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Reviews: Aug. 24, 2008

By | Posted: 24 Aug 2008

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning
Street 8/26
Disney, Animated, $29.99 DVD, NR.
Voices of Jodi Benson, Samuel Wright, Sally Field, Parker Goris.

This peek at the little mermaid’s earliest life is a Freudian analyst’s dream. The seeds of all of Ariel’s later passions, obsessions and even her little neuroses can be traced to the events dramatized in this direct-to-video prequel.

Once they were one big happy amphibious family. King Triton, Queen Athena and their seven daughters were the underwater equivalent of the Kennedys, ruling over a soggy version of Camelot. But when evil pirates murder Athena, Triton gives in to his grief and anger. He decrees that there will be no more music in his kingdom.

One day Ariel secretly follows Flounder to a club where music is celebrated and all manner of fish and crustaceans boogie down. Unfortunately, Ariel is not the only secret visitor. The scheming nanny Marina, who seems to be Ursula’s evil grandmother, also follows the singing scofflaws to their secret after-hours club.

Disc extras include deleted scenes, which are distinguished by director Peggy Holmes, who explains why the three clips did not make the film’s final cut. Four of the film’s songs are given the music video treatment and can be played with lyrics, subtitled along the bottom of the screen.

The “Mermaid Discovery Vanity Game” is an interactive feature that allows users to look at items on each of the princess’ vanities.

“Splashdance” is a making-of documentary in which the director talks about the challenges and rewards of directing an animated feature. Also included is a backstage look at Disney’s Broadway production of The Little Mermaid.

The original animated film set a pretty high bar for animated musicals, and this film does not rise to that lofty level. Still, it is appealing and will certainly please its target audience. – Anne Sherber

Blu-ray Spotlight: Postal
Street 8/26
Vivendi, Comedy, $26.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, Available in ‘R’ and unrated versions.
Stars Dave Foley, Zack Ward.

The Postal video game has been banned, due to its violence and stereotypes, in countries around the globe, but not in the United States. However, director Uwe Boll’s very loose adaptation of the game was practically banned in America this summer because of the opening sequence, which focuses on the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing.

I actually thought this short sequence, which has absolutely nothing to do with the game, was the funniest part of the film.

The movie focuses on Zack Ward (Transformers), who plays the Postal dude, and his adventure through an Arizona trailer park. There’s really no plot to speak of, but the story also features Dave Foley (“NewsRadio”) as a cult leader who dislikes wearing clothes, and Verne Troyer (“Austin Powers”), who plays himself.

Boll also plays himself in the film, and seems to have a good time making fun of himself. In the film, Boll’s using the money he makes from bad video game adaptations to create a Little Germany theme park, and in one sequence, the makers of the Postal game try to kill him for making a crappy movie.

This marks the first Boll release to get the Blu-ray treatment, and the film looks good in high-definition. But of all of Boll’s films, this is the one that benefits least from high-definition. I’d think In the Name of the King would have been a better choice for Blu-ray.

In the extras department, the unrated version gets an extra two minutes of nudity and dark comedy. Both the ‘R’-rated and unrated DVDs come with the same extras as the BD.

It’s become a tradition for Boll to package games with the films that are based on them. He’s done this with both BloodRayne movies and now with Postal. All versions of the film come with a free PC version of Postal 2: Share the Pain.

The other extras include “Raging Boll,” a featurette made from the online pay-per-view fight between Boll and a quartet of very young critics. – John Gaudiosi

Genghis Khan: TO the Ends of the Earth and Sea
Street 9/2
Funimation, Adventure, $24.98 DVD, ‘R’ for some violence.
Stars Takashi Sorimachi, Rei Kikukawa, Mayumi Wakamura.
In Japanese with English subtitles.

Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea is a monumental biopic detailing the rise to power of the man responsible for building one of the world’s largest empires.

Spanning 45 years, from 1161 to 1206, the film follows the passionate emperor’s battle to tear down borders and unite the nomadic Mongol tribes under one ruler: himself.

This $30 million production, which was filmed over four months and featured more than 27,000 extras and 5,000 Mongolian Army soldiers, is loaded with spectacular fighting sequences reminiscent of those in The Last Samurai. But the real focus of the film is what happened off the battlefield, which prepared a man named Temìjin (Sorimachi) to become a great warrior, and one of the world’s most feared and respected leaders.

The film portrays Genghis Khan as a hero — determined to bring his countrymen together, never backing down from a fight, and refusing to pillage the tribes he defeated. It was this noble, brave and altruistic ideology that made him so beloved by his followers and despised by his enemies.

This sounds like a lot of ground to cover in two hours, but the filmmakers do a phenomenal job creating a beautifully crafted masterpiece that will be praised by history buffs and enjoyed by anyone who loves a legendary epic. In fact, the filmmakers put such great detail into everything from the weapons to the costumes to the breathtaking cinematography, including recruiting an exceptional cast led by Sorimachi as Genghis Khan, that when Temìjin is named Genghis Khan at the end of the film, you wish this was only part one in a saga.

