With Six More Weeks More or Less of Winter, Its Time to Snuggle Up with a Good Video
by Bay Weekly Staff
ith the way global climatic change is reshaping weather, the only time a poor groundhog gets to sleep is February. Were welcoming winter, too, as the time of the year to restore our spirits by joining vicariously in the great human stories now conveniently available on video. As the snow blows, were cuddled up in our burrows with a bowl of popcorn, some nice hot cider (or buttered rum) and six decades of great, good or merely entertaining movies.
Our earliest is Shadow of a Doubt, in 1943. Directors Alfonso Arau, Don Bluth and Alfred Hitchcock win the most mentions with two apiece. Actors Alan Alda, Joseph Cotton, Dom DeLuise, Robert De Niro, Cary Grant, Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Williams lead the field with two roles each. The most popular book-to-film adaptation in our list is Frankenstein, also winning with two mentions, in a new romanticized version by Kenneth Branagh and an old slapstick take by Mel Brooks.
This wild bunch has testosterone coursing through their reels.
To Catch a Thief
1955 1:43 Not Rated
Alfred Hitchcocks classic roof-dasher set the standard for the cool, insouciant thriller, pairing a dashing gent as a semi-villain with a pretty younger woman make that two. Here are all the elements of style: Cary Grant, as a mostly reformed cat burglar; Grace Kelly, as cool and elegant as a diamond; the French Riviera; fast, sleek-line cars and speed boats; wit and wits. Characters, including an American widow with a whip-lash wit, are charmingly defined. Youll still get a delightful rush and a surprise ending.
From Russia with Love
1963 1:58 PG
Sean Connery is back as 007 in the second and best film born of Ian Flemings books. Terence Young directs as Britains master spy grapples with SPECTRE over control of a powerful Russian decryption machine. His quest to save the world leads Bond into the paths of a comely Russian double agent and a muscle-bound assassin, not to mention Istanbul catacombs, a Gypsy camp gunfight, fisticuffs on the Orient Express, a helicopter assault and a powerboat escape. Gadgetry is neat and simple, letting Connery shine in top form as Bond with a plot thats one of the best in the series.
Enter the Dragon
1973 1:39 R
Bruce Lee pummels better actors than hes accustomed to under the direction of Robert Clouse in the mother of all action flicks. Lee, in the last complete film before his untimely death, plays an officer going undercover to take down the evil kingpin Han. Superb fighting sequences include a free-for-all martial arts battle and the climactic showdown with a claw-fisted Han in a mirrored room. Rumble in the Bronx fans: Keep an eye out for a young Jackie Chan in one of the fight scenes.
The Long Kiss Goodnight
1996 2:00 R
For a roller-coaster ride of blistering special effects and eye-popping stunts, take note of director Renny Harlins action-charged story of a schoolteacher/mom (Geena Davis) who recovers from eight years of amnesia to discover splinters of her violent past. Helping Davis survive the high-tech army of corrupt government renegades who now want her dead is Samuel L. Jackson as a wisecracking lowlife detective.
These fantasies for all ages add fresh stories and a bit of substance to clever drawing or claymation.
1979 1:18 PG
Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass create an epic cartoon from J.R.R. Tolkiens popular fantasy. Bilbo Baggins is the timid hobbit recruited by the wizard Gandalf (John Huston) to join 12 dwarves on a mission to reclaim their treasure and mountain home from the dragon Smaug against a tide of giant spiders, trolls, goblins and giant wolves. Unlike Disneys work, this has no cute pets or G-rated romance, just medieval adventure and animated violence. The result is an entertaining cartoon good for older kids and adults.
The Secret of NIMH
1982 1:23 G
Mrs. Brisby, a widowed mouse, is on a mission to save her home and family from the farmers plow when she stumbles across NIMH, a secret society of super-intelligent rats escaped from the National Institute of Mental Health. Along the way she discovers her departed husbands secret life and meets the comic crow Jeremy (Dom DeLuise). Expertly animated under the direction of Disney escapee Don Bluth, this film is a bit darker and more brooding than the standard fare thanks to a magic-laced plot with more drama and less comic relief.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
1989 1:25 G
In Don Bluths classic, New Orleans is canine country and Charlie (voiced by Burt Reynolds) is the baddest dog in the city. Denied access to heaven for his dastardly ways, Charlie must go back to Earth and do one good deed. When he stumbles upon orphan Anne-Marie, he vows to keep her from harm. Dom DeLuise adds comic relief as a wiener dog. This dog movie has human values.
