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Reviews: April 16

16 Apr, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Family Stone

The Family Stone
Street 5/2
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $60.6 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some sexual content, including dialogue, and drug references.
Stars Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Claire Danes.

The Family Stone is a small movie with a huge cast. The impressive sophomore effort from writer-director Thomas Bezucha demonstrates his directorial finesse as the film glides from slapstick mayhem and cutting witticisms to unabashed romance and heartfelt family ties.

Everett (Mulroney) brings his uptight, workaholic girlfriend, Meredith (Parker), home for the holidays. His giant family is a loose bunch of liberal intellectuals who discuss sex with their mom, bat around good-natured insults and immediately disapprove of prudish Meredith. She calls her sister (Danes) in for backup, and that's when relationships start to shift, and chaos, redemption, sorrow and love ensue.

The DVD offers typical background on the film, the cast and the difficulty Bezucha had getting it made.

The Parker-Mulroney commentary is giggly and a bit pointless; the second commentary, led by Bezucha, is more informative.

The “Casting Session” featurette, a cast Q&A and a too-long making-of featurette round out the meaty portion of extras — especially regarding the casting and how the actors developed the familial relationships that are the movie's backbone.

The remainder of the extras (a gag reel, a red-carpet featurette, three theatrical trailers and a recipe) are just gravy. – Laura Tiffany

American Dad Vol. One
Street 4/25
Fox, Animated, $39.98 three-DVD set, NR.

Seth MacFarlane's DVD-revived TV comedy “Family Guy” sports a talking dog, and its absurdities go way beyond MacFarlane's “American Dad.”

That's strange, considering “American Dad” has both a talking fish and an alien. But whereas “Family Guy” perpetually breaks down the fourth wall, cramming episodes with self-referential jokes and outlandish tangents, its Fox TV partner “Dad” relies more on the humor of the family.

The clan includes manly jawed CIA agent Stan Smith, wild-girl-turned-good-wife Francine, idealistic hippie daughter Hayley and nerdy wannabe-Casanova son Steve, as well as the aforementioned Roger the alien (whom Steve is hiding) and talking fish Klaus (whose humorous brain swap with a human is revealed early on).

“American Dad's” humor is more organic. Nerdy Steve gets drunk on power when his dad helps him win a school election. Hayley's political fights with her dad lead her to living with a loser in a van. Stan nearly assassinates his wife when her career starts to overshadow his. The jokes fit the characters and the overall plot.

For those who've seen the episodes and want extras, there are plenty. Funny and/or interesting commentaries are on 12 of the 13 episodes. A multi-angle version of one episode has alternating views of a table read, the unfinished animatic and the final episode, with alternating audio tracks for all three. There's a live reading at the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., as well, with parts of the final episode filling in the gaps. On top of that, there are two making-of featurettes and 24 deleted scenes. Don't watch any of the making-of material first, however: They're too well-made, with all the relevant gags and scenes creators and cast are talking about. Brendan Howard

Flight 93
Street 5/2
MTI, Drama, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG-13.'
Stars Jeffrey Nordling, Ty Olsson.

This is a hard movie to watch. But at the risk of sounding morbidly obsessed with tragedy, it's also a hard movie not to watch.

Flight 93 aired on A&E Jan. 30. The high-quality made-for-TV movie looks at the passengers of United Flight 93, who thwarted a fourth attack on an American landmark by wresting control of their plane away from 9/11 hijackers.

Flight 93 does something that all the news coverage, all the analysis and even the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui can't. It identifies the “bad guy.” It gives us someone on whom to focus anger, fear and hatred, even if it's just for an hour or two, even if they're just characters on a screen.

The movie switches perspectives from the plane to the authorities, to the families at home who are talking to their loved ones on Flight 93.

Selling Points: Universal's United 93 hits theaters April 28. For a time, we were a culture of information junkies when it came to Sept. 11, and Flight 93 should spark a resurgence of that feeling. Others may shy away from this one, but they shouldn't. It's dramatic, but not melodramatic. It's tastefully done and actually quite cathartic. Jessica Wolf

The Devil's Miner
Prebook 4/18; Street 5/23
First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR. In Spanish with English subtitles.

Dust gathering in his lungs after 24-hour workdays, Basilio, a diminutive 14-year-old, offers some of his coca leaves to a dusty statue of Tio, the Satan who rules the underground Bolivian silver mines in which he earns his living. His younger brother, Bernardo, helps him in the depleted mine left behind by the Spanish colonialists centuries before and now earning just a few dollars a day for its miners.

The two live with mother Manuela and sister Vanessa in a stone hut near the mouth of the mine. Manuela's husband and the children's father died many years before, and to keep the family going and to pay for schooling and supplies, the Vargases live and make their money on “The Mountain That Eats Men Alive.”

Capturing the joy of family, the pride of slowly deteriorating workers, and the dark reality that few adults or children who work the mines will leave before they die, filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani have done a great service to a neglected Bolivian community. It's surely why Human Rights Watch endorsed the film.

