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James Bridges
Michael J. Fox, Kiefer Sutherland, Phoebe Cates, Swoosie Kurtz, Frances Sternhagen, Tracy Pollan, John Houseman, Charlie Schlatter, David Warrilow, Dianne Wiest
Writing Credits:
Jay McInerney (and novel)

He's A Long Way From Kansas.

Michael J. Fox just "couldn't be better" (L.A. Daily News) in this "wildly effective [and] truly powerful picture" (David Sheehan, NBC-TV)! Co-starring Kiefer Sutherland, Phoebe Cates, Dianne Wiest and Swoosie Kurtz, and featuring a pulsating soundtrack from New Order, Depeche Mode and Prince, this "chronicle of wasted days and misplaced nights" (Roger Ebert) is a must-see!

Jamie Conway (Fox) is an aspiring writer who trades the wheat fields of Kansas for the imposing skyline of Manhattan - and the seductive party culture hidden within. When Jamie hits the club scene to enliven his nights and deaden his pain, he takes it to the limit ... until the limit threatens to take away everything and everyone he's ever loved.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Opening Weekend
$5.126 million on 1196 screens.
Domestic Gross
$16.118 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 9/2/2008

• Audio Commentary with Author/Screenwriter Jay McInerney
• Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Gordon Willis
• “Jay McInerney’s The Light Within” Featurette
• “Big City Lights” Featurette
• Still Photo Gallery


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Bright Lights, Big City: Special Edition (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 3, 2008)

Few films scream “Eighties” quite like 1988’s Bright Lights, Big City. Adapted from the hit novel by Jay McInerney, Lights focuses on Jamie Conway (Michael J. Fox), a Kansas boy who moves to Manhattan to pursue a career as a writer. Instead, he finds himself stuck as a fact checker at Gotham magazine.

Though Jamie hopes for his big break, he sabotages his career via his extracurricular activities. In particular, Jamie likes to hit the clubs, and he often indulges in drug use, with a special fondness for cocaine. Some of these behaviors stem from the departure of his wife Amanda (Phoebe Cates), an upwardly mobile model who abandons Jaime and heads to Paris. The film follows Jamie’s attempts to advance his career and work through various issues.

Lights offers the sight of Michael J. Fox’s desperate attempt to be taken seriously. It doesn’t work. Fox is simply too innately perky to be accepted as a drug-addled screw-up. Fox tries his best, and he manages to adopt the right mannerisms, but his performance lacks the edge needed for the part. Fox best fits into light fare, so when he shoots for more serious stuff, he feels insubstantial and out of place.

Not that this becomes a big problem in Lights, since everything about the project feels off. Though the movie wants to present a gritty cautionary tale, instead it seems more like a love letter to the wild Eighties nightlife. While Jamie indulges in all sorts of excesses, the thrust of the movie remains light ‘n’ fuzzy.

Oh, Lights tries to throw in some tougher moments. It gives us flashbacks to the suffering of Jamie’s mom (Dianne Weist) as she dies of cancer, and it also presents some potentially creepy dream sequences about the “Coma Baby”. The former lack emotional bite, and the latter seem much more silly than eerie.

The whole package just reeks of Eighties Cheese. Rather than go for the appropriate cynical humor or caustic bite, Lights embraces the era’s superficial, upwardly mobile ethic. It wants us to think that it feels otherwise, but the overall effect remains one of endorsement. We never feel like the project provides anything more than a sitcom take on the coke-addled Eighties.

This even seeps down to Donald Fager’s peppy, synth-dominated score. Fagen acted as the co-leader of Steely Dan, and it stuns me to hear the composer of some of the Seventies’ most cynical songs create tunes that sound like they come from one of the era’s beer commercials. Maybe I shouldn’t fault Fagen, as the score fits the film’s tone, but it still feels wrong.

That goes for everything about Lights. Far too superficial and flashy, there’s not a single consequential moment to be found. It throws out a glossy view of its era’s excesses without any substance to support it.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Bright Lights, Big City appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The transfer wasn’t bad, but it showed its era.