James and the Giant Peach
1996 1:19 PG
The book wasnt better. Tim Burton enchants all ages with his claymation. When James spills a pouch of magical crocodile tongues in his backyard, up sprouts a giant peach. Desperately wanting to escape from his loveless aunts, he crawls inside the fruit and discovers a colorful group of giant, human-like insects. Together they set out on an amazing odyssey. Along the way, little James not only learns that people really do care but also finds a new home. Not too long, so this movie will hold the little ones interest.
Tired of the guys disparagement of chick flicks, the women on staff picked a short list for when the men are away.
Same Time, Next Year
1978 1:59 Not Rated
Robert Mulligans bittersweet comedy follows the unconventional romance of George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn). The two meet by chance at an inn while traveling without their spouses and are surprised to wake up together in the morning. Smitten, the pair agrees to meet at the same inn, in the same room for one weekend every year. As 26 years go by, the film explores how George and Doris are molded by cultural and historical events as well as by triumphs and tragedies in their families.
1988 2:03 PG-13
Under an Atlantic City boardwalk, poor aspiring singer CC (Bette Midler) and daddys little rich girl Hillary (Barbara Hershey) forge a childhood friendship in 1950. As the 60s and 70s speed by, Garry Marshalls sentimental story splits these women apart and repairs the damage countless times. Men, money and morals sever the ties that bind. But these women prove friendship can withstand the tests of time. When their friendship is a matter of life and death, will CC come through for the Wind Beneath her Wings?
It Could Happen To You
1994 1:41 PG
Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Lang, a New York City cop. After ordering coffee at a local diner, he discovers he doesnt have enough money for a tip. Impulsively, he promises the luckless waitress, Yvonne (Bridget Fonda), half the winnings from his lottery ticket. Langs wife (Rosie Perez) is more than miffed when the ticket is a winner and Charlie insists on keeping his promise. She goes on to live the fast life, while Lang and Yvonne learn to love again. Youll ride out many twists and turns before discovering the real winners here.
A Walk in The Clouds
1995 1:42 PG-13
For a tender, visually stunning journey, snuggle down with director Alfonso Araus post-World War II love story set in Californias wine country. A handsome GI (Keanu Reeves) returns from the war to find his wife has moved on, and so must he. He meets a woman (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) who, pregnant and unmarried, is headed home to face the wrath of her stern father (Anthony Quinn). The gallant GI offers to play hubby, and a tangled web of lies and deceit ensues. The farce is soon unveiled, and pride is forced to step aside as love conquers all.
Classics & Epics
The gold standard, these movies lay out the yardstick to measure all their genre: musical, science fiction, war and race.
An Affair to Remember
1957 1:55 Not Rated
To all the men and women who doubt love at first sight, director Leo McCarey offers a convincing argument. A twist of fate throws the separately betrothed Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant together on an ocean voyage. Their romantic rendezvous ends at the dock, but they promise to meet atop the Empire State Building six months later if love still lives in their hearts. With minutes to spare, their meeting is thwarted by tragedy. Will love really conquer all, or is it only an affair to remember?
1972 2:55 R
Francis Ford Coppolas gripping tale of the most powerful 1940s New York Italian Underworld crime family is a must-see. We meet the Corleone family at the height of their control over gambling, unions and politicians. But the Five Families of the crime syndicate clash over the emerging drug trade. The saga details multiple acts of loyalty, betrayal and vengeance. Bloodshed and brilliance abound in the performances of Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Al Pacino. After all these years, Don Corleone and his sons still make offers you cant refuse.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
1982 2:25 PG
Steven Spielbergs classic sci-fi film, returning to theaters in 2002, looks optimistically at first contact. Its story is simple and sweet, about California kid Elliott befriending a little green man and later liberating him from an eerie scientific compound so he can go home. The puppeteering that brings E.T. to life is still impressive, and the musical score is one of Hollywoods most memorable. Such enduring scenes as E.T.s glowing finger healing Elliotts cut and the soaring bike ride across the moon are worth the rental.
