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Reviews: April 15

15 Apr, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


DVD Reviews


The Last King of Scotland
Street 4/17
Fox, Drama, B.O. $17.4 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘R' for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language.
Stars Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington.

Buoyed by the impassioned Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning performance of Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland rises far above the mediocre thriller to which it is tethered.

At once a mesmerizing character study of a diabolical, charismatic and larger-than-life political leader, and a somewhat limp work of historical fiction, the film manages to capture something of the real Idi Amin in its reels — and this is precisely the chaotic, brutal and capricious beast that drives it to its finish.

The well-assembled DVD serves a two-fold purpose toward this end: It shows both how the filmmakers were able to harness something of Amin's mercurial and monstrous nature, and where this nature was rooted.

The marvelous documentary “Capturing Idi Amin,” included on the disc, uses The Last King as a window to examine the facts (and legends) of Amin's life and the Uganda he left behind — much of which now reveres his memory. Refreshingly, this feature focuses more on the realities of Ugandan life and Amin's influence than it does on the making of the movie, thereby giving audiences a detailed account of both to supplement their enjoyment of the attached fiction.

Also included on the disc is a deeper look at Whitaker himself, through his own eyes (in a short featurette) and through those of the director and casting agent (in the “Casting Session” extra).

This is well deserved, considering Whitaker's landmark performance and remarkable resum?. These features are more cursory and acclamatory than they are insightful or probing.

These featurettes, along with the standard director's commentary and theatrical trailers, nicely support the movie's primary strengths — its real-life backdrop and its star. — J.R. Wick

Spider-Man 2.1
Street 4/17
Sony Pictures, Action, $19.94 two-DVD set, Unrated.
Stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Dylan Baker, Donna Murphy.

In introducing this new extended cut, producers said they didn't intend to displace the theatrical Spider-Man 2, which may be why they took the unusual step to actually change the title card to read Spider-Man 2.1.

The DVD is listed as unrated, but none of the new material pushes the film out of ‘PG-13' territory.

A little more than eight minutes has been added. Most are insignificant, but some add depth and probably should have been in the theatrical cut.

Otto Octavius' wife gets a proper introduction, and Peter Parker's birthday draws out some more animosity from Harry toward Spider-Man. An extended conversation between Peter and his doctor about psychology better explains scenes in the theatrical cut in which Peter tries to recover his powers. Also, the Hal Sparks elevator cameo has been swapped with an alternate take.

The best addition may be a hilarious clip of acerbic Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson hopping around his office while wearing the Spidey suit.

Spidey's battles with Doc Ock at the bank and on the train have been extended with new effects shots. Producers said they didn't have time to finish them the first time around.

The movie includes the trivia track from the first DVD (which still mentions the WB network, as opposed to the new CW), but also includes behind-the-scenes footage that pops up to show how special effects were added.

Special effects are also the focus of some all-new featurettes, which include the FX team reflecting on their Oscar win. Also included is an interview with composer Danny Elfman about the film's musical score.

Producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter Alvin Sargent provide a perfunctory commentary, as if compelled to provide some extra value to the DVD. She does most of the talking, and Sargent seems content to let her. There are long stretches where they don't talk at all, so you might forget you even had the commentary turned on.

Still, the DVD has just enough new material to keep fans interested. Let's not kid ourselves, though; the primary purpose of this DVD is to promote the May 4 release of Spider-Man 3. It includes a trailer and a brief preview of the third film. John Latchem

Bunny Whipped
Prebook 4/19; Street 5/15
ThinkFilm, Comedy, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language.
Stars Joey Lauren Adams, Esteban Powell, Rebecca Gayheart, Brande Roderick.

Bunny Whipped is one of those quirky, goofy, just-this-side-of-sophomoric comedies that nevertheless hits a chord with twentysomethings.

Bob (Powell), a successful sportswriter, is emotionally adrift, pining away after a failed relationship and without any real goals. When Cracker Jack, a beloved rapper, is murdered during a concert, Bob's life takes an unexpected left turn.

When the investigation into the murder becomes stalled, Bob decides to find the rapper's killer by transforming himself into “The Whip,” a vigilante superhero, albeit one with no real powers.

