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Reviews: April 20, 2008

20 Apr, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews

Charlie Wilson's War
Street 4/22

My Boy Jack
Street 4/22
BBC Video, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars David Haig, Daniel Radcliffe, Kim Cattrall.

The romantic notion of war as a rite of passage for young men often belies its true horror. Such a dichotomy provides the central theme for My Boy Jack, a remarkable exercise based on the stage play by David Haig.

Haig also stars as Rudyard Kipling, the famed British author who encouraged his son John (also known as Jack) to pursue a military career. Kipling strongly supported Britain's role in World War I and suggested young men who did not serve should be shunned. Rudyard himself had never served, so his son became somewhat of a surrogate.

When John goes missing after only a few days on the front lines, his parents spend months searching for clues as to his whereabouts. The ordeal ultimately inspires Kipling to write the poem from which the film takes its name.

The performances are strong throughout, especially Cattrall as Kipling's wife, Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”) as John, and of course Haig.

Ultimately the question becomes whether John should ever have gone to war, and it's hard not to notice a few parallels with the current situation in Iraq. John Latchem

27 Dresses
Street 4/29
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $76.4 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13' for language, some innuendo and sexuality.
Stars Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Edward Burns, Malin Akerman, Judy Greer.

Jane (Heigl) is always a bridesmaid — sometimes several times in one night. A hopeless romantic, she seems in love with being in love, or at least with being in weddings. She also seems to be a bit of a hoarder, since she has kept every bridesmaid dress from every wedding she's ever been in. The total? You guessed it: 27.

After pulling double-duty at two weddings one Saturday night, she meets Kevin (Marsden), a cynic who also just happens to write her favorite wedding newspaper column. A twist of fate has Kevin snagging her datebook, and also his ticket to the ultimate wedding story.

Of course, it's not all poofy dresses and happy endings. When Jane's sister (Akerman) whisks into town, she steals her dream man (who also happens to be her boss), as well as her dream wedding, right down to the chance of wearing her mom's wedding dress.

In the vein of 13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses is cute, but also kind of clich?, all the way down to the group musical number. It's also got a touch of The Wedding Planner; all three even cast the hilarious Judy Greer.

However, it's not the stereotypically goofy plotline that keeps this movie from being a true chick-flick favorite; it's that Heigl somehow goes from being Knocked Up to knocked down, as we are supposed to believe that this beauty is the timid plain Jane.

Behind the lace and frills, you'll find plenty of DVD extras. A few notable featurettes include “You'll Never Wear That Again,” which takes a closer look at all 27 dresses from the film, and “Running of the Brides,” a funny, frightening look at Filene's Basement's annual race for that special gown at special prices. — Rachel Cericola

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! -- Season 1
Street 4/22

Grizzly Park
Prebook 4/22; Street 5/27

Prebook 4/23; Street 5/20

Street 4/29
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.2 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for disturbing images and descriptions of wartime atrocities, including rape.
Appearances by Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway, Stephen Dorff, J?rgen Prochnow.

One of 2007's most overlooked films finally arrives on DVD. Though the Nanking disc has no fancy extras, a movie of this emotional magnitude doesn't need them.

Last December marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese army's invasion of the then-Chinese capital of Nanking. The diverse, happy city endured an incomprehensible level of destruction and terror: 200,000 residents were killed within six weeks, while 20,000 rapes occurred within the first four weeks of the troops' occupation.

Outside of Asia, no one paid attention, but amid the chaos was a glimmer of hope. Several prominent foreign residents tried to maintain a safety zone that saved an estimated 250,000 lives.

Co-directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman's stunning documentary is a brilliant educational piece. But by interviewing Nanking residents and Japanese soldiers, while established actors (including Hemingway and Harrelson) portray the zone's defenders and read their letters and journal entries, the filmmakers infuse their movie with an almost overwhelming, riveting human perspective. There's no propaganda, no pleas from the soapbox … just real people commenting on a world tragedy right before their eyes.

Nanking is of course mandatory for history buffs and educators, but it's also essential and enlightening viewing for pretty much everyone, as Guttentag and Sturman (Twin Towers) show that cataclysmic historical events affect average people. However, average people also can bring about positive changes. — Pete Croatto

A Generation Apart
Street 4/29
City Lights, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

A Generation Apart is a family affair in every way, and a moving, poignant documentary that will touch documentary fans. It explores the impact of the Holocaust on survivors and their grown children. Its chief subjects are the Fisher sons: Joe, who is the most angry about his experience as a post-Holocaust child; Jack, who directs the film; and Danny, who says almost nothing in the film but whose credits include editor and executive producer.

The documentary opens at a Fisher family dinner and segues to a tense, awkward sit-down with the three Fisher boys and their parents, Esther and Alan. Jack asks questions. Esther's answers are stepped on a bit by her husband. Joe seems repressed, holding something back as he tries to articulate his feelings. Later, we'll hear Joe and other survivors in other families repeat the same refrain: “My parents put a load on me.”

Some of the grown children avoid talk of the Holocaust, such as the Israeli who's preparing for an acting role as a Nazi officer. Some find the stories of concentration camps gripping and vibrant in a way that day-to-day life isn't. But all these adult sons and daughters, whether they've admitted it or not, are different because of their parents' horrific experiences of genocide.

This 1984 documentary is joined on DVD by brand-new extras, including an epilogue honoring Esther Fisher, a director's commentary with Jack and his dad, and a Fisher grandson's film of concentration camp memories from Esther and Alan.

A Generation Apart is a must-see documentary. It's yet another piece of the puzzle in understanding and coming to terms with the Holocaust and its effects.

The DVD is timed for National Holocaust Remembrance Day May 2, and Jewish American Heritage Month. — Brendan Howard

Zappa Plays Zappa
Street 4/29
Razor & Tie, Music, $24.98 DVD, NR.

Frank Zappa, who passed away in 1993, wrote 57 albums during his career and had another 18 released posthumously. This concert of Dweezil Zappa and a backing band touring on his dad's tunes adds one more release to that pile.

Zappa Plays Zappa will appeal mostly to Zappa completists, older fans who haven't heard the songs in a while and anyone who might have seen the band play on tour. However it's not effective for the casual fan or for purists; although many of the band members featured have played with Zappa before, it's missing the main man — Dweezil is a skilled guitar player but lacks his father's charisma and fascinating bizarreness.

Nevertheless, the two-DVD set has a wealth of performances, featuring songs from Zappa's rock-oriented output from the 1960s through the 1980s, such as “Call Any Vegetable,” “I'm the Slime” and “Don't Eat the Yellow Snow.” Guests include Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai.

Although sufficient bonus material is lacking, the set has enough songs to keep most fans satisfied. One note of interest: Dweezil reveals in the bonus interview that he was aiming to appeal to a younger audience when compiling his technically proficient but musically unadventurous band. If that's the case, why do I feel like I'm watching out-of-touch Guitar Center junkies tool around for three hours? Maybe he should have enlisted Jack White. Billy Gil

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