1995 2:57 R
Mel Gibson directs, co-produces and stars in this epic tale of William Wallace, the Scottish hero who led a ragged bunch of 13th-century Scots in their fight for freedom against English king Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan, perfectly arrogant). Gibson plays Wallace with a boyish charisma that balances his characters brutal nature, evident in gruesome hand-to-hand battle scenes. You may come away from this film with newfound gratitude for freedom and genuine respect for those who refuse to compromise their principles. But youll definitely know Gibsons take on what Scotsmen wear under their kilts.
Some are knee-slappers, others a little more subdued. All of them keep us laughing.
Please Dont Eat the Daisies
1959 1:51 Not Rated
Larry and Kate MacKay (David Niven, Doris Day) are the parents of four unruly sons, the monsters. They live in a too-small NYC apartment with a harried housekeeper and a neurotic sheep dog. Kate decides on a move to the suburbs to accommodate not only the large family but also her husbands large head as he takes on a new job as a theatre critic. A fixer-upper house, long commutes and nosy neighbors bring him back to earth, but life is blissful.
1974 1:48 PG
Mel Brooks warps the tale of Frankenstein thats Frunk-en-steen! in this expertly crafted slapstick comedy. Gene Wilder plays the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein and arrives in Transylvania to claim his grandfathers estate. Frankenstein succumbs to the lunatic passion of his bloodline. Late, great comedienne Madeline Kahn turns in a fine performance as Frankensteins materialistic fiancée; Marty Feldman (also late and great) is hilarious as Igor. This masterful parody is enhanced by original lab props taken from the 1931 version of Frankenstein and by the black-and-white filming.
The Blues Brothers
1980 2:13 R
John Landis directs this witty comedy/action/musical in which Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) Blues are on a self-appointed mission from God. To save the orphanage where they grew up, the brothers put their band back together and stage a benefit gig. Along the way, they hardly notice their panoply of pursuers from Jakes jilted and heavily armed ex-lover (Carrie Fisher) to the Illinois Nazis to the entire Chicago police force. This blues gem shines with performances from Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, James Brown and more.
Flirting with Disaster
1996 1:33 R
If youre looking for an off-beat comedy, try David O. Russells Flirting with Disaster. The movie features a great ensemble cast in roles you wont expect. As Mel Coplin, the adopted son of George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore, Ben Stiller searches for his natural parents. Mel, along with his wife Nancy (Patricia Arquette) and their four-month old son, embark on a cross-country quest led by Tina (Tea Leoni), a neurotic adoption agent. To say that the trip doesnt go well would be a classic understatement. By the time Mel finds his parents, played by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda, youll find yourself wondering what else can go wrong.
Whether horror flicks, adventures, sci-fis or over-the-top comedies, these brews are not your average cup of tea.
1973 1:37 PG
Director Richard Fleischer takes us into the not-so-distant future, where over-population, disease and poverty have made the world a dismal and dark place. Soylent Green, the miracle synthetic food keeping the masses of people alive and keeping corporate executives rich has a secret ingredient that has already gotten one man murdered. Simonson (Charlton Heston) is a New York City cop hot on the trail of the secret behind Soylent Green. Through urban slums and elitist luxuries, Simonson homes in on the horrible truth.
Soylent Green is the classic tale of the fall of mankind.
Rocky Horror Picture Show
1975 1:45 R
This skewed spoof of old horror and sci-fi flicks revels in its own tawdriness. Viewers who do the same will enjoy this bizarre romp. A naïve young couple (Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick), stranded by a flat tire, seek help at a nearby castle where they meet Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played with seductive abandon by Tim Curry), a transvestite mad scientist from the planet Transsexual. This film is best known for midnight showings where audiences shout wisecracks at the screen, but viewing it at home is almost as fun thanks to the smart parody of its foolish plot and an unforgettable rock & roll soundtrack.
