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Reviews: April 2

2 Apr, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The New World

The New World
Prebook 4/4; Street 5/9
New Line, Drama, B.O. $12.6 million, $27.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some intense battle sequences.
Stars Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, Q'Orianka Kilcher.

Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line broke a 20-year hiatus from directing, and it seemed Malick had a lot to say. It was a big movie with big ideas set against a Platoon-like World War II conflict between angry soldier Sean Penn and compassionate soldier Jim Caviezel. It used a lot of nature shots, quiet moments and voiceovers to express a U.S. soldier's growing love of the land and the people of Guadalcanal, even as things grew worse and worse.

The New World seems like The Thin Red Line redux. Characters stare pensively off screen and interact in short, telling moments. However, this time war takes a back seat to love, as the un-Disney tale of John Smith and Pocahontas unfolds. Farrell plays the rebellious Smith, who spends time with the Indians but is forced to give up his dream-like life with them to take care of starving European colonists. His love of Pocahontas is doomed, but he means well. Kilcher, cousin to pop singer Jewel, is so innocent as the Native American princess that her loss of true love, her betrayal of her fellow Native Americans and her eventual assimilation into Western society is even more poignant.

Still, The Thin Red Line's problems surface here. The New World is too slow, unfolding over a ponderous 2 hours, 15 minutes. It spends too much time on beautiful, people-less shots. The voiceovers become increasingly distracting. An interesting one-hour, multi-part documentary explains how much work went into the realistic re-creation of 1607 Virginia, and how both scholars and Native American chiefs were asked to be involved.

Selling Points: Fans of arthouse, Malick, thoughtful romances and historical epics will enjoy this. Brendan Howard

Street 5/2
BV/Miramax, Comedy, $29.99 DVD, ‘R.'
Stars Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Dominique Pinon.

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet went from dark to light in his trio of visually amazing, quirky and heartfelt films: Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Am?lie. The third was the breakout hit, but the first two have been VHS cult hits. Now, Delicatessen (1991) has made it to DVD, with a few interesting but not breathtaking extras.

The un-narrated “Archives” featurette and a documentary are 21 minutes of scouting, screen tests, rehearsals and filming. The two are more interesting after listening to Jeunet's full-length commentary. He explains how the stairway scouting was for naught because of a greedy mayor, why co-director Marc Caro doesn't show up for the commentary, and how the rehearsal of an important visual comedy scene was made even more spontaneous when Jeunet told one actor to sit in a different chair.

Jeunet also explains that he keeps production material from his films, and loves recording and listening to commentaries: “As a cook, I always love to know my colleagues' recipes.” Given that, it would be nice to see a Criterion edition of this film someday, delving deeper into the weird post-apocalyptic world of a butcher cutting up human meat for hungry tenants and a gang of seed-eating vegetarians prowling the sewers. Critics and Jeunet's colleagues have a lot to say about his work, and stills are deserved for a film that's as precise as a beautiful painting.

Let's hope this is Delicatessen's first, not final, digital disc release. Brendan Howard

12 Days of Terror
Prebook 4/6; Street 4/25
MTI, Thriller, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13.'
Stars Colin Egglesfield, John Rhys-Davies, Jenna Harrison.

The thriller 12 Days of Terror is “based on the terrifying true events that inspired Jaws,” as the box cover proclaims. This reasonably well-made TV movie, however, stands on its own as a dramatically embellished chronicle of a horrifying series of beach and river attacks by a large shark in 1916 near the Jersey shore. Actually, the film suffers most in its attempt at duplicating Jaws, the believability nearly drowning in the climactic fight, where the shark leaps agilely out of the water and the hero leaps into the water and attaches a hook to the thrashing Great White.

Before then, the tale follows good-looking lifeguard Alex (Eggleston) as he faces the first fatality and tries to convince the powers-that-be that the beaches must close. Added to the action is a well-played love triangle between Alex's best friend and his old girlfriend. Also good is the perpetual character actor Rhys-Davies as Cap, Alex's friend and a booze-swilling fisherman who ends up as both town crier and shark hunter. Only in the final minutes does the film change from a clich?d but believable tale of a town fearfully denying mortal danger into a semi-comical, semi-adventurous hunt for the oversized monster haunting the waters.

Selling Points: Richard Fernicola, author of 12 Days of Terror: A Definitive Investigation of the 1916 Shark Attacks, serves as executive producer, so it's no surprise that drama and reality are deftly mixed. Jaws fans will want to learn about the real-life incidents that inspired the best-selling book and its movie franchise. Brendan Howard

The Passenger
Street 4/25
Sony, Drama, $24.96 DVD, ‘PG-13.'
Stars Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson isn't known for doing audio commentaries, so for him to drag himself away from a Lakers game long enough to record one is news.

