Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Back to the Future, Forbidden Planet

Video/DVD Picks
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Loosely based on the first three volumes of the best-selling, darkly comic series of books for intermediate readers, Lemony Snicket recounts the unhappy experiences of the three Baudulaire orphans as greedy Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) tries to steal their inheritance.
In spite of their abysmal luck, the one bright spot in Baudelaires’ unfortunate story is the Baudelaires themselves, who are plucky and likeable in appalling circumstances. Count Olaf may be as nasty as J.K. Rowling’s Lord Voldemort, but the Baudelaires are much more admirable than Harry Potter, with none of his reckless rule-breaking or other regrettable traits.
The film captures something of the book’s wryly macabre tone, and the storybook production design is spectacular.
Content advisory: Various unfortunate events involving children in perilous and disagreeable circumstances; brief crude language and minor profanity. Not for younger kids.

Back to the Future (1985)
Brilliantly constructed and virtually universal in its appeal, Back to the Future blends equal parts hilarity, nostalgia, science fiction, screwball comedy and white-knuckle suspense in a complex storyline wound tighter than a yo-yo in a centrifuge. Many of the best time-travel movies are about facing — and overcoming — the mistakes or errors of the past. Frequency, a more recent time-bending film, deals with an orphaned son who fears not living up to his father’s expectations; Back to the Future plays with filial disappointment or disillusionment with one’s parents.
On the surface, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has ample reason for disappointment: He seems too cool for his uber-loser parents, though he doesn’t realize the ways in which he is his parents’ son. But when an experiment in time travel leaves him stranded in the 1950s, Marty discovers sides of his parents he never knew.
The film is marred, alas, by excessive profanity. Unchaste behahavior is taken for granted as the norm among teen-agers in the 1950s as well as today — yet Marty’s dismay at his mother’s unexpectedly risqué behavior suggests, ironically, that despite everything else he still expects a higher standard from his parents.
Content advisory: Much profanity; moderate sensuality; some violence and menace. Okay for discerning teens.

Forbidden Planet (1956)
At once intelligent and campy, Forbidden Planet borrows plot points from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and strongly anticipates Star Trek in its sci-fi milieu — but its driving fears are the “monsters from the id,” the wayward, concupiscent passions of the human heart.
Set in 2200 A.D., the film opens with a flying saucer-like craft from Earth arriving at the distant planet to investigate the status of a colonizing party from which there has been no contact. What Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen) and his crew find is a single survivor, the secretive, uncooperative Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) — and his virginal but uninhibited daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), who’s been raised by her father in isolation and has no firsthand knowledge of Earth or men.
Altaira creates a stir among the long-isolated spacemen, and her naive lack of inhibitions about such matters as kissing — pure Enlightenment idealism — is as congenial to them as it would be to James T. Kirk. Yet unlike Kirk, a product of the 1960s, the captain of this 1950s sci-fi classic has a more realistic assessment of the dangers in this area and the need for restraint.
Content advisory: Some sci-fi and action violence and menace; mild sensuality. Teens and up.

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