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Reviews: April 8

8 Apr, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

10 Items or Less

10 Items or Less
Street 4/24
First Look/ThinkFilm, Comedy, B.O. $0.08 million, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for language.
Stars Morgan Freeman, Paz Vega.

An attitude prevalent among those who hate to rely on plans and schedules is to “see where the day takes us.” It's also a common plot device for films, particularly of the indie variety, as an excuse to play out diverse character threads.

The funny and likable 10 Items or Less begins quietly enough, with an unnamed actor (Freeman) in negotiations to return to film acting after a four-year hiatus. Negotiation is perhaps too strong a word. He is in a dirty van having a conversation with the young driver, whose cousin is looking to break into feature directing with a low-budget project.

It's all the same to the desperate actor, who wants to research the role a little before agreeing to the part, that of a grocery store manager.

He is dropped off at the store and begins to look around with the type of curiosity only a pampered Hollywood star would exhibit (he later walks into a Target store and starts acting like he's at Disneyland). The actor is fascinated by Scarlet (Vega), the smart and sassy clerk at the express checkout line who constantly chides customers for trying to sneak through with 11 items.

They forge a quick friendship and, once his ride fails to return, he tags along with her. She has an interview later that day for a secretarial job at a construction office. He begins treating her life as just another movie, doling out advice based on his experiences observing people while researching his roles.

Though out of work, the actor is still recognized on the street because of his reputation for appearing in “Ashley Judd movies.” The movie is filled with little in-jokes like that.

Freeman is his usual warm and charming self and coasts through the role.Vega should garner more attention as an alternative to Penelope Cruz as the “go-to Latina” in American cinema. John Latchem

Alone With Her
Prebook 4/10; Street 5/22Genius/IFC, Thriller, B.O. $0.01 million, $19.95 DVD, NR.Stars Colin Hanks, Ana Claudia Talanc?n, Jordana Spiro.

Three people are victims of stalking in the United States every minute, according to the Justice Department, which reports that “recent technology has created a golden age for predators to track and terrorize.”

And thus the stage is set for Alone With Her, a creepy and engaging caricature of the stalker mindset and methodology.

Colin Hanks (Tom's kid, of King Kong, Orange County and Rx) plays Doug, a nebbish loser whose shifting personality is built entirely upon his irrational obsession with his victims. He has a habit of hiding a camera in a bag and walking around recording random pretty girls.

Doug becomes particularly infatuated with a girl he sees in the park, and follows her home. Within a week, he breaks into her apartment and installs surveillance equipment. As if recording her isn't enough, this sicko also seems to get off recording himself watching her, especially during a few moments of self-arousal.

He finds out her name is Amy and puts on a show that he's into the same things that she is. When one of her co-workers asks her out, he offers tickets to her favorite band. She lies to him about going on the date, so he poisons her food. Typical nice guy stuff.

Once he makes sure her social calendar is clear, he swoops in with a series of good deeds. Just as she's coming around, her best friend (Spiro), has an innate sense about how much of a creep he is and starts getting a little too curious about his personal history. What are the odds Doug will let it slide?

The beautiful Talanc?n (Fast Food Nation) as Amy delivers a convincing character arc, delivering the necessary moments of joy, excitement, melancholy and heartbreak.

The gimmick is that the entire film is shot using Doug's hidden cameras, giving the film a Blair Witch kind of realism that serves the story better than had the filmmakers tried to play it straight.

The DVD includes bonus footage and an alternate ending. John Latchem

Not Just the Best of The Larry Sanders Show
Street 4/17Sony Pictures, Comedy, $49.95 four-DVD set, NR.Stars Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, Jeffrey Tambor.

The first thing that jumps out about this DVD set is that it exists at all. The complete first season was released more than five years ago, with nothing since. Rumors of a second-season set have been swirling for months, but the announcement of this compilation release led many fans to conclude no more season sets were coming.

Not Just the Best has 23 of the key episodes from HBO's landmark comedy series “The Larry Sanders Show,” a spoof of late-night talk shows with Shandling as the titular host. The boxed set spans all six seasons and includes the first and last episodes.

The show eschewed the use of a laugh track, and its style and format have influenced more recent efforts such as “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.”

The new DVD set is loaded with bonus materials, such as commentaries, deleted scenes, alternate takes, behind-the-scenes featurettes and cast interviews.

Of particular interest are a few celebrity promotional interviews labeled in handwriting on the menus as “Personal, Intimate, Indulgent Meetings With My Friends That are Meant Only for Me to See,” ostensibly by Shandling himself.

These are pretty much lengthy scenes in which Shandling discusses the show with a former guest star while the pair engage in some activity. He boxes with Alec Baldwin, for example, and has breakfast with Sharon Stone.

Actors such as Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”), Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24”) and Penny Johnson (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “24”) recall some of the fun they had making the series and the exposure they received as a result.

Not being a regular viewer of the show during its 1992-98 run, I found this boxed set to be a pretty good sampler of the series. Diehards will like the extras, but I don't know if it'll appease their desire for season sets. Casual fans should be satisfied with it, and it just might whet their appetites for more.

