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Reviews: April 6, 2008

6 Apr, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews

Quick Take: There Will Be Blood
Street 4/8

Sense & Sensibility
Street 4/8
BBC Video, Drama, $34.98 DVD, $49.98 w/Persuasion, NR.
Stars Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Dominic Cooper.

When I first heard BBC was making a new television miniseries based on Sense & Sensibility, all I could ask was “why?” Why on Earth would anyone make yet another adaptation of this particular Austen novel when the 1995 film starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet is such an endearing fan favorite?

Leave it to BBC to make me eat my words. This new three-part adaptation is a delight. Although it does not rank better than its 1995 predecessor, it is certainly equal in value, with enough differences to make an old story fresh again.

The new script — from screenwriter Andrew Davies, whose previous Austen adaptations include the recent Northanger Abbey and the classic 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries starring Colin Firth — brings parts of the book to light that previously were not given full body, namely the indiscretions of Willoughby (Cooper). In other adaptations, these events are always told by one character to another, but in this sexed-up version the audience bears witness to his actions.

The freshness is further enhanced by casting younger and little-known (at least to American audiences) actors, and by changing the setting of the Dashwood's cottage home to the dramatic seaside, mirroring the harsh reality of the women's exile from the family seat.

The crowning achievement of this DVD, however, is the inclusion on the second disc of the made-for-TV Jane Austen biopic Miss Austen Regrets. Told from the perspective of Austen in her later years as she helps her niece Fanny find a husband, Olivia Williams' performance as Austen contains all the depth and satirical humor that was lacking in Anne Hathaway's portrayal in Becoming Jane.

While the theories about Aunt Jane's own romances are addressed, the film also explores the hardships Austen experienced as a single female writer, dependent upon her brothers for her livelihood.

The result is a respectful picture of an independent, humorous woman who made real choices (possibly regrettable), gave us beautiful stories and remains a mystery. Kyra Kudick

Frank Sinatra: The Golden Years
Prebook 4/8; Street 5/13

Who's Your Monkey
Prebook 4/8; Street 5/6

Steel City
Prebook 4/8; Street 5/6
PeaceArch, Drama, B.O. $0.01 million, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for language and brief drug use.
Stars Thomas Guiry, America Ferrera, Clayne Crawford, Laurie Metcalf, Raymond J. Barry, John Heard.

The Sundance- and IFC Spirit-award nominated Steel City is a bleak but engaging story of four men in a depressed Midwestern town.

PJ (Guiry of “The Black Donnellys”) is thrust out on his own after his father, Carl (Heard), is arrested for manslaughter. PJ's dishwashing job isn't enough to pay the utilities or rent on their house. His older brother Ben (Crawford) is cheating on his wife, who is left home in their dumpy trailer to take care of their baby. Vic (Barry), their uncle, re-enters the picture in an effort to help his brother Carl and try to convince PJ to snap out of his funk and find a future.

Writer and director Brian Jun recognizes that when you don't have much outwardly — like PJ, who loses his father, his job and his home — all you have is family, regardless of how deep old wounds may be.

The film belongs to Guiry, a solid actor who plays a lost lamb quite well, veering from misguided anger and attitude to tenderness and innocence. He doesn't have a single relationship that isn't complicated, especially those with his girlfriend (Ferrera) and his father, but all are portrayed realistically. The rest of the cast — veteran actors such as Heard, Barry and Metcalf — all turn in expectedly good performances.

Jun keeps a steady gaze on his story, characters and the unnamed, downtrodden Steel Town. A story such as this — full of jailed relatives, abandoned children and broken marriages — is rife for melodrama, but Jun's light touch and his ability to let the camera just sit back and drink in the proceedings gives the film a realism straight out of one of Bruce Springsteen's more depressing tunes.

Folks who like their drama on the quiet side, but with a heavy does of realism that doesn't turn away from the hard scenes — as in North Country or Snow Angels — will likely find Steel City a tiny gem worth discovering. – Laura Tiffany

Prebook 4/8; Street 5/20
Ariztical, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Conor McLean, Nadia Qaqish, Jean Pantelidis, Paolo Giacco.

It has been said that money can't buy love, but it can put you in a good bargaining position — but with whom?In the indie comedy Dollgatory, it isn't love that dollar-store owner George Speedopoulos (McLean) is after; it's money. To save his store, the hapless and lanky owner takes on the whimsical notion of murdering his nasty wife, Gina (Qaqish), for her life-insurance money.

The film opens to a hypnotic pop-samba rhythm beat that beckons a cavalcade of psychopathic clientele through the door, one by one. Those who admired Stanley Kubrick's wildly contrasting colors in A Clockwork Orange will feel right at home in Dollgatory. And just as in Kubrick's film, the characters have an eerie insane stupidity about them — an almost zombie-like character and a single-mindedness of purpose, in this case to find love and acceptance for all the wrong reasons.

The Question Woman (Mounira Fawzy) believes everyone else can tell her where to find love. The Pharos (Joe Doss) seems to think that love comes in a balloon, and Josie Crups (Sarah Fawzy) thinks her polished pink toenails can attract the macho man of her dreams, instead of her rent-a-cop husband (Tony Vogiantzis).