Monty Pythons Life of Brian
1979 1:34 R
Brian of Nazareth becomes a martyr to the cause of Monty Pythons religious satire in director Terry Jones Life of Brian. The story centers on Brian, born beside Jesus manger, who grows up to be hailed as a messiah and draw the attentions of myriad followers. Python probes sensitive territory. Challenges to faith include highlighting Biblical misinterpretation (blessed are the cheesemakers?), poking relentless fun at rampant zealotry and sending up rivalry among religious groups. Hardly anything escapes the sharp-witted flogging.
1989 1:42 R
Dark humor and biting dialogue mix with teen angst in this dementedly funny view of high school life and the struggles of being popular. In the in-crowd, three Heathers and Veronica (Winona Rider) the conscience of the film deal with the day-to-day challenges of high school and dating in their own uniquely superior way. When a stranger comes to Westerburg High in the form of rebel JD (Christian Slater), Veronica finds herself caught up in an attempt to eliminate the trappings of social class. But JDs influence is more than she bargained for. Suddenly, teen suicide becomes vogue at Westerburg, Yet nothing is at it appears. Look closely and youll find a moral at the end.
What youll find here are good stories touching a wide range of emotions.
1944 1:56 Not Rated
You probably dont remember director George Cukor, but after seeing this one, youll be wanting to see more to keep your blood warm these cold winter days. You get a good workout on this one, with emotions ranging from bliss to suspicion to paranoia to terror to
well, well keep the end a secret. The ever-lovely and mutable Ingrid Bergman masters them all, shaming modern actresses by poor compare. Foiling her is a very young and exquisitely smarmy Angela Lansbury. Two leading men of yore, Joseph Cotton and Charles Boyer, turn in dashingly different performances.
Suddenly, Last Summer
1959 1: 54 Not Rated
Set in 1937 New Orleans, this moody tale is classic Tennessee Williams. Melodrama and monologues abound, with some heavy innuendo. Renowned psychiatrist Dr. Cukrowicz (played deadpan by Montgomery Clift, post-car crash) is summoned by wealthy matriarch Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) to calm her troubled niece, Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor). Both Hepburn and Taylor are exquisite.
Relationships and characters are tangled but slowly unravel as Dr. Cukrowicz peals back the layers.
Lord of the Flies
1963 1:30 R
Finishing school should teach a course in survival, as a group of London prep schoolers plane crashes on an island, leaving them in control. Overrun with fear, the boys choose a leader. But soon its survival of the fittest. When rescuers arrive, what will be left?
1990 1:55 R
Set during prohibition, Millers Crossing tells the tale of thinking man Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) as he tries to dance between Johnny Casper and Leo OBannon, two rival mob bosses. Beautiful costumes and a perfect score are highlights, but the power comes from the great dialogue and understated acting of the characters. Byrne shines as a man who knows all the angles and enjoys being an SOB. Everyone wants to be that cool at least once.
Films so gripping youll forgive the subtitles to see them even on the small screen.
1958 1:43 Not Rated Brazilian
This one may be easier to buy on line than to rent, but your trouble will be rewarded by this exquisite film. Retold in magical realism is the legendary, death-defying romance of Eurydice and Orpheus, whose music wakens the sun. Everyone is black, and the Greek originals are now a street car conductor and a country beauty on the run. The realism comes from the Brazilian slums, as does a good deal of the magic, including the riot of color, music and movement. Its a good time to watch this classic which took top Academy Award, Cannes and Golden Globe honors for the action unfolds in the great carnival for Mardi Gras, March 7 this year.
Like Water for Chocolate
1992 1:53 R Mexican
Alfonso Araus romance tells of the havoc wreaked by tradition in early 1900s Mexico. Tita, because she is the youngest of three daughters, can never marry; she must serve her mother. But she finds love with Pedro. Pedro, wanting with Tita, marries her sister to be close to his true love. Titas repressed love spills over into the food she cooks for the family, casting a magic spell on all who eat it in this masterpiece of emotion and sensuality.
