Titanic. That honour having was taken by a wartime Nazi propaganda film that depicted the British captain and ship owners of the doomed ship as criminals and cowards.

The 1953 film, like it’s recent, blockbuster namesake, was basically a melodrama, with Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck as a rich couple breaking up as their ship sails on to meet its watery fate. Unlike the James Cameron film, this Titanic feels very much more adult, and features the most phlegmatic, scream-free sinking of the great ship ever recorded on film. Hardly the most factual Titanic film ever - that would be 1958’s A Night to Remember - it’s still a satisfying, well-acted two-hanky picture with an edifying message of redemption and duty.

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The Core
Paramount DVD

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It would be nice to say that once you get past the dodgy science of The Core, there’s a nice little adventure story, but it’s almost impossible to overlook the science of a film like The Core.

The tragedy of making a film that’s more science than fiction is that the science has to add up, and the essential premise of The Core - the earth’s molten centre has to be “re-started” by a big nuke before the earth burns up - rapidly goes from plausible to laughable the moment the crew of “terranauts” get on board a ship made of “unobtanium” (an old engineer’s joke). No amount of considered emoting by the cast - which includes Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, and a very arch Stanley Tucci - can overcome the creeping sense of silliness.

Includes commentary by director Jon Amiel, deleted scenes, making-of featurette, and a dissection of the visual effects.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.