Then, there's Suzy the Diva (Tara Shuttleworth), who is a sultry image of the devil — portrayed this time in a black business suit, sporting a sharp white-winged collar and hard back-framed eyeglasses. She taunts Speedopoulos at every turn.

But when Speedopoulos' plan to kill his wife during a love session gone bad ends up with him dead instead, the dollar dealer winds up in a sort of purgatory, forever doomed to the confines of his petty store until he learns the value of helping his fellow man.

Dollgatory will play best to those who truly love the stage feel of an independent film where everything revolves around a few wacky characters who enter and leave. The acting is stilted and the dialogue a little weak, but the storyline is enough to keep you wondering how this mess will all end. Much like a Christian rock band, it's the message that redeems it. – Brett Sporich

War Dance
Street 4/15
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.1 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some thematic material involving descriptions of war atrocities.

War Dance looks at three students in war-torn northern Uganda — where abductions and violence are a sad norm — whose school gets the opportunity to compete in an annual music and dance festival.

They are three of the 60,000 people crammed in a war zone displacement camp in Patongo, where any step outside the boundaries is an invitation for more tragedy. Soft-spoken Rose, 13, had both of her parents killed by rebel soldiers; xylophone-playing Dominic, 14, was forced to kill by rebel soldiers, who also abducted his brother; and Nancy, 14, takes care of the family after her father's murder forced her mother to constantly travel for work.

With its atmospheric, stark cinematography and the straight talk of its subjects, filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix have created a haunting look at kids forced to become adults much too soon. Some may find the techniques used here to be manipulative in raising awareness of Uganda's problems, but it's effective. It humanizes the subjects, showing the competition's importance as a much-needed celebration for Patongo, which has seen years of misery. For the students, it's especially crucial: They get a chance to take pride in something, and, more importantly, to be kids for once.

Fans of movies such as Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom should gravitate toward War Dance. Though it's not as sunny as those earlier releases, it's just as memorable in showing the hidden lives of kids. – Pete Croatto

John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band
Prebook 4/9; Street 4/29
Eagle Rock/Kayos, Music, $14.98 DVD, NR.

Those looking for a breath of warm, sweet nostalgia won't necessarily find it in the primal-scream wailings of Plastic Ono Band.

As a fascinating rock documentary, though, this new DVD chronicling the making of the Plastic Ono Band album takes us to 1970 and the beginning of the post-Beatles era. The effort is part of Eagle Rock Entertainment's “Classic Albums” DVD series.

Following the breakup of the Beatles, Lennon was looking for something completely different, creating it in a noisy, off-the-wall collaboration with Yoko Ono and several studio musicians.

The documentary uses archival interviews with Lennon, plenty of live footage and extensive interviews with the musicians and producers who worked on the piece, and commentary from Ringo Starr.

The songs on the album (“Mother,” “God,” “Isolation,” “Working Class Hero”) allowed Lennon to vent his own demons for the first time, often employing a screeching singing style he had learned in his controversial primal-scream therapy sessions. Primal-scream therapy was a pop-psychology method at the time, supposedly bringing the participant peace by taking him back to the pain of childbirth.

On the album, Lennon for the first time put into lyrics his feelings of abandonment as a child, and his feelings about the end of the Beatles. Mostly, he at last had the opportunity to sing about himself and nothing else.

The result is an introspective documentary that will take those who remember back in time, and perhaps create some intrigue and impetus for further research for those who weren't yet around.

Extras are plentiful, especially for intense music fans, as producers and musicians who worked on the album explore the techniques and styles used in the recordings. We hear early takes and explore the musical etymology of several of the songs. – Dan Bennett

Audubon Butterfly DVD: Essentials for Beginners and Gardeners
Street 4/8
Mastervision, Special Interest, $39.95 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Clayelle Dalferes.

The latest in Mastervision's series of DVDs for naturalists, Audubon Butterfly offers a lot of information about butterflies, providing a great introduction on the topic to the amateur lepidopterist.

The DVD actually includes two programs — a tutorial on identifying butterflies, and an instructional video on planting a garden to attract butterflies.

Butterflies for Beginners presents a visual guide to butterflies, plus a discussion of the life cycle of a butterfly, from mating to larva to chrysalis. It's the kind of program you'd probably find playing on a loop at a nature center. The graphics are clear enough to follow, ensuring viewers would get the gist of it even if the program were on mute.

This show includes a message about collecting butterflies — since some are endangered, it's best to head to a local museum to study specimens.

This leads to the opening section of Butterfly Gardening, which describes how some butterflies are threatened or were rendered extinct by the loss of their natural habitats. The idea here is to help viewers design their own bright flower gardens to help promote butterfly habitat preservation.

The program offers a list of plants best suited for attracting butterflies (they prefer bright nectar plants, while flowers such as tulips are nearly useless to them). Another option is to transplant butterflies, caterpillars and eggs directly into the garden. This section also is divided by geographic regions in the United States and Canada to let viewers decide upon the best choice of plants based on where they live.

The gardening section has its own butterfly gallery, repeating some of the information covered in more detail in the first program.

Chapters are neatly divided into specific topics, but the menu allows direct access to only three categories per program. A table of contents on the DVD package should help viewers navigate to specific chapters when they need a refresher.

For those interested in more details about butterflies, a companion video, Audubon Video Guide to Butterflies DVD: Common and Endangered, streets in September. John Latchem

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