The Secret of Roan Inish
1994 1:43 PG Irish
A modern day fairy tale unfolds as young Fiona goes to live with her grandparents in an Irish coastal fishing village. A generation before, her family had lived on the nearby island Roan Inish island of the seals. Her grandfathers tales of the island, the mythical Selkie half-seal, half-woman and the story of Fionas baby brother, carried to sea in a basket on the tide, provide the momentum; the natural beauty of County Donegal provides the backdrop for this suspenseful mystery and heartwarming fable. A gem of a film fit for the whole family.
1995 2:49 Not Rated Serbian
Famed Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica crafts a masterpiece in the war drama Underground, voted Best Film at the Cannes Film Festival. The story, opening in 1943, spans 50 years in Yugoslavia through the perspectives of friends Marko (Miki Manojlovic) and Blacky (Lazar Ristovski), loyal communist partisans eventually divided in competition for a womans affections. Delirious humor permeates early on with an almost slapstick partisan resistance but recedes after betrayal, deceit and warfare. Expert performances, rich visions of Yugoslavias culture and Slavic folk music (who knew it sounded so good?).
Here are some nail-biters that send icy fingers crawling up the back of your neck.
Shadow of a Doubt
1943 1:48 PG
Hitchcocks own favorite is a twist from his usual wrong man. The setting, too, is unusual, smack-dab in Middle America. But the suspense is nerve-wracking when Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotton) visits the much-adoring family of his sister in California. His most ardent admirerer is his namesake and niece, Young Charlie until she begins to suspect that her uncle is a brutal killer, the Merry Widow Murderer. No international tale of espionage here; Hitchcock ratchets up the tension, peeling away the veneer of Middle American properness.
1980 2:26 R
Stanley Kubrick directs this sinister horror (based on Stephen Kings novel) about the disintegration of a man (Jack Nicholson), and his family. The true stars of this film, however, are Jacks clairvoyant son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), and the haunted Overlook Hotel where the story unfolds. As Danny roams the deserted hotel, he receives frightening visions from the resident spirits. The long corridors of closed doors grow increasingly creepy until viewers cringe with anticipated horror when Danny approaches another threshold or turns a corner. Character and plot development in this film are slight (especially to Kings fans), so this film is best viewed with your gut, not your gray matter.
1991 2:08 R
Master filmmaker Martin Scorseses remake is a heart-pounding thriller guaranteed to leave you on the edge of your seat. Vicious psychopath Max Cady (Robert De Niro), released from prison after 14 years, holds his attorney, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), responsible for his incarceration and obsessively seeks revenge. The insane Cady menacingly encircles the attorney, his sexy wife (Jessica Lange) and teen daughter (Juliette Lewis) with relentless psychological torment. Sam resorts to unorthodox measures that lead to an unforgettable showdown on Cape Fear.
Kiss of Death
1994 1:41 R
Barbet Schroeders gritty drama is filled with pulsating tension and nonstop energy that delivers excitement even to skeptics. Plunge into the underworld of gangsters where ex-con Jimmy Kilmartin (David Caruso), arrested again, strikes a deal with police detective Samuel L. Jackson to turn informant on a ferocious gangster, Little Junior (Nicolas Cage). Caught between his ruthless past associates and ambitious law enforcers, Kilmartin reenters the mobster family and is enticed by luscious Helen Hunt, who further complicates matters by playing both ends against the middle.
Not Just for Kids
These films have special appeal for younger audiences, but many an adult viewer will enjoy a second childhood.
1994 1:55 PG
Jessie Nelson directs this touching movie about a little girl and her father (Ray Liotta) facing the world alone. Until they hire Corrina Washington (Whoopie Goldberg) to take care of housekeeping. Funny, smart and overqualified for the job, Corrina brings life back into their home. Both father and daughter fall in love with Corrina. Set in the 60s, this film explores the many interracial challenges faced by these three characters, challenges that we all face.