After his crime-fighting alter ego is featured on a popular television show, he gets a phone call from his high-school girlfriend.

At lunch, Ann (Adams), now an avid animal-rights activist, asks for Bob's help in saving some rabbits scheduled to be euthanized. The pair begins to spend more time together, which helps Bob to recover from his broken heart. However, just as things start looking up, Bob finds out that rap-star Kenny Kent, the man Bob believes killed Cracker Jack, has kidnapped his ex-girlfriend Jennifer.

As Bob, Powell is a low-budget Owen Wilson — a little slow on the uptake and oddly perceptive at the same time. Adams, with her little-girl voice and big-girl sexiness, is charming as the new/old love-interest who saves the day.

The target demographic for Bunny Whipped is specific. Twentysomething slackers and goof-offs (or just those who aspire to those lofty goals) will really enjoy the yuk-yuk humor and general impertinence.

The production values are a little rough, the language is a little bawdy and the humor is a little adolescent. But there is a huge audience that appreciates those exact attributes in comedies, and they should be enthusiastically steered in the direction of Bunny Whipped. — Anne Sherber

The Breed
Prebook 4/17; Street 5/22
First Look, Horror, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence and some language.
Stars Michelle Rodriguez, Taryn Manning, Oliver Hudson, Hill Harper, Eric Lively.

The Breed is a solid drinking-game movie — the kind you rent on a Saturday night with a group of friends, then imbibe your adult beverage of choice as the horror-film conventions pile up.

The film is inspired by classics such as Cujo and The Birds, with a bit of Deep Blue Sea thrown in.

Five college students fly to a private island to spend the weekend in a remote cabin. As they begin to party, they attract the attention of wild dogs that live on the island and attack people.

The movie throws in some character arcs for good measure. The group includes two brothers — one responsible, the other described as a screw-up — whose late uncle owned the island and rented a portion to a dog-training facility.

All the pieces seem to be in place, but the movie just feels slightly off. The situation is extremely contrived — the screenwriters designed the island and plot resources to match the premise of the killer dogs. Better movies wouldn't be so obvious about it.

The island is supposedly deserted, and the shrubbery is overgrown, yet the cabin is furnished, free of dust and stocked with food. The cabin also has a dock, but no boat. Yet, the uncle had a car (a Mercedes, no less) to drive around an island that supposedly is otherwise uninhabited. Perhaps to drive to the compound where the killer dogs were trained?

However, if everything is taken at face value, then some of the action set-pieces are pretty clever, and the last act kicks it up a notch.

The movie might not be bloody enough for some horror fans. After all, there's only so many ways a dog can maul someone. But, anyone looking for Rodriguez and Manning in bikinis need look no further. John Latchem

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep
Street 4/17
Echo Bridge, Horror, $19.99 DVD, ‘R' for some violence.
Stars Charlie O'Connell, Victoria Pratt, Jack Scalia.

Stories of gargantuan sea beasts have sparked the imaginations of sailors since days of old. Among these legendary creatures, credited with laying waste to many a vessel, is the mythical kraken.

The traditional image of the kraken is that of a giant squid, but I prefer to think of the creature as something more exotic and fierce, beyond the constraints of biological science.

Norse mythmakers crafted their own version of the kraken. Some accounts speculate the kraken to be the famed leviathan of the Book of Job.

French naturalist Pierre D?nys de Montfort became something of a pariah after suggesting a kraken may have destroyed a British fleet. Alfred Tennyson wrote his popular poem, “The Kraken,” based on some of these accounts.

Tennyson's poem, in turn, may have inspired Jules Verne in writing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and the famous giant squid attack on Captain Nemo's futuristic submarine, the Nautilus, made so famous in Disney's film version.

Verne's giant squid kicked off a long cinematic tradition for the kraken. An episode of 1960s sci-fi Western “The Wild Wild West” featured an artificial kraken used to scare away local fishermen from a mysterious underwater lab.

Clash of the Titans featured a feared sea monster that was referred at as a kraken, but its appearance was closer in concept with the ketos.