There's some other good news for those awaiting a complete second season. Sony is re-releasing the first season the same day as the best-of set, April 17, which may be a sign of things to come. John Latchem

How William Shatner Changed the World
Street 4/10Allumination, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.Hosted by William Shatner.

The power of imagination is the essence of science-fiction, probing the realm of the seemingly impossible to show it not only may be possible, but also can have practical real-life implications.

How William Shatner Changed the World enlightens even the most ardent sci-fi critic about the true value of the genre by examining how Shatner's seminal 1960s series “Star Trek” and its spin-offs made an impression on a new generation of space explorers and scientists.

Shatner gives a humorous turn in his hosting duties, at first complaining about doing another documentary about “Star Trek” because he was expecting to interview great scientists.

The program is based on Shatner's book I'm Working on That, which takes its title from a quote made by physicist Stephen Hawking when he visited the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” set. He reportedly pointed at the warp core in the engine room set when he uttered the line, referring to theories of faster-than-light travel.

While scientists consider “Star Trek” concepts like the holodeck, the transporter and cybernetic interfaces, the show has inspired many of the gadgets we already take advantage of.

An exec from Motorola conveys how “Star Trek” inspired him to invent the cell phone. How many of us now have flip phones like those old communicators?

The show has inspired advances in medicine, such as new scanning and imaging techniques. Even fads like the iPod can be traced back to “Star Trek,” according to this documentary.

On the flip side, some paranoids think “Star Trek” accustomed its viewers to put too much trust in technology and made it easier to overlook the government's use of it for less-than-altruistic means. With this in mind, the program examines some ways the “Star Trek” franchise adapted over the years in response to public perceptions of technology.

The exercise provides a convenient excuse to show a bunch of “Star Trek” clips, but it's more lighthearted than a lot of the stuffy and pompous retrospectives that have surfaced over the years. John Latchem

From Other Worlds
Prebook 4/10; Street 5/8BFS, Sci-Fi, $24.98 DVD, NR.Stars Cara Buono, Isaach de Bankol?.

When Brooklyn housewife Joanne begins to feel emotionally distanced from her family and experiences a sort of blank-faced malaise, it's not because she has overdosed on “The View.”

It appears Joanne has recently been abducted by aliens.

Buono (Beer League) plays the otherwise normal Joanne, who would appear to have the perfect life, but can't quite connect. She often wanders around in a stupor, staring at strange objects that mean something only to her.

When Joanne finally begins to suspect she is a recent alien abductee, she makes connections with others who claim the same, including immigrant Abraham (Bankol?), who knows what Joanne is going through.

The two begin a chase for clues that leads them to some startling discoveries, combing through museums and ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The chase culminates in some alarming news — these two must now act to save Earth from complete destruction. Given that most of the characters surrounding them are morons, Joanne and Abraham are pretty much on their own.

From Other Worlds is written and directed by Barry Strugatz, the screenwriter of Married to the Mob and She-Devil. He infuses this story with the same workable combination of humor and danger.

From Other Worlds is not filled to the top of the saucer with sci-fi metaphors and deep messages, but it manages a few good lessons while also maintaining its status as a likable comic romp.

Extras include Buono's audition reel and commentary from Strugatz and his editor that offers some amusing banter. — Dan Bennett

Gamebox 1.0
Street 4/10Lionsgate, Sci-Fi, $26.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for intense sequences of violence and some drug material.Stars Nate Richert, Danielle Fishel, Patrick Kilpatrick, Patrick Cavanaugh, Patrick Renna.

Directors David and Scott Hillenbrand (Dorm Daze) have crafted a completely original tale that blends popular game genres with an interesting story and some of the best special effects a low-budget film (and two years of development) can buy.

Gamebox is similar to the recent Stay Alive in that it features an original game, rather than adapting a popular game such as Double Dragon or Super Mario Bros. As long as you're not expecting Tron, a CGI movie that still holds its own today, Gamebox 1.0 is a good bet.

Charlie Nash (Richert of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) is a video game tester hooked on a new virtual-reality game system that plugs directly into the user's brain. The mission is to rescue The Princess, a spitting-image for Charlie's girlfriend (Fishel), who was recently shot by a drug-dealing cop. The game dominates Charlie's mind and leaves him in a coma — the only way to stop the game is to beat it.

The game scenes put the actors in front of 3-D backdrops to simulate typical video game settings, such as a Grand Theft Auto-like crime spree zone, a Resident Evil-like zombie land and an alien-attack game. The effects look similar to the recent Electronic Arts game Need for Speed: Carbon.

The movie has commentary from the directing brothers, a making-of featurette, a gag reel, and deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary.

While the live-action scenes were completed in three weeks, according to the directors, the movie took more than two years to finish because of the special effects. This explains the one problem I had with the film. Since it was filmed in 2004, the characters use game systems that are now obsolete.

It's a minor quibble. The acting is decent and the visuals stand out, making the jump from one game genre to the next a worthwhile experience.