The Jungle Book
1994 1:51 PG
Animals dont talk in this second Disney adaptation of Rudyard Kiplings famous jungle tale, but this live-action version charms all ages with good acting, lavish sets and scenery, romance, good vs. evil conflict and superb direction of animal stars. Stephen Sommers directs Jason Scott Lee, who plays a matured Mowgli in a romantic adventure illustrating the conflict between the lost boys human roots and his adopted place in the jungle. Real animals take on the pivotal roles of Mowglis jungle family; Sher Kahn, Baloo and King Louie steal most scenes.
1993 2:05 PG-13
Mrs. Doubtfire expands Robin Williams roles to include playing a woman. After his bitter divorce, Daniel Hillard (Williams) is desperate to be with his children. He resorts to creating an alter ego, Mrs. Doubtfire. She/he is the perfect nanny, and everyone loves her/him. Hillard must now try to keep his true identity secret. All ages will enjoy the hilarity that follows. Adults will be surprised at the attention-grabbing story, and kids will enjoy the antics.
1997 1:34 PG
Robin Williams is the forgetful Professor Phillip Brainard, who mistakenly invents flying rubber. He also misses his wedding (for the third time), duels with his one-time partner and converses with Weebo, his personal robot but all for good reason. His flubber invention could save the financially challenged Medfield College. (Wait till you see what flubber can do for basketball shoes.) Producer and co-screenwriter John Hughes reinterprets the Disney classic The Absent-Minded Professor for the digital effects crowd. Music adds zip to this video that is already hip.
Sci-Fi / Fantasy
These movies toy with what lies ahead, the dangers of tampering with science and the far-flung possibilities of the imagination.
Creature from the Black Lagoon
1954 1:19 Not Rated
One of the classics in the genre of science exploitation, this chiller-thriller is as good as new. As movies of the sort should, it begins in paradise. Here paradise is northern Floridas Wakulla Springs, where the waters so clear you can see to China. Western rationalism invades, in the persons of a team of scientists driven and heres one conflict as much to advance their fame as human knowledge. Lurking beneath those waters is life of another sort, hence conflict two. Of course theres the beautiful woman whos also a fine swimmer.
1990 1:11 R
For a chilling, obsessive story of fear and redemption, delve into director Joel Schumachers surreal fantasy about three medical students who conduct reckless experiments on themselves. The students briefly experience clinical death and view the afterlife by temporarily shutting down or flatlining their hearts. Taking the lead is charismatic Kiefer Sutherland, who appears to survive the experiment unscathed. Not to be outdone, his colleagues (played by sensual Julia Roberts and levelheaded Kevin Bacon) flatline for even longer. The horrors begin when apparitions from their pasts appear, and they realize that, although they returned alive, they did not return alone.
1996 1:50 R
Ghostbusters meets Ghost meets every slasher flick youve ever seen in director Peter Jacksons The Frighteners. Original for its odd mix of horror and black comedy, the movie trails Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), a paranormal communicator who runs a ghost-busting racket with three ectoplasmic partners. When an otherworldly murderer starts cutting down townspeople, Bannister sets out to stop it and soon discovers connections with past serial killings and his own dark history. A wide array of bizarre characters populates this surrealistic tromp among stranded souls. Superb special effects enliven spectral personalities and the quick pace helps create an eerie funhouse feel.
Mary Shellys Frankenstein
1994 2:03 R
Mary Shelleys monster classic gets the most romantic film treatment so far in director Kenneth Branaghs adaptation. A young Frankenstein (Branagh) seeks to surpass his fathers medical genius by constructing a creature out of various dead humans. What emerges from his eel-charged primordial stew looks like a mob boss dredged out of the East River, largely because Robert De Niros mug is under the makeup. Branagh keeps the film fresh by staying more faithful to the tale, using vibrant colors in lavish costuming and sets, fleshing out minor characters, showing startling brutality and presenting a more eloquent creature than were used to.
Contributing to this story were Mary Catherine Ball, Mark J. Behuncik, Mark Burns, Kim Cammarata, Michael Cammarata, Connie Darago, Lisa Edler, Kathy Flaherty, Christopher Heagy, Betsy Kehne, J. Alex Knoll, Kevin Litkowski, Sandra Martin and Lori Sikorski.