In 1975's The Passenger, Nicholson plays a reporter sent to Africa to learn about a war, only to discover upon his arrival that there is no war. With his curiosity piqued, he investigates further and winds up assuming the identity of a dead man he comes across. This man is an arms dealer, and taking on his persona changes the reporter's outlook and gives him a new lease on life.

Listening to Nicholson describe his experiences filming The Passenger, it's clear he has a great respect and admiration for legendary Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni and how Antonioni would “try to film a documentary of the day as it actually happened.” There are lengthy passages in which Nicholson describes Antonioni's visual style; how he uses sight over sound to establish mood and present information; how he focuses on the total environment of a scene; and how he blurs the passage of time.

It's also clear Nicholson isn't accustomed to recording commentaries, as he seems to be whispering throughout, as if sitting in a crowded theater and trying not to be rude. He has a penchant for describing what's on the screen, which is OK when it leads to a story about making the movie, and sometimes it does. At one point, Nicholson begins repeating himself, and toward the end he seems to have run out of things to say.

A second commentary — with screenwriter Mark Peploe and journalist Aurora Irvine — delves more into the history of making the movie. John Latchem

Robin's Hood
Street 5/9
Wolfe, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR. In English and French with English subtitles.
Stars Khathee V. Turner, Clody Cates.

Considering all the money it takes to make a movie, it's amazing some ever get made at all. Robin's Hood has such a low budget that its stars are seen during the end credits soliciting people on the streets of San Francisco for cash.

Their plight, and ultimate success, is paralleled in the film, which the stars describe as an “inner-city lesbian love story about giving back to the community.”

Streetwise thief Brooklyn lets her guard down when she falls for Robin, a disillusioned social worker. When Robin is fired for being too lenient to those under her care, she convinces Brooklyn to rob banks and donate the bounty to charity.

When Robin learns she is pregnant from a one-night stand she had before meeting Brooklyn, they need one last score to help them support the baby.

Even at 81 minutes, the film runs too long; it could fit into one great short. The ending includes a cartoon montage that looks better than the movie itself.

Selling Points: It's Normal Life with lesbians ... and a happy ending. John Latchem

24 Hours on Craigslist
Prebook 4/4; Street 4/25
Heretic/Ryko, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, NR.

What is normal? Is it a routine based on what's socially acceptable or statistically average? Or is it the recognition that each of us has quirks and eccentricities that distinguish us?

This documentary isn't so much an examination of Craigslist, but a celebration of the diversity of its users, and each one has a story to tell.

Director Michael Ferris Gibson said he found inspiration one night while surfing through the postings at Craigslist.org, an online version of a newspaper classifieds section.

On Aug. 4, 2003, he decided to give Craiglist users a chance to speak to the cameras and collected hundreds of hours of footage.

The film is organized in much the same way as the categories on Craigslist: for sale, housing, personals, help wanted, etc. Each segment introduces increasingly bizarre personalities; the eccentricity is no doubt intensified by the fact that the film was shot in San Francisco, where Craigslist began in 1995 (it now has sites in more than 150 cities worldwide).

Among the postings sampled in the film: a request to trade a dead raccoon for a “Sopranos” DVD, an Ethel Merman drag queen looking to start a band, a couple looking for an S&M sex slave, women looking for gay men to donate sperm or marry for convenience, and people looking for apartments where they can smoke pot.

One segment rides along with a “flash mob” — a group of people who follow a posted set of instructions and end up in a random community gathering. In this case, hundreds of people began playing duck-duck-goose at the park.

In one neat interview, a man describes how he and his wife sold everything they had on Craigslist because they were going to travel around the world. They wound up in Greece and met an American woman there who told them she was inspired to travel by the couple's Craigslist post.

Selling Points: Any Craigslist user or John Waters fan will find something to smile at here. A shorter version will appear on PBS soon, and a book of the same name is due this fall. John Latchem

What's on DVD?

  • Director's commentary
  • Featurettes on Craigslist's founder, employees and headquarters
  • Nearly three hours of deleted scenes

  • Inspector Gadget: The Original Series
    Prebook 4/5; Street 4/25
    Shout Factory, Animated, $34.98 four-DVD set, NR.

    For kids, the 1980s were dominated by cartoons based on popular toy lines (“He-Man,” “G.I. Joe,” “The Transformers,” “Smurfs,” “My Little Pony”) or dubbed versions of Japanese cartoons (“Robotech,” “Voltron”). So, it's unusual to see an original cartoon designed for an American audience to be thrown into the mix. Enter “Inspector Gadget.”

    The series spoofs spy movies and detective stories. Its hero is a cross between Maxwell Smart, The Pink Panther's Inspector Clouseau and the Six-Million-Dollar Man — an international police officer turned bionic, implanted with whatever technology the plot requires him to have. Its villain is Claw, a faceless supervillain with a pet cat, obviously inspired by Blofeld from the “James Bond” movies.