It's a wonder that of the two recent video game tester movies, the one that made it to theaters was the horrendous Grandma's Boy, which got the game business horribly wrong. — John Gaudiosi

The Tiger and the Snow
Prebook 4/10; Street 5/8Hart Sharp, Comedy, B.O. $0.01 million, $24.98 DVD, NR.Stars Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi, Jean Reno, Tom Waits.

Ever have that dream that you're in front of a crowd in your underwear? Poet Attilio (Benigni) has it every night. It's his wedding to the woman of his dreams, Vittoria (Braschi).

She acknowledges him just enough to keep him in hot pursuit, even as she and his friendly rival, Fuad (Reno), leave Italy for Iraq in 2003.

Hapless Attilio charms everyone as he dashes from one obligation to another trying to keep everyone, including himself, happy. He inspires his students, impresses his colleagues and enamors his children.

When an explosion in Iraq seriously injures Vittoria, Attilio will move heaven and earth to reach and save her.

Mindless optimism that borders on denial holds him together as he searches for medicine in a war zone after everyone else has given up. He sees the glass half full, refusing to accept that she may die. He is willing to surmount bureaucracy, medical science and even war as his sanity threatens to unravel. It's his pure and poetic love that propels him, disarms adversaries and wins allies.

On one hand, Attilio is selfish, always deflecting responsibility for the consequences of his scatterbrained life. On the other hand, he's willing to endure any trial to save Vittoria.

Written by, directed by and starring Benigni, the film is peppered with slapstick humor and absurdity reminiscent of Groucho Marx and Mel Brooks.

It's also good for hopeless romantics, if they have the patience. At 110 minutes, the film is just too long. After a while, Attilio's determination is just a way to drive the gags (we get it, already).

Much of the Iraq sequence is inexplicably performed in English despite a dearth of Americans or other English speakers, although that should go over well with a lot of American viewers.

Award nominations were mainly for the music, which features Tom Waits performing “You Can Never Hold Back Spring.” — Holly J. Wagner

Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy
Street 4/17Victory Multimedia, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, NR.Stars Nicole Brier, Joanie Laurer, Don Frye, April Hunter, Renoly Santiago, Ken Yasuda.

Considering a title like Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy, many might ask the question, “Gee, how many other romantic wrestling comedies are there?”

If rumors are true, the answer might soon be “two” because word is a sequel to this film is in the works.

If audiences are really clamoring for more of the same, then maybe the producers of this film are doing themselves a disservice by including the word “just” in the title, as it only serves to diminish and cheapen the apparently blossoming genre.

There are certain things that probably need to be taken for granted when approaching a romantic comedy about professional wrestlers. No. 1: Audiences can only expect so much from a cast of mostly professional wrestlers. No. 2: There is a market of wrestling fans hungry for anything wrestling related.

For all its crude humor, garish settings and production design, and white-trash caricatures, there is actually a pretty sweet story at the core of the film, which does, in fact, have a degree of heart and soul.

Brier stars as Sandy, the daughter of two pro wrestlers (played by martial artist/boxer/UFC champ Frye and wrestler Hunter) who want nothing more than for their darling daughter to marry a wrestler — in particular, Monster (Yasuda). Children do not always follow their parents wishes, however.

Egged on by her gay best friend, Sandy toys with other options and is ultimately and inexplicably attracted to the bespectacled Marty when they bump into each other at their high-school reunion.

The broad over-the-top action/comedy and grossly exaggerated stereotypes masquerading as characters should really appeal to fans of over-the-top exaggerated characters — in other words, wrestling fans. — David Greenberg

Comedy of Power
Prebook 4/10; Street 5/8Koch Lorber, Comedy, B.O. $0.08 million, $29.98 DVD, NR. In French with English subtitles.Stars Isabelle Huppert.

A sudden brake failure intensifies Jeanne Charmant-Killman's investigation into corrupt CEO Michel Humeau and his associates.

It takes a while to get there, but by that time we know she is trying to break him down with prison conditions and coping with being a rising star as an investigative judge, the equivalent of an American special prosecutor.

Her husband, Philippe, feels emasculated, and her ne'er-do-well nephew Felix is a little too familiar and not to be trusted.

But it's insiders at the office she has to worry about. Her investigation into corporate graft and political corruption gets her promotions intended to buy her off, bodyguards and an associate who may be spies, and danger to herself and her family.

Her devotion to work breaks her strained marriage. With several lives in shambles, we understand that the names have changed but the game will go on, with corrupt businessmen and diplomats spending and funneling money as they please.

Despite its disclaimer, the plot is intended to mimic an actual scandal, L'Affaire ELF, in which executives looted an oil company's coffers for their own uses.

The acting is only fair from these performers, the production values summon a 1960s spy thriller and the story is unsatisfying. There's little tension as Charmant-Killman (Huppert) unravels the conspiracy, and the consequences seem hollow.

Still, die-hard fans of director Claude Chabrol will take an interest. — Holly J. Wagner

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