Sunday, September 29, 2013

Big - The best Tom Hanks role from the 80s

Big (1988)
Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, 130 minutes (extended version)
Directed by Penny Marshall
Starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia and Jared Rushton

I've been a fan of Tom Hanks ever since I saw Big, and I would say that it's the first Hanks performance that really made me aware that he could be more than someone who would only be remembered as a briefly popular comedic actor. Big is a comedy, but it contains plenty of scenes which rely on drama. It makes some good observations about childhood, friendship, relationships, and life itself.

Josh Baskin is 12, and has a crush on someone at school. Unfortunately, he has no chance because her boyfriend can drive. After a failed attempt to sit next to her on a fairground ride, Josh makes a wish on a Zoltar machine; he wants to be big. A card informs him that his wish has been granted, and he wakes up the next morning as an adult. While that sounds like utter nonsense, it provides an opportunity to show how a child in a man's body might interact with the world.

We see Josh convince his friend, Billy (Rushton), that he really is who he says he is. The two form a plan to track down a Zoltar machine so that Josh can wish to return to normal. While the pair wait for the information to arrive, Josh has to support himself. He likes computer games and manages to talk his way into working as a data processor at a toy company. I guess finding a job was easier in 1988 than it is today?

The genius of the movie is in showing us how simple life can be when you're a child. Most adults become jaded when they realize the reality of working, the daily routine, and the struggle to pay for all the little luxuries that they covet. Josh attacks the world with the exuberance of a child. He does everything quickly and to the best of his ability, and his enthusiastic approach draws the attention of the Mr. MacMillan (Loggia), who owns the company.

Josh is promoted fast, and is soon vice president of development. His apparent luck causes resentment among some of the employees, but Susan (Perkins) finds his approach attractive. The two enter into a relationship, but we can see that Josh doesn't have any idea how to behave around a woman who isn't his mother. Once again, his honest approach pays dividends, and Susan perceives his attitude as a refreshing change from the manipulative partner she last dated. In fact, his childish notions help unlock the child inside her, and she likes the feelings it evokes in her.

The movie is definitely a feel-good piece, but it's more than just fluff. If you think about some of the messages, it's telling us just to take things at face value and enjoy life. Josh succeeds because he has no ulterior motives. We are regularly reminded about the importance of friendship, and how events in our lives can sometimes threaten our relationships with established friends when we find something or someone new that we think deserves our full attention. Of course, a good friend will forgive you for such indulgences.

There have been so many movies about identity switches, and quite a few of them were made in the 80s. Big is better than all of the others because after the initial fantasy element, it contains a lot of incisive observations about human behavior. The casting elevates the movie to yet another level, and it's one I return to every couple of years.

The story was written by Gary Ross, who had a hand in the writing of Seabiscuit, Pleasantville, and The Hunger Games. This is easily his best early effort and it deserves your time. The Blu-ray includes an extended cut, which adds 26 minutes to the movie, and it's my preferred version.

Overall score 4.5/5

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Blu-Ray Bin Weekend Sale - Sep 28, 2013

Weekend Sale - September 28, 2013

Free shipping in the US and Canada when you spend $25.

Use code freeshipsep2013 for free shipping on all used titles (no minimum purchase).

Here is the Weekend Sale for this week:

1-Disc Used: 

Blood Diamond $6.99
Platoon $6.99
Wings of Life (Bilingual) $6.99
Puss in Boots $6.99
Officer Down $6.99
Spartacus $6.99
Brother Bear/Brother Bear 2 Double Feature $6.99
The Dark Knight Rises $6.99 

Brand New: 
Fatal Attraction/Disclosure Double Feature $12.99

3D Brand New: 
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 3D $14.99
Up 3D $19.99

Check out the Used 1-Disc section for great deals starting at $4.99. 

USED 3D Blu-Rays:
Oz: The Great and Powerful 3D (Bilingual)

The Expendables (Combo)
G.I. Joe Retaliation (Combo)
Indiana Jones 4 (2-Disc)
Looper (Combo)
Pain & Gain (Combo)
Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (Combo)

1-Disc USED:
007 - Casino Royale
007 - Quantum of Solace
Ant Bully
Battlestar Galactica (35th Anniversary Edition)
Blood Diamond
The Bone Collector
A Bug's Life
Coming to America
The Dark Knight Rises
Friends with Benefits
The Fugitive (20th Anniversary Edition)
G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Independence Day
Lady and the Tramp
The Naked Gun
Officer Down
Old Dogs
Pitch Perfect
Pretty Woman (Bilingual)
The Rescuers (2-Movie Collection)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Sixteen Candles
The Sixth Sense
Sweet Home Alabama
This is 40
Wings of Life (Bilingual)
X2: X-Men United
X-Men 3: The Last Stand
X-Men: First Class

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Easy Rider

Easy Rider (1969)
Drama, 95 minutes
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Karen Black

The 1960s saw a lot of social change. The hippie movement, the increased exposure of recreational drugs, and the idea of freedom were all on the rise. Easy Rider captures that time and tries to depict a feeling. For the most part, it succeeds.

Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) star as two bikers who are riding across America on their choppers. We see them buying and selling drugs, and meeting up with other like-minded people. They are determined to leave behind the established system and make their own way in life. In a way, this is a road movie, but it's also much more.

The biggest source of conflict in the movie comes in the form of people who see Wyatt and Billy as dangerous non-conformists. They are arrested on dubious grounds and receive verbal abuse from some of the townspeople they meet along the way.

The story itself is actually pretty thin. This is a movie that is more about the lifestyle than the plot of its characters. The idea of communes and free love are not as shocking as when they first appeared, but imagine watching the ideas portrayed in this movie when it was released.

Jack Nicholson shows up as lawyer George Hanson, who helps out our rebellious heroes when they find themselves locked up in jail. Nicholson's role is brief, but memorable. Hopper and Fonda do a great job of portraying the free-spirited bikers.

Music plays a big part in the movie and helps to establish the 60s feel. Be ready for Hendrix, Steppenwolf, The Byrds, The Band, Roger McGuinn, and many other performers from the era. The other star is the American scenery. The mountain locations are particularly spectacular.

The movie is dated now, but I found it enjoyable nonetheless. I would recommend it for people born in the 50s or before, as well as younger people who are curious about what life might have been like at the end of the 60s.

The Blu-ray presentation from Criterion does a good job of restoring this important movie, and comes with commentaries and a choice of audio options.

Overall score 3.75/5

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Animation, Adventure, Family, 103 minutes
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Starring the voices of (US dub) Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Tress MacNeille, Matthew Lawrence, and Janeane Garofalo

On the day that I learned of the impending retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, I wanted to take the time to review yet another Studio Ghibli title. But before I do, I'd like to pay tribute to the great Japanese director.

If I think about my favorite directors, Miyazaki would be high on the list. He might not be number one, but he's probably brought me more pure joy than any other director. Miyazaki has 11 features to his credit as a director, along with several shorts and TV series. He's also written screenplays for other Studio Ghibli directors, including Whisper of the Heart, From Up on Poppy Hill and The Secret World of Arrietty.

All of those movies have the unmistakable Miyazaki feel. His films usually feature strong female characters, elements of fantasy, and a feeling of innocence and purity that is lacking in animated films from other studios. I'm happy that he can finally enjoy his retirement, but I'm sad that the upcoming The Wind Rises will be his last film.

But let's talk about Kiki's Delivery Service.

Although my favorite Studio Ghibli title changes depending on my mood, Kiki's Delivery Service is one of several titles from the studio that I would rate as perfect. Kiki (Dunst) is a 13-year-old witch who is about to leave home for one year to further her training. She takes Jiji (Hartman), her black cat, and finds a town where she can settle. Her mother makes potions, but Kiki is unsure what services she will provide, until an opportunity presents itself. She returns a pacifier to a young mother and realizes that she can make her living by flying all over town to deliver other items.

Like most Ghibli worlds, the people in Kiki's new town are kind and generous. She's given a place to stay by Osono (MacNeille), who runs the local bakery. In return, she'll mind the store on occasion and deliver things for its customers. The locals are all impressed by her ability to fly, but it's her character that eventually charms most of them. She's simply a good person, and everyone she comes into contact with likes her.

One boy, Tombo (Lawrence) develops a crush the moment he sees her, and tries to get to know her better as the story progresses. Like Hayao Miyazaki, Tombo has a fascination with flying. He's trying to build a machine that will do just that, and he's eager to show his work to Kiki.

There are no villains of any kind, but the story does contain moments of peril. However, I would recommend Kiki's Delivery Service to anyone, whether they are four years old or over 80. It's the kind of movie that will make you smile right from the start, and keep delighting you throughout the 103 minutes. Phil Hartman has most of the best lines, and some of his remarks provide the funniest moments.

I recently loaned the movie to a friend and her 5-year-old insisted on watching it three times. As soon as I got it back, I was compelled to watch it again myself.

There is no North American Blu-ray at the time of writing, but you can import it from Japan if you require a Region A disc. It's also available in other parts of the world, including the UK (Region B locked). I suspect a North American release will happen next summer.

I'll close by thanking Hayao Miyazaki for Kiki's Delivery Service and the many other memorable titles he has been involved with. I can't imagine another animation studio coming close to his lofty achievements.

Overall score 5/5

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