The extras — a “One Year Later” short, resources, film notes and a study guide — could turn these miners' tale into an educational and life-changing event for those moved to help.

Selling Points: This is a powerful portrait that should satisfy curious Spanish-speaking viewers and documentary lovers. It reminds us all that child labor isn't dead in the world. Brendan Howard

Benny's Video
Prebook 4/18; Street 5/16
Kino on Video, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR. In French with English subtitles.
Stars Arno Frisch.

Kino on Video has four new-to-DVD films from Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf). The Seventh Continent, Funny Games, 71 Fragments and Benny's Video all deal with people's disconnect with reality, the connections between media and violence, and the lack of human empathy. It's Benny's Video, however, that brings it all together in a simple, chilling tale.

Latchkey Austrian teen Benny (Frisch) is obsessed with video. His windows are covered, and a camera focuses on the street below. He does his homework with the TV blaring war news and the radio at full blast.

While his parents are away one weekend, Benny invites a young girl over and shows her a video of a pig being killed with a butcher's tube-like gun. When she turns down his offer to shoot him on camera, he shoots her. Her plaintive howling is the sound not of teen scream queens facing Freddy Krueger, but the terrified wail of a living being trying to escape the sociopathic butcher's gun as Benny tries again and again — reload and fire, reload and fire — to silence her.

After the killing, we see Benny quietly eating. The eating satisfies a physical need, but something in Benny is never full, never satisfied. Something is broken.

Eventually, Benny shows the snuff film to his parents, and the movie moves on in disturbing normalcy, with board games played, calm conversations and the horror beneath the surface that his parents conspire to hide.

Haneke refuses to give clear answers to any of the gnawing questions: How can the parents do what they do? Why did Benny do what he did? No clear answers here, but one of the most fascinating explorations of violence on film.

Selling Points: Arthouse fans will adore this release and Haneke's others. Be warned: The DVD interview with Haneke is fascinating and enlightening, but contains spoilers. Brendan Howard

Prebook 4/26; Street 5/23
Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, NR.

Cannibal brings new meaning to the phrase “redheads are always trouble.” The title promises macabre fantasy, and the stark picture and bleak college campus scenery entice bloodthirsty fans to keep watching, waiting for a reward.

A typical unsuspecting college student has his head full of girls – except for the fair-skinned and redheaded, for which he has an unexplainable disgust. A goading roommate takes him to visit a dimly lit motel where their conspiring, man-eating escorts turn murderous — viewers would think — spoiling the plot.

After escaping, he becomes fascinated by the seemingly unrelated sister of his assailants (a redhead, no less). Her apparent fear of commitment and the implicit predator-prey relationship provide a little nuance for the banal boy-wants-girl storyline.

Yet, an ailing femme fatale in self-denial of her existence as a mutant-human parasite gives a refreshing but undeveloped character contrast to the placidly murderous vixens of cinema. Disappointingly, her secret is revealed in an overly forthcoming, dispassionate attempt to curry favor with her beau.

The sparse dialogue and fast pace of the film will make viewers eager for a horrific blood-fest, but the cover is misleadingly gruesome for a film with almost no on-screen violence. Cannibal dupes horror-seekers into watching a slightly nuanced sci-fi tale, but a hasty tempo and ambivalent subject focus confuse the plot.

Those who might have looked upon the recent Hostel with much morbid anticipation will find this film piquing.

Selling Points: The cover is reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins' restraining mask from Hannibal, but a more seductive pair of lips creates an inviting fa?ade to this story. Justin-Nicholas Toyama

Prebook 4/18; Street 5/16
First Look, Horror, $24.98 DVD, Rating pending.
Stars Miles O'Keeffe.

Another in a recent flurry of low-budget horror movies, Clawed is your classic teens-camping-in-the-woods horror flick in which the bad guy is either: 1) a savage human or 2) a savage beast. It's the latter, in this case, and, as is so often the case, the creature in question is merely misunderstood and has turned against man because man turned against him.

The mythical Sasquatch is hardly on a par with Frankenstein or King Kong; he slaughters indiscriminately until the very end. He's also got no visible personality; viewers only catch glimpses of him lurking behind trees or bushes, looking a lot like E.T. on steroids (about as menacing as the campy Creature from the Black Lagoon).

There's nothing else one can say about his movie, other than for fans of this sort of stuff — me included — it's enjoyable enough to watch, and there is one really good disemboweling scene.

Selling Points: This is the type of movie you rent on a rainy weekend when you're bitten by the urge to watch a string of horror movies. This one would be near the bottom of your list, but you'd still watch it all the way through. Make sense? Fellow fans, I'm sure it does. Thomas K. Arnold

Shooting Livien
Prebook 4/18; Street 5/16
TLA, Drama, $19.99 DVD, NR.

