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Reviews: April 23

23 Apr, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

DVD EXTRAS: Cheaper by the Dozen 2
Prebook 4/26; Street 5/23
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $82.5 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG' for some crude humor and mild language.
Stars Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy, Hilary Duff.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 plays like a three-part vacation episode of “The Brady Bunch,” dominated by sitcom values and awash in sentimentality. Fans of the 2003 original should also enjoy this one.

The Baker family, led by Martin, has gathered at Lake Winnetka for one last family vacation before the older children move on. They meet up with a rival family led by Levy.

Gone is any connection to the original 1948 book, about a father who was a motion-study expert and kept his children in line by testing his efficiency theories on them. While the original film contained several subtle nods to the book, this new version seems to attribute efficiency to the Levy character, who is seen as harsh and overbearing.

The evolution is due to a philosophy of comedy. In two short featurettes, director Adam Shankman said his goal was simply to film the chaos that comes with having such a large cast, kept in check by the improvisational skills of three talented comedians in the lead roles.

Shankman provides a little more detail in his commentary, when not interrupted by his rumbling stomach. He admits the cast was so large he had trouble finding things for them to do in each scene, and he pokes fun at how dumb some of the underlying plot points are from both films.

But the biggest shock may be Carmen Electra as Levy's trophy wife: While lesser films might cast her as a whorish money-grubber, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 presents her as nice and sympathetic. John Latchem

DVD EXTRAS: Underworld: Evolution
Prebook 5/4; Street 6/6
Sony Pictures, Action, B.O. $62.3 million, $28.95 (also available UMD $28.95), ‘R' for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language.
Stars Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy.

Given that the vampire-vs.-werewolf actioner Underworld sold well enough on DVD to merit a subsequent two-disc director's-cut version, you can bet this single-disc special edition for the sequel won't be the end of the line. DVD-loving director and co-writer Len Wiseman has surely stored away production sketches and deleted and extended scenes for the day when Sony gives the green light to an especially special edition.

In the meantime, this first version has commentary and six production-themed featurettes.

Wiseman, the production designer, the editor and the stunt coordinator all are well-spoken on the commentary, focusing on behind-the-scenes details and asking each other questions. It's a good watch for fans, but nothing extraordinary.

The six featurettes mix action, production work and interviews with cast and crew into short, well-produced snapshots of the process.

In the making-of featurette, Wiseman reveals that plans for sequels were already laid when he and his co-writers created a back story so lengthy and intricate that one film wouldn't cover it. However, some critics slammed Underworld: Evolution for its complicated back story. An explanatory timeline and character histories on a future DVD would please fans and help the confused.

Other featurettes — visual effects, creature effects and stunts — talk up the hybrid use of miniatures, computer animation, talented stunt people and the willingness of the seasoned starring duo of Beckinsale and Speedman to fly on wires and get knocked around. Bits on production design and sound and music and a by-the-book music video round out the offerings.

There are enough extras here to entice fans to buy it, even if they know a bigger and better version is likely down the road. Brendan Howard

Human Trafficking: the Complete Miniseries
Street 5/2
Echo Bridge, Drama, $28.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Mira Sorvino, Donald Sutherland, Robert Carlyle.

It's a made-for-TV production with a bland title and terrible box art, but Human Trafficking is one of the best movies I've seen all year. The well-made, compelling and tragic tale looks at the real-life human sex trade and tugs at your heartstrings and, at the same time, really pisses you off.

The plot revolves around several young women — a single mom and a wannabe model, both from Eastern Europe, and two preteen girls in the Philippines (one a kidnapped American tourist, the other a child sold by her father) — recruited into a clandestine sex ring that ships the hapless women to America to be brutalized over and over again by wealthy and sadistic Johns.

A New York City cop (Sorvino) is drawn into the case when a 14-year-old Russian girl dies after jumping out a window. She joins a branch of the Department of Homeland Security headed by an aging customs agent (Sutherland) and soon makes it her personal mission to save the girls and bring the perpetrators to justice.

File this film in the same category as Maria, Full of Grace. It's a great movie, a shocking movie, based on a tragic reality, that neither sensationalizes nor glosses over anything. It merely lifts the veil of secrecy off one of the 21st-century's dark and dirty secrets and gives us all a frank and perhaps startling look at the ugliness that exists right under our noses.

