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Reviews: Aug. 10, 2008


By Home Media Reviews | Posted: 10 Aug 2008

Recount
Street 8/19
HBO Video, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Laura Dern, John Hurt, Denis Leary, Tom Wilkinson.

When the eyes of the world turned to Florida during the 2000 presidential election, few could have anticipated the month-long descent into legal minutiae that would help determine the outcome.

Americans unfamiliar with the workings of the Electoral College grew impatient with the impromptu civics lesson. But Recount goes a long way into exploring those procedures, showing what went wrong and taking viewers to the front lines with the campaigns that fought diligently to ensure their man would win the state and, ultimately, the presidency. The result is a microcosmic examination of the quirks of a multi-level representative democracy.

Recount does not delve into reports of irregularities from other states, or any other political maneuvers. The movie is not trying to sway opinions of what happened, nor does it pass judgment on George W. Bush's administration.

However, the film's sympathies lie with the Democrats' position, focused through Al Gore's former chief of staff, Ron Klain (Spacey). Key Republicans are portrayed as either incompetent (Katherine Harris, played whimsically by Dern) or master strategists (James Baker, expertly portrayed by Wilkinson).

The film shows both sides as hypocritical, until finally the movie sits back and asks how we as a country got to a point where such Red State/Blue State division is possible. Spacey's Klain, reflecting on the events of that fateful month, admits he doesn't even like Al Gore.

The entertaining and enlightening film is the odd product of a creative union between director Jay Roach, who directed the “Austin Powers” movies, and writer Danny Strong, who “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fans will recognize as the actor who played the nerdy Jonathan. Recount is nominated for 11 Emmys, including best TV movie and a slew of awards for its cast, director and writer.

The DVD includes a retrospective of the real events, as well as interviews with Ron Klain and Ben Ginsberg.

Surprisingly, the interviews manage to steer clear of political overtness and focus more on the historic aspects and overall strangeness of the situation. That the men are interviewed by the actors who play them is a nice touch, but a gimmick nonetheless. – John Latchem


Risky Business: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Prebook 8/12; Street 9/16
Warner, Comedy, $19.97 DVD, $28.99 two-disc Blu-ray, ‘R.'
Stars Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay.

For some, Tom Cruise's recent media outbursts of affection for his wife and his religion have made it difficult to watch many of his earlier films because his screen image conflicts with what he's become. So it's a credit to Cruise, aided by Paul Brickman's excellent direction and script, that the actor's work in this now classic coming-of-age comedy remains his most likeable and vulnerable performance, even 25 years after its initial release.

Describing the plot, which cleverly captures the moral values of young people in the 1980s, is near impossible. Let's just say it's the best film ever to combine capitalism, suburban hookers, high-school growing pains, the perils of playing with your parents' Porsche and the joys of singing in your underwear to a Bob Seger song.

As Lana, the hooker who would sell her heart if it were made of gold, Rebecca De Mornay has the sexuality and style that makes her one of cinema's most memorable objects of desire. She and Cruise, whose screen tests are shown in a truly special quartet of special features, define the essence of screen chemistry and reveal how they got to that place where stardom is born.

Beside a commentary by producer Jon Avent, Brickman and Cruise, there's an informative original documentary and the director's cut of the final scene, which should have ended the still entertaining movie – Craig Modderno


Blu-ray Spotlight: Smart People
Street 8/12
Disney/Miramax, Comedy, B.O. $9.5 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘R' for language, brief teen drug and alcohol use, some sexuality.
Stars Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church.

My grad school days certainly weren't as boring as the lives of Victorian literature professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) and his teenage daughter (Page). The only one who seems to be having fun in this movie is Thomas Haden Church, who plays Lawrence's brother, Chuck.

Not much happens in this laborious film. The cast is great; the direction and pacing are the problem.

That this film didn't make much money at the box office means there are plenty of people who haven't seen it, which bodes well for rental potential. Fans of Juno will surely seek out this film as a rental (likely on DVD) to check out Page. Quaid and Church also have their own followers, as does Parker. And there's certainly a fan base for similar films such as Wonder Boys, The Squid and the Whale and The Royal Tenenbaums.