Stars Dominic Monaghan, Jason Behr, Ally Sheedy.Shooting Livien is a rock-and-roll train wreck with a wannabe-John Lennon, New York City singer in the conductor's seat. Livien (Behr of The Grudge) acts as if he's the reincarnation of his idol — little round glasses, faux British accent and all. His band mates (Monaghan of “Lost” and Joshua Leonard of The Blair Witch Project) rib him for these mannerisms, but he's got the talent and charisma.

He's also tormented by his past — particularly his mentally ill mother — and these demons catch up to him just as his band is about to hit it big. Thrown into the mix are Emi (Sarah Wynter of “24”), a Yoko for his John, and Brea (Sheedy), a manager who is as condescending to Livien as she is attracted to him.

The train-wreck part of the story is Livien himself. He speaks in mysterious poetic nothings, refuses to name songs on philosophical grounds and ruins his band's chances with rash decisions. He has the affectations of a teenager still searching for his identity, only Livien is in his mid-20s.

Writer-director-producer Rebecca Cook has created a sharp-looking film, using visual tricks to get us inside Livien's deteriorating mind. But Livien is never made sympathetic. Behr is backed by a good ensemble (particularly Monaghan, who embodies the irony-coping mechanism of the indie generation: always make a joke), but the plot lags behind the mind tricks, and the reasons behind Livien's climactic act never make much sense.

Selling Points: Indie fans of both music and movies will get behind this one. The cast is top-notch, and it has believably good music. Despite its flaws, it compels you to watch till the end. – Laura Tiffany

New Police Story
Prebook 4/19; Street 5/16
Lionsgate, Action, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence. In English or Cantonese with English or Spanish subtitles.
Stars Jackie Chan, Nicholas Tse.

New Police Story is above all else a tale of redemption. Chan stars as a Hong Kong police inspector who leads a SWAT team to the hideout of a gang of bank robbers who have set a trap. The criminals are playing a game to see who can nab the most police officers, who are used as live bait to lead Chan into a series of mind games.

Chan fails to save them, setting off a year-long depression of booze and self-pity. He is dragged back to his old life by Frank, who says he's Chan's new partner and has been assigned the task of bringing down the gang. Frank's true motivation for helping Chan is revealed in the climax. Also along for the ride is Chan's fianc?e, who looks about 20 years younger than he does.

Chan, now in his 50s, has cut down on his stunt work compared to previous films, but there are a few great set pieces, such as Chan's attempts to stop a runaway bus.

A lot of time is spent on the story, which at two hours seems a bit long, and the English dub suffers from some hammy delivery and clunky dialogue designed to match the actors' lip movements. But there is some beautiful photography, aided by sweeping computer-generated vistas of the downtown landscape.

Selling Points: It's a good late-career effort for Chan and is a worthy addition to any collection of his films. It's Chan-tastic. John Latchem

What's on DVD?

  • Introduction by Chan
  • Select scene commentary with Chan
  • “I Hate English” featurette on dubbing
  • Making-of featurette

  • QUICK TAKE: “Home Movies” Ends in Song
    Home Movies — Season Four (The Final Season): On the oddball animated show “Home Movies,” some of the best oddball moments are the wacky songs — about coffee, cake and Franz Kafka — on a par with Jack Black's Tenacious D. Fans will love the bonus 52-track CD with this Shout Factory set (three-DVD set $34.98) that collects the silliest songs and some of the beautiful guitar instrumentals (who knew?). Plus, unaired scenes show up as a DVD extra. Music-ilious! Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: Fly, Fish, Fly!
    Fly Fishing — The Lifetime Sport: As David Young explains in his narration, fly fishing is a sport you can get better at with age. If your wife, Cheryl Young, isn't videotaping you, your only spectators are the Great Outdoors. This how-to DVD ($24.95) is about as good a resource as you'll get without a real-life teacher, and it's used as a text for online and live courses. Each section is prefaced by pages of text and pictures followed by video of mellow-voiced David showing off equipment and casts, or explaining rivers and fish — all catch and release. A companion book to this Victory Multimedia title is due May 8. Brendan Howard

    FROM THE VAULT: JFK: Director's Cut Two-Disc Special Edition

    I often find the best DVDs make me investigate a subject more. Recently, I bought Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood after watching the Oscar-lauded biopic Capote. These history-based DVDs benefit most from the advent of extras. One of my favorites is another Oscar-lauded treatment of history, JFK, Oliver Stone's much-criticized, but provocative, treatment of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

    Documentaries, testimonies and even a death-bed exhortation by Jim Garrison (the New Orleans district attorney who prosecuted the case highlighted in the film) pack the 2003 Warner Home Video release and keep the investigation alive.

    But the most fascinating part of the DVD is Stone's commentary. Whatever you think of the director, he's a persuasive speaker and he outlines some of the dramatic license he took in the film and offers more information about the evidence in the case.

    JFK is a fascinating portrayal of one of our country's most traumatic events and enduring mysteries, and the extras manage to comment on the murky nature of history itself. Stephanie Prange

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