Selling Points: This Lifetime miniseries got best actor and actress Golden Globe noms for Sutherland and Sorvino. Thomas K. Arnold

Fairy Tale Police Department Vols. 1-5
Prebook 5/5; Street 5/23
Tango, Animated, $5.98 DVD each (available in five-DVD set $19.98), NR.

Any kid who loves fairy tales, Harry Potter and Shrek will love “Fairy Tale Police Department.” Imagine a world where fairy tales are real, like Shrek, and where a daring duo of cops must foil villains who want to upset the happy endings promised in everyone's storybooks.

Enter this Australian cartoon, which follows the brand-new detectives Christine Anderson and Johnny Legend. Johnny is cute as the hair-combing, impulsive guy who buys right into the weird fairy-tale world, while Cris plays the smarter “X-Files” Scully-like skeptic.

In the first episode, Pinocchio is kidnapped as a wooden stump and ends up an assistant at the police station, the Frog Prince works as the forensic expert who's obsessed with showing everyone he's really a prince, and brooms work better than the patrol car. The great setup lets kids see all their favorite fairy-tale characters interacting with each other and use their knowledge of legends and fairy tales to follow Cris and Johnny as they track down the culprits.

The animation is surprisingly good for what one might fear would be a sub-standard international cartoon. Facial expressions and actions are well-framed, the ways fairy tales are reimagined are cute and clever, and the voice talent is appropriately sympathetic, villainous or wacky.

Selling Points: The blockbuster “Shrek” films and Hoodwinked have shown that fairy tales again make great cartoon fodder, and this deserves a look from fairy-tale fans. Brendan Howard

DVD EXTRAS: Kate & Allie: Season One
Street 5/2
Universal, Comedy, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Jane Curtin, Susan Saint James.

The half-hour NBC sitcom “Kate & Allie” starred the brilliant Saint James and “Saturday Night Live” alum Curtin as the lead characters, two divorced women living together. The odd couple — Kate was wild and long divorced, Allie straightlaced and newly divorced — humorously faced off with single parenthood, dating and their personal quests for self-fulfillment. The first six episodes here were a strong start; the show lasted from 1984 to 1989 and earned Emmys for Curtin and director Bill Persky.

The real-life dialogue and relationships, as real-life as one can expect in a sitcom, were what kept my mom and I watching way back when, and the writing holds up today.This set is notable because Universal included extras, something it usually doesn't do for classic TV DVD.

For behind-the-scenes info, there's a disappointingly short on-camera conversation between Saint James and Persky. The two seem to have loved the show, but they're only given five minutes. Perhaps fans can hope for longer interviews in future sets.

The half-hour featurette “The Great '80s TV Flashback” includes talking-head reporters, scholars and show creators speaking on Universal's spate of drama, action and comedy shows in that decade. The documentary is interesting, but it comes off more as a commercial for Universal TV DVD sets than a look at 1980s television. The featurette also is included on other Universal sets.

Also here are a funny 10-minute gag reel and a bonus episode from the second season. Fans can only hope this is a teaser of promised “Kate & Allie” to come and not a hint of future seasons of TV sitcom history lost to the void. Brendan Howard

The Syrian Bride
Prebook 5/9; Street 6/6
Koch Lorber, Drama, B.O. $0.3 million, $29.98 DVD, NR. In Hebrew, Arabic and English with English subtitles.
Stars Hiam Abbass, Makram J. Khoury.

After the immigration reform bill that's firing conversations and filling headlines is passed, changed or dumped, and after the hundreds of thousands of protesters have dispersed, the complications of international immigration will live on. One particularly sad, strange case are the Druze of the Golan Heights, a region previously Syrian and now occupied by the Israelis since the war in 1967.

The Druze have no nationality, because Syria and Israel can't agree on what land should be returned to Syria. So, if a Druze wants to live in Syria, he or she goes to the border and picks the nationality Syrian. Once that happens, never again can they return to the occupied Golan Heights.

Now imagine a bride from the Golan on her wedding day who is simultaneously excited about a new life with a man she hardly knows and sorrowful that she may never see her family again. Throw in relatives who run the gamut of political and religious issues, and it gets even better: a visiting brother who married a Russian woman and was shunned by tribal elders, a pro-Syrian father who is on parole and forbidden to travel to the border to see his daughter off, and a grown daughter who is trying to break free of her gender role so she can study in Israel.

