Cold Comfort Farm

D: John Schlesinger; Kate Beckinsale, Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen, Rufus Sewell, Eileen Atkins, Ivan Kaye, Jeremy Peters, Sophie Revell, Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Maria Miles.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Video, 1016 W. Sixth

Who says there's no such thing as intelligent comedy these days? Thankfully, Schlesinger's adaptation of Stella Gibbons' 1932 novel imparts the feel of a cerebral Monty Python episode rather than those formulaic Chris Farley/David Spade vehicles that have become the only style of comedy Hollywood will pursue anymore. Suddenly orphaned and hungry for some writing inspiration, city girl Flora Poste (Beckinsale) leaves the London social scene behind to live with distant relatives on the provincially dreary Cold Comfort Farm. With the charming arrogance of the urbane, Flora manages subtly to broaden the horizons -- both mentally, and to the dismay of shut-in Aunt Ada Doom, physically -- of each of her eccentric kinsmen. Repeat gags, one-dimensional caricatures, and physical humor all have their place in this film too, but a perfect combination of absurdism, witty dialogue, and over-the-top tomfoolery manages to detract from the plot holes and Cold Comfort Farm's predictable ending.

-- Jen Scoville


D: Alfred Hitchcock; with Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

This 1940 masterpiece of Gothic melodrama, the artistic child of an unlikely but very successful collaboration between producer David O. Selznick and director Alfred Hitchcock, finds the perfect rhythm between gripping suspense and seamless storytelling. In her first major Hollywood role, Joan Fontaine plays a timid wife who shivers under the shadow of Rebecca, the dead first wife of her millionaire husband Maxim de Winter (Olivier). The all-British cast strongly disapproved of casting Fontaine in the role, so it is likely her portrayal of a woman utterly displaced was based in genuine vulnerability. A very hands-on producer, Selznick (Gone With the Wind) brought Hitchcock to the States to make Rebecca, the director's first American film. In this Best Picture Oscar winner of 1940, Hitchcock's genius comes through as he recreates Rebecca's death using simple camera pans without relying on flashback. But the inferno of a finale has Selznick's dramatic flair written all over it. Everything about this fabulous film is unforgettable, but especially the hypnotic opening sequence which will find you repeating in your sleep: "Last night I dreamed of Manderley again...."

-- Kayte VanScoy

The Rock

D: Michael Bay; with Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, David Morse.
VHS Home Video

It is a fitting farewell for co-producer Don Simpson -- a big-budget, explosion-packed, roller-coaster ride that mirrored the life of the now-infamous mogul who died before the film's release. As his last production (with old collaborator Jerry Bruckheimer), The Rock is an unabashed action movie, the story of a military man with a grudge (Harris), who holes himself up inside Alcatraz as a base from which to launch some exceptionally nasty, skin-melting nerve gas into San Francisco. On the case are an unlikely pair of heroes: a dull research biochemist (Cage) and a wily criminal with the distinction of being Alcatraz's only escapee (Connery). Sure, it's not a big departure from formula, but what positions The Rock over most generic Die Hard knockoffs are the liberal doses of humor shared by the constantly squabbling Cage and Connery and director Bay's precarious balancing act which keeps the picture just on the edge of believability. The fact that there are enough explosions in the film to destroy the whole Bay Area is almost beside the point. -- Christopher Null

Alone In the Dark: The Trilogy

Macintosh CD-ROM

A "three games in one" package always screams "obsolete!" though that isn't necessarily a bad thing. This grouping represents what was once the cutting edge in adventure games, but I wish the developer had used a little current wisdom to fix some glitches for this repackage. In this set of adventures based on H.P. Lovecraft mythology, the player wanders around through 3-D settings, getting attacked by everything from gangsters to zombies. While the games are quite interesting, there's a baffling nature to many of the problems with which you find yourself faced (computer-game insiders tell me this is due to its European origins and the slightly different frame of thought that goes with it), and no hints in sight! If you can fight your way past that trouble, the real nuisance is in saving games -- a repeat necessity for play. The first volume would only allow me one saved game, though its offer to rename it makes it clear that there should be space for several more entries. The other games offered multiple saves but rejoiced in repeatedly asking whether I wanted to save games in which I had already been killed (Well, duh!) You can do a lot worse than this package, but there are a lot less frustrating games on the current market as well. -- Ken Lieck

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