Sharpness seemed fairly distinct and detailed, though the movie displayed some general blandness that was likely due to the film stock of the era. Many Eighties pictures haven’t held up especially well in this regard, and Lights looked like a product of its period. Exterior shots appeared more crisp and clear, but interiors could be somewhat drab and flat. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement created no concerns. Print flaws were essentially a non-issue. Grain could be somewhat heavy, but other than a couple of small specks, source defects remained absent.

Colors appeared acceptably natural and accurate throughout the movie, but at times they could look drab and bland. The worst examples occurred during interior shots, which were a bit murky. Exteriors offered better definition and looked pretty solid. Black levels seemed acceptably dark though a little dull, and shadow detail was similarly flat. Low-light scenes generally appeared fairly easy to discern, but they looked too lackluster to be anything impressive. This was a perfectly acceptable transfer but not any more than that.

I felt the same about the lackluster Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Lights. The forward spectrum dominated and showed some decent stereo imaging. The music spread cleanly across the front speakers, and I also heard occasional use of discrete effects. These panned relatively well across the channels, and the forward audio seemed cleanly integrated. Not much came from the surrounds. They throw out some musical reinforcement but little else.

Audio quality wasn’t impressive. Speech seemed fine, though, as the lines only suffered from a smidgen of edginess. Usually they were clean and distinctive. Effects played a minor role. They appeared acceptably accurate but not particularly rich. Music was the biggest disappointment. Bass response was an issue, as the various pop/rock songs lacked notable low-end, and there was too much reverb. All of this left us with a rather mediocre soundtrack.

A mix of extras fleshes out the set. We start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from author/screenwriter Jay McInerney, as he provides a running, screen-specific chat. The writer looks at factual elements, liberties, and autobiographical aspects of the film, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, and some production notes.

This adds up to a decent but inconsistent track. I do like the parts that talk about New York in the era as well as those about how the flick reflected McInerney’s real life. However, we get very little about the novel and its adaptation, and the piece really sags at times. There’s a bit too much dead air, and McInerney also tends to simply narrate the movie. Fans will still want to hear his thoughts, but they shouldn’t expect a great commentary.

For the second track, we hear from cinematographer Gordon Willis. In his running, screen-specific discussion, he discusses how he came onto the film and related controversies, his work on the flick, visual design, sets and locations, and other aspects of the production.

A legend in the business, Willis knows his stuff, so it’s a treat to hear him discuss his craft. He gives us some nice insights into his choices and style. Despite a few slow spots toward the end, this adds up to an engaging chat with a lot of good notes.

Two featurettes follow. Jay McInerney’s The Light Within runs 12 minutes, 10 seconds as it focuses on the writer. He discusses his personal experiences and their influence on the story, the development of the novel, the adaptation of the screenplay, themes, characters, and some other aspects of the flick. Where was this info in the commentary? Yes, McInerney discussed some of this stuff there, but in “Light” he provides plenty of valuable observations absent from that track. I’d have preferred that he touch on everything necessary during the commentary, as that would’ve rendered a separate featurette unnecessary. As it stands, this is a pretty good piece.

Big City Lights goes for 14 minutes, five seconds. This program features notes from freelance writer Mick Stingley, Mr. Pop History.com’s Gary West, and Generation Me author Jean Twenge. “Lights” looks at the relationship of the film and the book to their era and its continued relevance and influence after two decades as well as the elements of New York in the 1980s. Essentially the program just tells us that New York was slick, tough and superficial at the time. There’s a shocker. This is a pretty forgettable featurette without much of interest on display.

Next we find a Still Photo Gallery. This area includes 69 pictures that show shots from the set, publicity stills, and images from the movie. None seem interesting.

For a glimpse at pure, unadulterated Eighties cheese, Bright Lights, Big City lacks many peers. Though it wants to provide a hard-hitting view of the period’s excesses, instead it just gives us a silly, superficial piece of fluff. The DVD offers dated but generally good picture, acceptable audio, and some erratic but occasionally informative extras. This becomes a decent release for a silly movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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