D: Andrew Bergman (1990)
with Matthew Broderick, Marlon Brando, Penelope Ann Miller, Bruno Kirby, Frank Whaley, Paul Benedict,
Nothing soothes the mind of someone undergoing a traumatic change of residence like The Freshman, Andrew Bergman's brilliant fish-out-of-water story that, for some reason, never really found its audience. Broderick, a perennial favorite of mine, is the titular idealistic film student who finds himself victimized by a scam artist (Kirby) only 19 minutes after his arrival in New York City. What follows is a perfectly hilarious tale about what might be the mob (headed by a very Godfather-ish Brando), an elaborate "importing" scheme, the perils of film school, and a large Komodo dragon. With dead-on performances (Whaley and Kirby could both keep the film afloat on their own) and enough film references to keep the most dedicated cinephile interested, The Freshman is a woefully underlooked movie (that fortunately comes on cable all the time). Frankly, I never tire of watching this movie over and over again, and it always manages to make me forget my troubles (as well as Bergman's more recent work, like Striptease). Hopefully, Bergman will once again regain his instincts... or else I'll make him an offer he can't refuse.
-- Christopher Null
A Night to Remember
D: Roy Ward Baker (1958)
with Kenneth More, Honor Blackman, Michael Goodliffe, David McCallum
(Criterion Collection laserdisc)
With James Cameron's spectacular filmic version of the sinking of the Titanic waiting in the wings for fall or Christmas release, interest in the 1912 nautical disaster is likely to be rekindled (not that it ever goes away), and will invite comparison to previous celluloid interpretations of the event that for many clearly defined the end of an era. A Night to Remember is certainly the finest telling of the Titanic's fateful maiden voyage to date. Titanic, with Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck, was a melodrama that used the disaster as a backdrop, and suffers considerably when compared to A Night to Remember. Presented in a straightforward and very British fashion, A Night to Remember derives its drama from the truly compelling nature of the events that claimed over 1,500 lives. The cast is splendid, the direction taut and economical, and the visual effects quite impressive for their time. With a running time of just over two hours, A Night to Remember provides a much more involving and intense viewing experience than most of the bloated, overwrought set-piece action films that now fill theatres every summer. The Criterion Collection has become synonymous with the highest quality in laserdiscs, and A Night to Remember is no exception. The letterboxed black-and-white image is consistently sharp, highlighting Geoffrey Unsworth's stellar cinematography. The set also includes an hour-long special on the making of the film, an additional audio track with commentary, and the American and British theatrical trailers. -- Bud Simons
D: John Frankenheimer (1966)
with Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer
Seconds, like Point Blank or Blowup, is classic Sixties -- the cinematography is consistently far-out, the parties are frantically groovy, and The Man lurks around every corner. Still, anyone who grokked Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate will love this bleakly comic horror story. Our protagonist (John Randolph) is a middle-aged square who's hounded by some shadowy corporation and a friend who "died" years ago. They convince him to surgically alter his appearance and disappear into a new life. When the bandages come off, he weeps with joy to see a handsome new face under all of the hideous stitches and sutures: Randolph has transformed into Rock Hudson. Though casting this mediocre screen hunk as an uptight businessman's alter ego was a stroke of pop genius for director Frankenheimer, it was Hudson's idea to have two actors play the lead, and his surprisingly thoughtful performance galvanizes this harrowing, cerebral thriller (and suggest Hudson's talents were under-utilized). A remake is currently underway, but it doesn't look promising -- they don't make 'em this "heavy" anymore. -- Chris Baker
Sony PlayStation (Namco)
When Sony launched its 32-bit game console a couple of years ago, Namco's Ridge Racer was the killer-app for auto racing fans. The limited number of tracks frustrated a few game players, but Ridge Racer looked great, sounded great, and provided lots of fun. Namco's second installment in the series, Ridge Racer Revolution, was an improvement, and Rage Racer is even more graphically stunning (as would be expected) than its two predecessors. In addition to the enhanced graphics, there are a few other new bells and whistles. Cars can be upgraded and customized in the Grand Prix mode with cash earned from superior racing. Tire grip can be set to a preferred level to make those testy power slides a bit easier as well. Still, overall, it feels much the same as Ridge Racer, and doesn't really provide a significantly greater degree of enjoyment. Namco's relationship with Sony has been a boon to both companies during the two years since PlayStation's release. With a supposed deal in the works between Nintendo and Namco, Nintendo 64 owners can now look forward to games that should, in theory, eclipse the likes of Rage Racer. It's almost enough to make me think about buying an N64. In the meantime, Rage Racer will keep more than a few racing fans happy.
-- Bud Simons