When it comes to high-definition, there's no significant reason to watch this film on Blu-ray Disc. The picture quality is good (1080p), but this is not the type of movie that shines in high-definition or makes good use of the 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.

There are only two scenes — one in a bar and one in a hospital — where ambient sound is even employed. And the extras on this disc are identical to the DVD release.

There's a commentary from director Noam Murro and writer Mark Poirier, plus a standard featurette, “Smartest People,” in which the stars gush about working with each other. In a rare case where more could have helped the film, there are nine deleted scenes and most of them would have worked within the film to help with characterization. There's also a look at the film's Sundance premiere, which should satisfy film buffs.

An extra that is worthwhile is the free theatrical ticket for Miramax's upcoming release Blindness. A ticket comes inside the box and is good through Oct. 31 for the new horror film, which has a preview on the disc. – John Gaudiosi


Heckler
Prebook 8/12; Street 9/9
Echo Bridge, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Jamie Kennedy, Lewis Black, Craig Ferguson, Bill Maher, Jon Lovitz, Dave Attell, Joe Rogan, Jewel, Roseanne Barr.

Stand-up comics are funny. Get them off stage, and they can be even funnier. That was the epiphany that drove the comedian-driven documentaries The Aristocrats and that F-word-titled one from a couple of years ago.

Heckler continues the trend, but this time with a twist. Director Michael Addis and interviewer Jamie Kennedy (Malibu's Most Wanted, Son of the Mask) give comics the chance to vent about two classes of people who really bug them: hecklers and critics.

The former class, hecklers, are a force to be artfully — and necessarily — dealt with on stage. Stand-up comics need to develop their ability to counter audience members who want the limelight for a second with a drunken howl of “You suck!”

The first part of the film is filled with humorous anecdotes and observations from comics Lewis Black, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher and more than a dozen others on how they handle everybody from funny hecklers who get laughs (good) to hecklers who come on stage to punch them (bad).

The latter class of comic opponents are the more insidious: critics. Kennedy wants to know why critics in newspapers, on TV and online are so personal and so mean. He confronts those who've written nasty comments about Kennedy's box office flop Son of the Mask and wraps up with famously harassed director Uwe Boll (House of the Dead, BloodRayne) taking on film critics in the boxing ring.

Heckler is a comedic documentary gem thanks to its skillful and energetic editing, engaging personalities, and a subject that clearly captures the hearts of the interviewees: the pain of criticism from others. It's something to which everyone will relate. – Brendan Howard


Freshman Orientation
Street 8/19
Universal/Screen Media, Comedy, B.O. $0.01 million, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong sexual content, language and some drug use.
Stars Sam Huntington, Kaitlin Doubleday, John Goodman, Marla Sokoloff, Heather Matarazzo, Rachel Dratch, Jud Tyler.

Writer-director Ryan Shiraki wants it all: to be funny and intelligent, crude and sensitive, raucous and observant. To achieve such cinematic ambitions would be a tall order for almost any director, let alone a rookie with a small budget, but Shiraki somehow dodges the odds and defies logic. Patient, open-minded audiences will find themselves surprisingly rewarded, maybe even enlightened, at the end of this wildly exaggerated, overblown and consistently entertaining film.

On the surface, the film appears to be like many in the college-campus genre. A horny, small-town freshman, Clay (Huntington), gets to school and wants to “get down.” It is here where the film quickly veers away from the Animal House neighborhood and straight into I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry territory — though this film pre-dates the Adam Sandler comedy by two years. Yes, Clay has to pretend to be gay in order to win the heart of beautiful sorority pledge Amanda (Doubleday), who has to pretend to seduce, then reject, a gay man as part of a savage initiation ritual.

While there is barely a trace of subtlety or nuance throughout the heavy-handed film, it somehow manages to raise provocative questions about how we identify ourselves. Huntington and Doubleday get able support from Dratch as a perennially drunk lifetime student and Matarazzo hamming it up with her performance as a Long Island Jew who makes Barbra Streisand look like Martha Stewart. But it is almost worth the price of the rental to see Goodman as the swishy owner of a gay bar.

It's hard to know what audience will gravitate to the film, the gay crowd or the college-comedy crowd. Maybe, in a perfect world, everyone would find something to relate to in this story. That, ultimately, is the point of the film. – David Greenberg


Wall Street Warriors: Season 2
Street 8/12
Infinity, Reality TV, $24.98 two-DVD set, NR.