Eventually, everyone gathers at the border, where a bureaucratic argument, partly comic and partly tragic, threatens to derail the nuptials. While the men stick to the letter of the law, the women become the truly courageous actors among men who respect borders more than people.

Selling Points: This got a lot of press in arthouse screenings and from major critics. Brendan Howard

The Boys of Baraka
Prebook 5/11; Street 6/6
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.3 million, $29.99 DVD, Rating pending.

The engrossing documentary The Boys of Baraka follows the lives of four underprivileged black Baltimore youths sent to an experimental school in Africa. Rough, essentially unfinished and not wholly cohesive, the film nonetheless manages to investigate the heart of the matter, namely the desperate, near hopeless lives of many inner-city children in the United States.

The raw interactions portrayed by the film — among the youths, family members, schoolteachers and Baraka staff members — reveal a world that could not be otherwise explained. In one broken home after another, we witness children doing their best to survive in a world they are still too young to comprehend, fighting for whatever they can get. One turns to preaching God's word, another manages to escape, and another simply fades away. Even the more uplifting results are not easy to watch, as they are tainted with the ineradicable, pervasive sadness of the surroundings.

Despite its power, however, Baraka leaves many stones unturned. It reveals little information about the school's origins, staff and teaching methods as well as next to nothing about former students. We are given no explanation of why so much money is spent educating a few children in Africa, rather than starting a school stateside. Perhaps most frustratingly, the documentary is upended before the youths finish their tenure — the school is temporarily shut down — leaving us without an understanding of Baraka's full impact. Although this serves as a disturbingly realistic finale, it undercuts much of the earlier footage.

Selling Points: A critical success and touching story, The Boys of Baraka should find a fairly small, but welcoming, audience. — J.R. Wick

Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys
Prebook 5/8; Street 5/30
Monarch, Comedy, $26.95 DVD, Price NA VHS, Rating pending.
Stars Dave Barry, John Cleese, Dan Marino.

Who is Dave Barry? I quote from Barry's Web site: “Dave Barry is a humor columnist. For 25 years he was a syndicated columnist whose work appeared in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and abroad. In 1988 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Many people are still trying to figure out how this happened.

“Dave has also written a total of 25 books, although virtually none of them contain useful information. Two of his books were used as the basis for the CBS TV sitcom ‘Dave's World,' in which Harry Anderson played a much taller version of Dave.”

Barry's novel was made into the Tim Allen starrer Big Trouble, but his real claim to fame is his work as a straight humorist. It usually involves a straight-faced opening line that sinks into absurdity. For instance, from the book on which this film is based: “Prehistory was a very difficult time for humans. Hostile, vicious, person-eating predators roamed the Earth. Disease was rampant. Mortality rates were horrific. The automatic bank teller was still only a dream.”


I think Barry's funny, and millions of other people do, too. We will be happy to see the often silent Barry parading around as the narrator of the sometimes-funny, sometimes-silly, sometimes-corny history of “guys” (not to be confused with men, who express their feelings, write well and ask for directions when they're lost).

Aside from Barry fans, people who think jokes about guys' obsessions with sports and tools, and their fear of peeing next to another man in the men's restroom, will love this.

Selling Points: Barry fans will clamor to see the first feature-film presentation of the wackiness that is a Barry book. Unexpected cameos by Cleese, Marino and some really good-looking women sweeten the deal. Brendan Howard

Touch the Sound: A Sound Journey With Evelyn Glennie
Prebook 5/2; Street 5/30
Docurama, Documentary, $26.95 DVD, NR.

Linking sight, touch and sound through the music of deaf virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie, Touch the Sound is a beautifully shot and choreographed investigation of Glennie's world. The beat at the center of this world is Glennie's concept of hearing: a form of touch in which she can feel sounds as resonation through her body. With this concept as a thematic backdrop, filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer connects percussive performances to the visual and aural stirrings of Glennie's surroundings.

