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Reviews: April 13, 2008

13 Apr, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews

American Dad Vol. 3
Street 4/15

For My Country: The history of the National Guard
Prebook 4/15; Street 5/20
MagicPlay, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Pat Boone.

The concept of a National Guard began in 1636, with the formation of local militias for the common defense of the colonies. Some form of these militias has since played a key role in every American war.

They were present at Breed's Hill (now known as Bunker Hill) at the start of the Revolution; at Bull Run during the Civil War; and fought as Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders at San Juan Hill.

For My Country traces the history of the National Guard through all these wars, interspersed with anecdotes from current Guardsmen. The movie uses the 1991 Gulf War to frame the Guard's role as a vital military unit. As part of the current War on Terror, Guardsmen constitute about half our fighting force, comprising a larger percentage of front-line forces than ever before. An additional 50,000 Guardsmen helped in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Through it all, these men and women don't consider themselves heroes. They're just doing their job.

In less than 50 minutes, director Darren Thomas deftly conveys the sacrifices made by our Guardsmen, both at home and on the battlefield. The movie demonstrates unwavering support for our troops and their mission. At one point, Thomas plays Franklin D. Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor “Day of Infamy” speech over images of troops responding to 9/11, effectively illustrating the constant cycle of vigilance needed to counter the omnipresent threat of America's enemies.

The DVD includes a music video for a new Pat Boone song, also called “For My Country.” He wrote it in support of the troops, and it's unabashedly pro-war, which is to say it should appeal strongly to the target demographic of the DVD. The song also is included on a CD packaged with the DVD.

Boone will be promoting the movie, which was produced through his Gold Label, in a national campaign that includes cable news, talk radio and a variety of publications, including military journals. – John Latchem

Last Request
Street 4/22
MTI, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for sexual content.
Stars Danny Aiello, T.R. Knight, Sabrina Lloyd, Mario Cantone, Vincent Pastore, Gilbert Gottfried, Frank Vincent, Joe Piscopo, Tony Lo Bianco, Mary Birdsong, Barbara Feldon, Nick Scotti.

Last Request is a laugh-out-loud dark comedy about a dying stand-up comic (Pop, played by Emmy winner/Oscar nominee Aiello) who wants one of his two sons to get married and carry on the family name with a child before he passes away.

This isn't as easy as it sounds, since his son Tom (Scotti) is a serial womanizer who enjoys sleeping with different women every night, while his other son, Jeff (Knight of “Grey's Anatomy”), has dedicated his life to God by joining the seminary. Unable to deny his father's dying wish, Tom quickly ditches his bachelor lifestyle and marries one of his favorite girls, only to be killed in an ironic wedding-night accident when the mirror suspended above their bed comes crashing down on them during the height of ecstasy.

Now as the only surviving son, Jeff's parents pressure him to leave the seminary so he can start his search for love and sex — not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately, his carnal quest turns into a disastrous 40-Year-Old Virgin scenario, with Jeff landing one oddball woman after another, including a lunatic dominatrix, a transvestite who was a former schoolmate, and jealous Siamese twins. The only normal girl in Jeff's life works alongside him at the retirement home. But with the clock ticking, Jeff is under the gun to overcome his shyness and spark a romance with his lovely co-worker Cathy (Lloyd) before his father passes away.

Last Request proves to be a star-studded, quick-witted comedy reminiscent of Rodney Dangerfield's old films. It's really brought to life by former “Saturday Night Live” writer John DeBellis, who deserves a lot of credit for writing and directing such a hilarious first film.

Besides its leads, Aiello and Knight, the film also features amusing cameos by Joe Piscopo, Gilbert Gottfried and Mario Cantone (“Sex and the City”). While Last Request is far from your typical love story, its quirkiness offers a certain charm, and its diverse ensemble cast should give it mass appeal. – Matt Miller

Romulus, My Father
Street 4/22
Magnolia, Drama, B.O. $0.004 million, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexuality, some violence and brief language.
Stars Eric Bana, Franka Potente, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Set against a backdrop of bleak rural poverty in Australia's hinterlands, Romulus, My Father is the story of one family's struggle to endure tragedy and survive.

