Christmas presents: Videos - Eternally yours, Ralph Fiennes in your front room
Friday 12 December 1997
James Rampton reviews the best videos to give this Christmas.
A perfect gift for the true romantic this Christmas has to be Anthony Minghella's beautifully-crafted, multi-Oscar-winning interpretation of The English Patient. Ralph Fiennes and Kristen Scott Thomas announce themselves as major-league players with wonderfully-judged performances as a pair of doomed lovers during the Second World War. A classic with enduring appeal.
If extra-terrestrial fantasy is more your cup of tea the Star Wars Trilogy is the genuine article. Rightly credited with spawning a whole generation of special-effects blockbusters, George Lucas's archetypal, three-part myth about the battle between good - Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) - and evil - Darth Vader (David Prowse) - has stood the test of time since its first release in 1977.
Evita is another big Hollywood picture likely to prove popular this Christmas, especially with Antonio Banderas as the young Che Guevara. Madonna stuns the critics and proves she can act as the eponymous heroine in Alan Parker's visually-arresting version of the hit musical.
Tom Cruise also surprised a lot of critics with his outstanding performance as a sports agent who is forced to reevaluate his life in Jerry Maguire. In Cameron Crowe's engaging drama, Cuba Gooding Jr deservedly scooped a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Jerry's sole client.
Another of the Hollywood bigshots, Mel Gibson, also delivers a riveting display in Ransom as Tom Mullen, a millionaire who turns the tables on a kidnapper who has abducted his son. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) keeps the tension crackling right to the end of this gripping thriller.
On a lighter note, how about netting Fever Pitch? Nick Hornby's lively adaptation of his own best-seller scores as a love story rather than a football film as it charts the never-smooth affair between two very different teachers - Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell.
He may be gorgeous in the white coat as Dr Ross in ER, but George Clooney is even more yummy in rubber-wear as the star of Batman and Robin. In Joel Schumacher's effects-laden actioner, Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone back him up as Robin and Batgirl respectively, but, as so often with this cycle, the real stars are the baddies - Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze and Uma Thuman as Poison Ivy.
Fly-on-the-wall documentary is all the rage on television, but nobody in Airport or Driving School has ever been quite as candid as those featured in Living with the Lions. This engrossing dressing-room view of the British and Irish Lions' victorious rugby union tour of South Africa in the summer offers more swearing than a troopers' barracks.
When We Were Kings is comparably enthralling. Leon Gast's film gets up close and personal with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman as they prepare for their 1974 world heavyweight title fight in Zaire - widely known as "the rumble in the jungle." The sheer magnetism of Ali still shines through after all these years.
The trend for well-known presenters to present "funny bits" on lucrative videos trading on their TV celebrity continues. Nick Hancock crops up on Football Hell and They Think It's All Over - Full Throttle, while Jeremy Clarkson fronts Apocalypse Clarkson.
You're advised to keep the volume down on Murray Walker's Magic Moments.
As the TV schedules testify, comedy has become as traditional at Christmas as embarrassing yourself in front of your boss at the office party. Although well in his 50s, Billy Connolly remains the uncrowned king of comedy, able to ramble off on tangents for two hours and still hold an audience gripped. His Two Night Stand reminds us why.
The only threat to Connolly's crown at present appears to come from Eddie Izzard, whose Glorious is a fast-turnaround video of the live show he is still touring. He is at his best when homing in on the minutiae of life that perplex us all. Like why is it that we can never turn the shower- tap to exactly the right temperature?
Some twenty years after they first met and started performing together at Manchester University, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson continue to take enormous pleasure in hitting each other and falling over a lot. You can see just how they do it the childishly pleasurable Bottom 3: Hooligan's Island.
Adults just as much as children will enjoy plonking themselves down in front of Danny De Vito's highly successful reading of Roald Dahl's Matilda, about a girl with special powers, which stars De Vito and Pam Ferris. The book was voted Dahl's most popular ever - which is saying something.
Disney's timeless 1949 animated version of Cinderella has similarly universal appeal. The whole family can boo and hiss at the wicked stepmother. Meanwhile, if you don't warm to Cinderella's cohorts, the delightful mice, you have no heart.
You should find Winnie the Pooh's Most Grand Adventure equally winning. Billed as the first new Pooh film for 20 years, this animated escapade sees the daft bear and his pals getting into all manner of scrapes as they search for Christopher Robin.
More animal fun is to be found in the live-action film of 101 Dalmatians. Stephen Herek's well-made film features Jeff Daniels, Hugh Laurie and Glenn Close as a suitably dastardly Cruella De Ville.
The cutesy creature in Dragonheart is a dragon called Draco, voiced with typical good humour by Sean Connery. Rob Cohen's likable film sees knight Dennis Quaid ranged against a scheming king (David Thewlis), but the stars of the show are the special-effects team who bring Draco marvellously to life.
The popularity of all these videos might pale into insignificance, however, beside the extraordinary Teletubby phenomenon. Critics have sniffed at the rudimentary language employed by our four heroes in Here Come the Teletubbies and Dance with the Teletubbies.
But pre-school children still seem transfixed by the antics of these primary-coloured furries. If this isn't the top-selling video this Christmas, I'll eat my replica Tinky-Winky.
Information supplied by WH Smith and Virgin.
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