Last year, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest presented the definitive on-screen kraken, a massive beast with an appetite for sailing ships, doing the evil bidding of the slimy Davy Jones.

The latest effort to release the kraken is the cheesy Sci Fi Channel movie Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep, about a giant squid that guards an ancient Greek opal. The squid must contend with a crime boss (Scalia) who wants the opal, a marine archeologist (Pratt), and a man (O'Connell of “Sliders”) who wants revenge on the squid for killing his parents. The acting is hammy and the special effects are bad, but it's good for a few laughs.

While the movie is called Kraken, the squid is never referred to as such. The title was selected by fans (over such rich alternatives as Killimari) to cash in on the kraken craze. John Latchem

Steven Wright: When the Leaves Blow Away
Street 4/24
Image, Comedy, $14.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Steven Wright.

Nearly 20 years since he released a live performance, deadpan comedian Steven Wright returns as droll and bizarre as ever in When the Leaves Blow Away.

Filmed in Ontario, the performance shows Wright picking up where he left off, stringing together non-traditional one-liners that cause equal parts belly laughs and head-scratching. There is really no way to describe what Wright does without a handful of examples:

  • “What would it be like if I'd been born one day earlier? My life wouldn't have been different except that I would have asked this question yesterday.”

 

  • “I bought a new camera. It's very advanced. You don't even need it.”

 

  • “They say don't put metal in a microwave oven. They're right.”

 

  • “Today I was talking to myself, and I was very polite and cordial, but I could tell I was lying.”

 

  • “My doctor told me I shouldn't work out anymore until I'm in better shape.”

The often funny performance is also accompanied by Wright's occasional musical interlude — just him and his acoustic guitar — including the first song, about a kitten that is trying to kill him.

Extras add alternative elements to the 60-minute comedy performance. There is a short black-and-white film written and directed by Wright called One Soldier.

The short has him as a returning Civil War veteran having trouble in his relationship, and also with life in general, allowing the character to mumble a long list of moody one-liners summing up his discontent and basic confusion. The short takes Wright into solemn comedy with poignancy, much like the old Woody Allen films with an Ingmar Bergman-style layout.

The DVD also includes a short snippet from a Boston gig Wright did in 1988.

Wright has never been for everybody, but his return in When the Leaves Blow Away proves he's still in fine form for those who get it, even if none of us will ever fully get him. And that's fine. Dan Bennett

Into the Fire: American Women in the Spanish Civil War
Street 4/17
First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

In 1936, General Francisco Franco led a right-wing uprising against Spain's democratically elected government, touching off a civil war that, it turned out, was a run-up to World War II.

Both Hitler and Mussolini joined forces with Franco, envisioning another fascist-friendly government for their axis forces.

Although the U.S. government would not involve itself in Spain's struggle, 2,800 Americans defied that position, traveled to Spain on their own and fought against the fascists. Of those 2,800, 80 were women. And Into the Fire is their story, told using their own words.

The Americans who chose to stand with Spaniards fighting fascism had clarity and conviction. The women who joined the battle, mostly nurses, journalists and writers, are remembered in this documentary through the use of archival footage of the military campaigns in Spain and the rest of Europe, as well as through the letters, journals and stories they produced about their experiences, and through speeches and letters by Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Parker.

Into the Fire sheds light on the motives, the passion and the idealism that drove American citizens to Spain, and in that way, does what every good documentary should do: illuminate some aspect of the human experience so we can see things we did not see before.

Especially interesting are recent interviews with the surviving women, who all appear to have remained committed to justice. They tell their own inspiring story in the most eloquent way. — Anne Sherber

Quick Take: Soaring on Silent Wings

Among the unsung heroes of World War II are the brave men of the American Glider Program, who participated in eight dangerous missions to assist in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Anyone interested in history should check out Inecom's recently released Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of WWII ($24.95). It uses interviews with glider veterans to cover the roots of the glider's role in military tactics.

Hal Holbrook offers effective narration, and the program includes interviews with noted journalists Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney, who covered the glider missions as war correspondents.

The disc also has an interview with director Robert Child about the making of the documentary, and a virtual tour of the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, Texas. John Latchem


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