The film begins with a slowly rising gong crash that reverberates through a warehouse in Cologne — an opening that nicely parallels Glennie's interpretation of sound. From there, it taps, rattles and clicks through a wide range of locations, from New York City's Grand Central Station to Glennie's hometown in Scotland. In each location, Riedelsheimer further reveals the incredible nature of his star, both as an improvisational artist and as a driven, brilliant individual, while uniting us with the peculiar sights and sounds of the locales that may have inspired her.

However, as beautiful as Touch the Sound may be, it may move too slowly for certain audiences, especially those looking for something more than an extended arthouse music video. Those who find their way to this title will likely be open to its charms and find much to enjoy.

Selling Points: Riedelsheimer also is responsible for the beautiful Rivers and Tides, which looks at the works and life of sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. — J.R. Wick

The Number One Girl
Street 5/16
Visual/Bauer Martinez, Action, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for language, violence and some sexual content.
Stars Tony Schiena, Vinnie Jones, Pat Morita.

Luc Campeau directed The Number One Girl. He mostly works as an executive producer for a variety of TV and movie projects around the world. Douglas W. Miller wrote the screenplay. He's a producer whose only other screenwriting credit is for the as-yet-unreleased The Defender, directed by action star Dolph Lundgren.

That may explain why The Number One Girl fails on fundamentals.

The Number One Girl is ostensibly an action movie, but after a couple of gunshots at the top to make sure we know Dragos (Jones) is a villain, there are no bullets, beatings or blood for nearly an hour. People hoping for a slam-bang actionfest on a par with Guy Ritchie films co-starring Jones — Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels — will be disappointed.

The movie roams around in a haze of tedious dialogue and flat characters as martial-arts-champ-turned-action-star Joey Scalini (“CSI's” Schiena) shows up in London to judge a beauty pageant put on by Jones' bad-guy character. Joey is introduced to people, Joey has sex with women offered to him by Dragos, Joey predictably falls for the one girl Dragos doesn't offer him, and a dull beauty pageant with lip-syncing talent contestants is highlighted.

A final fight on camera between Joey, Dragos' five henchmen and Dragos himself is poorly orchestrated, with sequences that repeat dialogue in slow-motion, a silly proximity to the damsel in distress and an uninspiring last heroic line: “I told you I don't do live TV.”

Selling Points: The box art highlights Jones, and he is as charismatic and believable as a cold-blooded killer as ever. Action fans just shouldn't expect to be entertained. Brendan Howard

QUICK TAKE: A Bit More Bettie
The pin-up queen of the 1950s, Bettie Page, has risen from obscurity into pop culture, with Goth kids enjoying S&M material and rockabilly kids enjoying her fashion. With the biopic The Notorious Bettie Page — starring Gretchen Mol and Lili Taylor (“Six Feet Under”) — in theaters, here are DVDs already out to satisfy hunger for the buxom beauty.

Koch has the documentary Bettie Page: The Girl in the Leopard Print Bikini (Koch, $14.98).

The biopic Bettie Page: Dark Angel (Cult Epics, two-DVD set $29.95) looks at the final three years of Page's short career.

For the lady herself in action, fans can watch Bettie Page: Varietease/Teaserama (Image, $19.99), with Page hosting burlesque strippers and stand-up comics; Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen (Cult Epics, $24.95), which includes the above titles and more; and Bettie Page: Bondage Queen (Cult Epics, $24.95), with Page in leather. Brendan Howard

The 1995 version (released on DVD in 2000 by MGM) of the Bard's treatment of the treacherous Richard III is probably my favorite Shakespeare adaptation ever. This Richard III boasts top-notch acting, elaborate costuming, lush and eerie set design and a new play on famed moments. (This Richard is relieving himself during the noted “winter of our discontent” speech).

Set in a fantastical, fascist Great Britain with a 1930s-era look and feel, the life of England's most notorious throne grabber is chillingly and thrillingly effective.

And it's packed with powerhouse actors, with Ian McKellen as Richard (no kindly Gandalf to be seen here), Annette Bening as the beleaguered, hard-willed Elizabeth Woodville and Kristin Scott Thomas as the long-suffering Queen/Lady Anne. Jim Broadbent and Robert Downey Jr. also are notable as the ill-fated Duke of Buckingham and Lord Rivers.

History and Bard lovers can compare and contrast this with the Criterion Collection Richard III, with Laurence Olivier in the lead role. Jessica Wolf

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