    Gadget sports a thick mustache in the pilot episode and bears such an uncanny resemblance to Clouseau that MGM threatened to sue. The mustache was removed for the remainder of the series, which totaled 86 episodes from 1983-86.

    The stories are formulaic. In each episode, Gadget is given an assignment to stop one of Claw's sinister plans. He bumbles through the case, oblivious to what's really going on, and is bailed out by his niece, Penny, and her dog, Brain.

    The shows are too goofy for adults, but kids should enjoy them.

    The set includes the first 22 episodes, plus a well-done seven-minute retrospective with two of the show's creators. An art gallery is the only other extra. It's a shame this set wasn't put into production before the 2005 death of Gadget's voice, Don Adams (who played Maxwell Smart on “Get Smart”), so he could be included.

    Selling Points: “Gadget” is a cult favorite, and after a 1999 theatrical film and a slew of DTV movies, it's surprising this set wasn't released sooner. There are plenty of episodes left to release on DVD, so more volumes will surely follow. John Latchem

    The Mummy Who Would Be King
    Prebook 4/4; Street 5/2
    WGBH Boston, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

    Among its two-headed animals, fake mutations and other oddities, a museum in Niagara Falls, New York, held a secret prize. One of its Egyptian mummies, presumed to be nobodies, was a monarch, a much-sought-after link in a chain of pharaohs whose works were the famed Pyramids. If only somebody could prove it.

    The Mummy Who Would Be King follows the dusty corpse all over the world — from its birth in death to its secreting away by protective Egyptian priests … from its sale to an amateur Egyptologist to its resting place on a shelf in a slowly failing tourist museum in America's honeymoon capital. How it ends up at Emory University and finally Egypt is a journey that runs forward and backward as much as a time-traveling thriller, with its share of intellectual but excitable scholars and collectors populating the tale.

    Is the mummy male or female? Is it peasant or pharaoh? It all comes down to a trail of circumstantial evidence, dating techniques and brilliant deductions.

    Along the way, viewers learn how and why people were mummified and grow to love the lonely dead Egyptian looking for a home and an identity.

    This is an excellent documentary that teaches as it entertains, with its mystery not completely answered until the finale. Many scholars try to identify the dead, and their failures are just as interesting as their successes.

    Selling Points: Mummies are always a big draw for museums, and this well-done doc is a perfect companion for classrooms or just the curious. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: King of Comedy Looks to King of Kings
    Steve Harvey has undergone a transformation. The Original Kings of Comedy alum is still rocking the stand-up mic to capacity crowds — 16,000 in Visual Entertainment's Don't Trip ... He Ain't Through With Me Yet! (prebook April 4, street May 2; $19.99) — but now he's cut out the cussing and put in the Jesus. He's still edgy and refuses to peddle dull feel-good jokes. He admits he doesn't take crap from anybody and hasn't mastered all 10 of the commandments. His high-volume tirades are as sharp as ever, even if he throws in some church humor, too. Brendan Howard

    Joecartoon.com: Greatest Hits #1
    Prebook 4/4; Street 4/25
    BCI, Animated, $19.98 DVD, NR.

    Animated humorists like Joe Shields of Joecartoon.com have made millions of people crack up, but they almost never make it to theaters, playhouses or TV screens. Their work is the stuff you get in your e-mail inbox from somebody who saw “Frog in a Blender” before you and just knew that frappe-ing a rude amphibian would brighten up your workday.

    Like “Happy Tree Friends,” another Internet property that's made its way to DVDs from BCI, Joecartoon's short features and interactive animal annihilations are built for those who find gratuitous violence extremely funny. Unlike “Happy Tree Friends,” Joecartoon's characters are often funny, extreme violence or not. Frogs and gerbils mouth off at you before you get the chance to microwave, blend or run them over in the interactive “Press & ‘Splode” features here. Shields' Southern drawl and expletive-laden language make for some funny stuff. Why shouldn't the future victims get to give you a piece of their mind before you shred 'em?

    Also included are five episodes of “Thuh Greenfields” — good ol' country folks who grow pot and spank and shoot at each other — as well as two dozen other sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-chuckleworthy shorts.

    The whole proceeding comes to roughly an hour's entertainment, but it surely will live on as something for young adults to pop into their DVD player to impress friends and horrify family.

    Selling Points: Joecartoon's shorts are legendary in Internet circles. Judging by “Happy Tree Friends’ DVD success, this is one frog everybody'll want to blend. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: I Love Lucy — Even on the Big Screen
    Warner Home Video's The Lucy and Desi Collection (street May 2; three-DVD set $29.92) shows that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had comedic chops that held up on the silver screen, too. The couple met on the set of Too Many Girls (available only in this set) and made two more movies: The Long, Long Trailer and Forever, Darling (available separately $14.97 each). No Lucy fan should be without this low-priced set, if for nothing else than the redhead's attempts at cooking in a moving vehicle in The Long, Long Trailer. – Brendan Howard

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