A little boy named Raimond (Smit-McPhee) lives in the outback with his immigrant father Romulus (Bana), a blacksmith, and his mother (Potente), who is touched by mental illness and drops in and out of their lives.

Father and mother cannot bear to be together and cannot bear to be apart. But when she becomes pregnant with another man's child, Romulus tries to come to terms with the idea of a life without her.

After the child is born, Raimond's mother sinks deeper into despair, and his father retreats into himself. And one life-shattering moment ripples through the boy's extended family, leaving no one untouched.

The story, told from a child's point of view, recalls other similarly themed and equally affecting pictures, including This Boy's Life and Careful, He Might Hear You. Bana simmers with an intensity that occasionally boils at the surface and then recedes as his character tries to parent his son.

And Potente evokes a deep and permeating sadness as a woman who tries on new life after new life, looking in vain for one that fits.

But the real revelation of Romulus, My Father, is Smit-McPhee, through whose eyes the film unfolds. He is perfect as a boy whose circumstances have forced him to understand things beyond his understanding and shoulder burdens way beyond his years.

Romulus, My Father is a riveting study of how some immigrants adapt and some cannot adapt to their new homes, and a metaphor for the importance of home in a child's life. – Anne Sherber

Prebook 4/18; Street 5/27
Vanguard, Thriller, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Shiloh Fernandez, Reggie Bannister, Alexandra Ackerman.

Remember that time you went on a cross-country road trip with one goal in mind and ended up hitchhiking with a stranger, accepting his speed pills for “energy,” and then somehow dropping his body off in the middle of nowhere?

That's the exact predicament that Edgar (Fernandez), a Montreal DJ on his way to Los Angeles to meet his girlfriend, finds himself trying to figure out in Marc Samson's Interstate.

As if that wasn't trippy enough, Edgar still opts to pick up two suspicious-looking girls, Veronica and Gloria, who claim to be stranded after being mugged. Coincidentally, of course, their destination is Los Angeles.

The film has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-ish mood, as the backdrop consists of drive-ins, weird diners, old gas stations and the stereotypical stuffy Tiki motel.

Edgar, the good Samaritan, puts up with the two girls in spite of Veronica's annoying habit of prying and Gloria's extremely irritating habit of not talking and taking Polaroids of just about everything.

The trip takes a weirder turn when Veronica decides it would be entertaining to offer Edgar some gum with a splash of acid.

Edgar's perception of the world after that sweet gum is something straight out of the mazes at Knott's Scary Farm. His inability to drive the vehicle lands them at that wonderful Tiki motel, where Veronica and Gloria take advantage of his state and drive some dark confessions out of Edgar in order to blackmail him for everything he has. You'd think Edgar was done for, but no — it gets trippier. I promise.

Interstate took the Silver Award at the Houston International Film Festival, an honorable mention at the American Screenplay Festival and third place for best feature at the Reelheart Toronto Film Festival. – Ruby Cardenas

Beyond Hatred
Prebook 4/15; Street 5/20
First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
In French with English subtitles.

When skinheads killed Francois Chenu in a gay-bashing incident in Rheims, France, his family was devastated. Beyond Hatred begins 730 days later, as the Chenu family tries to come to terms with the vicious, hate-fueled beating and drowning, and prepare for the 2004 trial.

The attackers bashed Chenu's face and threw him, unconscious, into a lake at Leo Legrange Park, thinking he was already dead. He was unidentified when his body was pulled from the water. His sister read of the incident in a newspaper and went to authorities fearing the worst for her overdue brother, a fear confirmed when she arrived in Rheims.

What unfolds is the struggle to understand how and why it happened as lawyers prepare to try the three youths accused of the crime and family members cope with the aftermath.

The Chenu family is grieving and wants justice; the family members of the youngest attacker — just 16 at the time of the beating — are shown to encourage the Nazi perspective and are accused of hiding evidence that he took part in the crime (they also receive minor sentences for their complicity).

Francois' parents hope for remorse but find none; a statement from one of the attackers says he's changed — he still hates gays, but doesn't need to beat them any more (despite a history of picking fights). It rings hollow.