Follow a handful of ambitious Wall Street traders through their daily routines and high-flying adventures and what do you get? “Wall Street Warriors.”

The latest career-driven dramality show has a pace as fast as the numbers change on the New York Stock Exchange and leads viewers into a world few of us ever see — the world of high-stakes trading.

The show brings a semi-secret world into view, giving us a glimpse of high-stress occupations that leave no one wondering why the burnout rate is high in this world. The money mavens in the show range from an aspiring day-trader to a floor trader, options trader, stockbroker, all the way to a self-made hedge-fund manager and investment broker.

It's the “Ice Road Truckers,” “Ax Men” or “Deadliest Catch” adrenaline rush for the buttoned-up audience, with “Project Runway”-style photography and a music track thrown in.

It's a fair education on the mechanics of high finance and may give some potential individual investors pause as they watch successful (and one beginner) traders at work. It's easier, after all, to be cavalier with someone else's money. Do we really want to know that pit traders sneak paper spurs onto the newbies' shoes and have a welcome hoedown as a joke?

The traders live in an extremely competitive field, but there's no competition among them since they are all in different areas of trading. Some subjects are more sympathetic; others come across as just plain greedy. It's all entertainment, since there is no real lesson here.

People looking for a peek under the Wall Street kimono will be riveted; others will just be glad they decided to take up careers in retailing or construction. – Holly J. Wagner


Love and Mary
Street 8/19
MTI, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for sexual content.
Stars Lauren German, Gabriel Mann, Whitney Able, Ben Gourley, Mary Bonner Baker, Louanne Stephens, Marco Perella, Tommy Townsend.

Meet the Fokkers meets The Parent Trap in this gently satirical, low-budget romantic comedy.

Mary, a recently engaged pastry chef with her own newly opened bakeshop, needs an infusion of cash to keep her business afloat. She decides that she and her fianc? should take a trip to Texas, where her family lives, so they can shower her with engagement presents she hopes will help her save her shop.

But when her fianc? has a terrible reaction to one of her pastries and breaks out in hives, he decides that his twin brother should stand in for him on the Texas trip.

In Texas, the phony baloney couple meet her whole unconventional family: the pony-tailed father who likes to sing opera while shaving and wants to make sure that his daughter is very comfortable with the facts of life; the pet psychiatrist mother; the goth brother with his own particular musical sensibilities; and the beloved grandfather, Pappy, whose gift just might save the bakery, but not necessarily in the way that Mary thinks.

Both German, as Mary, and Mann, in the dual role of Brent and Jake, are appealing performers who throw themselves into their roles. Especially entertaining are Stephens, Perella and Townsend as Mary's wackadoodle mother, father and grandfather, all of whom are intent on chewing whatever scenery happens to be close.

Love and Mary is a pleasant comedy with a number of very funny bits and a fairly predictable ending. Viewers with a taste for something very light and frothy, with a liberal dose of silliness, will enjoy this sweet little indie comedy. – Anne Sherber


The Plans of Man
Prebook 8/13; Street 9/9
Cinequest, Comedy, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Dean Loxton, Adriane Denia, Will Edenzor.

Adam (Loxton) is the embodiment of tunnel vision. His long-time girlfriend has left him and London for a job in New York City, and all he can think about is his five-year plan, which involves him joining her stateside and reconciling.

Standing in the way of this plan is his lecherous boss controlling his chances of a NYC promotion, and a lovely American (Adriane Denia) who needs a visa to stay in London.

Not bad makings for an indie romantic comedy. Men don't always get their due in this genre (outside of Judd Apatow's man-children), and interracial, international aspects of the romance are treated as a nice non-issue.

The sweet interaction between Adam, Evie (the American) and Adam's brother, an immature young man who won't come out to his mother, saves the film. These three make excellent pals and their pub chats make for the film's strongest scenes.

The disc comes with a few more extras than one would expect for such a small film. There are interviews with writer-director-editor Rachel BernSousa and all the key cast members, as well as deleted scenes. For true indie film fans who can be forgiving of first-time mistakes, The Plans of Man may work as a romantic comedy with a different point of view. – Laura Tiffany


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