The documentary is presented like a somber French version of a TV newsmagazine, through conversations with family members and legal teams. The treatment relies on the drama of the events rather than clever writing, even though cameras were not allowed in the courtroom because the youngest assailant was a juvenile at the time.

The lesson here is that hate begets hate: As each layer peels back, there is more hatred underneath. The Chenu family struggles to find something more in their loss, but acknowledge they are fighting not to become as hateful as the attackers.

In the end, Francois' parents reach out to the attackers, hoping for change. We don't learn whether or not the criminals turned over a new leaf, and the Chenu family's effort toward that reform amid their own loss is touching. – Holly J. Wagner

Prebook 4/16; Street 5/13
Cinequest, Drama, $24.99 DVD, NR.
In Tagalog with English subtitles.

This film is for anyone feeling the pain of the U.S. economic situation, and anyone who has ever spent more than $20 on a pair of spiffy kicks.

Trudging barefoot down a mountainous path from the Philippine village of Batad to a market town below, Ag-ap and his friends cross paths with recreational hikers going up — kitted out in proper hiking gear, including high-topped hiking shoes. It's not even the female hiker who captures Ag-ap's eye, but the shoes.

It doesn't take long to figure out that shoes are a status symbol, not especially useful in rural rice paddies, but common among students and businesspeople in the city. Ag-ap is determined to have a pair of his own, and the life that goes with them.

He tries making some from bark, but they don't last a day. He takes work in the village, but earns next to nothing. New sneakers will cost a bundle, and what little he earns he contributes to his family.

Eventually Ag-ap gets his shoes, but as so often happens, the price is higher than he expects. Only in giving them up does he get what he really wants.

Ag-ap's quest for shoes is symbolic of a struggle against poverty, but it's also a story of a young man learning to preserve his family's traditions and values as he tries to step into a modern world.

With some foreign films the humor is so cultural that it doesn't reach Americans, but Batad is laced with little jokes that cross cultural lines. A sequence with Ag-ap dressing in Ifugao tribal garb to make money posing for photos with tourists is particularly funny.

With beautiful (and endangered) scenery, a “Little House on the Rice Paddy” storyline and a little O. Henry irony thrown in, Batad is suitable for family viewing and has values common to most cultures. It has a lesson about what happiness really is and how illusions of happiness can get in the way. – Holly J. Wagner

Last Hour
Street 4/15
Vivendi/CodeBlack, Action, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars DMX, Michael Madsen, David Carradine, Paul Sorvino, William Baldwin.

The French-made actioner Last Hour revolves around five characters: Monk, Casino, Black Jack, Shang and Poker. All five have something in common: they are bad men, with bad names. (Michael Madsen can add bad hair to his credit as well.)

Some of them aren't so bad, though. Black Jack (DMX) shares a nice “stay in school” message in the beginning of the film. This, of course, comes right after polishing off a diamond heist.

One other thing the five share is a letter from beyond the grave, instructing each to show up at a house in China to claim their riches. Instead, they are just treated to a police-infested party on the front lawn, while a psychotic killer seeks to pick each one off on the inside.

The movie might try a little too hard to be all things to all people. Last Hour doesn't burden itself with a thoughtful story or good dialogue, sacrificing both for the sake of the blood bath. It immediately kicks off with a kill count and plenty of kung-fu fighting.

Madsen's and Carradine's presence should entice some fans, and the film combines elements of Kill Bill, Cradle 2 the Grave and even a bit of Scream. The movie also plays on the real-time gimmick, which should key some viewers in on the meaning of the title. – Rachel Cericola

Prebook 4/16; Street 5/13
Lionsgate, Action, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence, language and some nudity.
Stars Daz Crawford, Samantha Alarcon, Paul Green, Dianna Agron, Anthony Ray Parker, Heidi Marie Wanser, Andrew “Chyna” McCoy, Christian Boeving.

Bitter rivals Mick (Crawford) and Martin (Green) have one day to find a winning fighter for an underground competition and get one step closer to inheriting an illicit empire in this brisk action movie directed by Declan Mulvey.

With a group of crooked cops and no scruples, Martin goes to extreme measures to win “The Tournament,” such as freeing a serial killer (aptly nicknamed Vicious) to use as his fighter. The slightly na?ve Mick gets help from his boss's fight-crazed teenage daughter (Alarcon) as he discovers that shady, no-holds barred fighting isn't exactly an honorable vocation.

While the two foes race against time and each other, legendary fighter Zendo (McCoy) returns from a self-imposed exile to avenge his brother's murder and, of course, break people in half like graham crackers.

TKO is an unabashed guy movie, and Mulvey gives that audience what it wants: loads of well-choreographed violence (complete with amplified sound), cool cars and a smattering of bare breasts. It's also very entertaining as the director keeps the movie tight and lean, uses his stuntman background to create splashy and authentic fight scenes, and gets two solid performances from burly leads Crawford (Blade II) and Green (from the Mulvey-produced Game Over).

Despite some unpolished acting from key players and a too-neat ending, TKO will satisfy action fans' blood lust. Anyone looking for sophistication or tact should either avoid the movie altogether or watch it with their hands over their eyes. – Pete Croatto

El Evangelista
Street 5/20
Laguna, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars J. Salome Martinez, Nicolás Guzmán, Esmirna Garcia, Angel Vald?s.
In Spanish with English subtitles.

Juan Daniel Zavaleta makes his directorial debut with El Evangelista, a riveting work that explores the concept of religion and the obstacles people face when attempting to make positive changes in their lives.

Pablo (Martinez) and his partner, Pedro (Guzmán), work for Martin, an infamous drug lord who rules their town. Their job is simple: kill people in debt to the boss. Pablo goes through life holding and quoting the Bible as if his life depended on it. The duo finds delight in making victims beg for mercy and forgiveness from God. They seem to believe they are accomplishing some divine work; however, their work is more along the lines of the dark side.

The storyline takes an interesting turn when Pablo is faced with the assignment of murdering a pastor at the local church because his work is negatively affecting the drug trade.

Pablo is hesitant about the assignment, and his second thoughts take him back to church, a place he has neglected to visit for almost 20 years. A conversation with the pastor allows him to find it in himself to recognize that his real dilemma is that he knows right from wrong, but he is unsure how to escape the contradiction that has become his life.

The film's moments of humor, mixed with serious sermonical bits, make it unique in its approach to reach out to audiences about a hot-button topic such as religion. It was a participant in several film festivals and took the “Audience Choice” at the Chicago Latino Film Festival 2006 and “Best Foreign Feature” at the WTSIWYG Film Festival 2006 in San Francisco. – Ruby Cardenas

ZakLand: The Shiny Surprise
Prebook 4/16; Street 5/20
PorchLight, Childrens, $14.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Zak Morgan.

Using his trademark of uplifting music, Grammy-nominated kiddie crooner Zak Morgan invites children of all ages to embark on a tour of “Zakland.”

In this short adventure, the power of imagination fuels a Yellow Submarine-styled backdrop, with a slew of characters including Marty the Bullfrog, the Can-Can Twins and Irwin. A standout in the crowd is Uncle Hank, a pilot with a magical tuning fork and a piano-styled suit to back it up.

This colorful cast is joined by a group of very cute, very smiley kids, as all come together to celebrate the birthday of King Shiny.

The end result is actually a hidden lesson in manners and vocabulary, with an emphasis on Zak's signature song “TIODNACI” (which translates to “I can do it” spelled backwards).

All of the action appears to take place in front of a green screen, leaving a lot of room for imagination — for both the actors and viewers. It's Morgan's first DVD release, and although it seems a bit over-the-top at times, it leaves viewers with a nice message of sharing and caring, as well as a slew of new tunes to sing along with little ones.

While older kids may be bored by the primitive puppetry and animation (the sticks from Marty's bullfrog hands are prominently on display), my 2-year-old seemed riveted for a short time.

However, due to the lessons, subject matter and slightly overactive backdrop, Zak will probably engage a slightly older crowd, closer to the 5-7 range. – Rachel Cericola

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