The film, which was released as a Japanese-Mongolian co-production commemorating the 800-year anniversary of the founding of the Mongol Empire, also has been featured as an official selection at film festivals worldwide and saw a limited theatrical release in the United States earlier this year. – Matt Miller

Prebook 8/27; Street 9/23
Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Chloe Snyder, Mark Hengst, Andreas Beckett.

One of the points that is reiterated throughout director Andy Hurst’s Copycat is that, in the twisted mind of serial killers, once they have committed a murder, they fall into a pattern, a particularly vicious cycle of almost compulsive behavior where the need to kill becomes insatiable, only relieved by more and more killing.

Given the public’s ongoing — maybe media-driven — interest in serial killers and films about them, it almost begs the question whether the consistent stream of entries into this genre reflects or inspires the audience’s seemingly insatiable taste for films of this nature.

Hurst and writer Ellis Walker aim high here. Perhaps they had in mind visions of David Fincher’s accomplished, provocative and compelling Zodiac, which also explored the complex intellectual processes of the people involved in the hunt for a killer, those who can become almost victimized themselves, psychologically as opposed to those who are physically affected by the criminal.

The film, originally titled Diary of a Serial Killer (referring to the pages of the journal the killer leaves as clues) bears only a passing resemblance to 1995’s Copycat, starring Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. The story involves a vulnerable investigative journalist (Snyder) drawn into a game of cat and mouse with the serial killer.

Relentlessly grim, gory and unpleasant, the film is actually less of a conventional narrative and more of an excuse to produce gratuitously extended re-enactments depicting the exploits of some of the most notorious serial killers in our nation’s history.

– David Greenberg

The Legend of God’s Gun
Street 9/2
Indican, Western, B.O. $0.08 million, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Bobby Bones, Kirkpatrick Thomas, Mike Bruce.

The Legend of God’s Gun, the brainchild of musician/entertainer Kirkpatrick Thomas, is an oddly entertaining psychedelic western that’s a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.

Inspired by his band Spindrift’s 2002 album of the same name, The Legend of God’s Gun is the story of a ruthless gun-slinging preacher (Bones) seeking revenge against a vicious posse of bandits led by El Sobero (Thomas), who remains invincible by drinking scorpion venom.

This band of outlaws chalked up a number of enemies as it raped and pillaged its way across the unforgiving California desert. But the bandits now have their sights set on hunting down the sheriff of Playa Diablo — a sinful town overflowing with booze and prostitutes — for sending a bounty hunter after them.

Eventually, everyone descends on Playa Diablo at high noon with their guns ablaze, culminating in a Quentin Tarantino-style shootout in which only one person will survive this battle of good versus evil.

Experimental filmmakers Thomas and Bruce, who star in the film alongside members of Spindrift and other alternative bands, have created what they dub a “rock ‘n’ roll spaghetti western.”

Though the story is a bit hard to follow, the film benefits from having the perfect balance of action-packed fighting sequences and enjoyable musical interludes, resulting in a dynamic, amusing western unlike any film I’ve ever seen.

The filmmakers also went to great strides to make the film look and sound like an authentic 1960s grindhouse feature, which enhances the overall viewing experience.

The Legend of God’s Gun is one indie you won’t want to miss, especially for fans who enjoy quirky, cult films such as Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell. – Matt Miller

Quick Take: A ‘Perfect’ DVDWWE and Genius Products Sept. 9 release The Life and Times of Mr. Perfect, a $29.95 two-DVD tribute to the late Curt Hennig. The set includes a 75-minute documentary chronicling Hennig’s career in professional wrestling, as well as some of his key matches.

Hennig died in 2003 at age 44 from an apparent drug overdose, and the documentary includes several emotional reflections from his friends and family, including his father, wife and son. Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs tearfully recalls a time when Hennig saved his life after a hunting accident.

Hennig’s “Mr. Perfect” persona in WWE became one of the all-time great wrestling characters, and this DVD captures that legacy, all the way through Hennig’s 2007 posthumous induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Old School wrestling fans will get a kick out of the cheesy Mr. Perfect promos from the late 1980s, in which Hennig demonstrates everything from bowling a perfect game to sinking the perfect putt. —John LatchemPope Dreams
Street 8/26
PorchLight, Drama, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Phillip Vaden, Stephen Tobolowsky, Julie Hagerty, Noel Fisher.

A coming-of-age story as interested in a little sass and rock ‘n’ roll as much as heart and soul, Pope Dreams, written and directed by Patrick Hogan, is an effective and genuinely moving dramedy likely to appeal to multiple age groups.

Newcomer Phillip Vaden stars as Andy, a 19-year-old, hard-rocking drummer whose soft-spoken personality is a contrast to the driving musical beat he provides. Perhaps Andy uses drumming as a way to escape from some of his real-life problems. His beloved mother, played by Julie Haggerty, is dying, and Andy is desperate to find a way to send his mother to the Vatican — her long-cherished dream — before she dies.

Andy also is dealing with pressure from his father, played by Stephen Tobolowsky, who wishes his son were a little more ambitious. Meanwhile, Andy finds a possible unexpected romance in the form of Brady (Marnette Patterson), a beautiful young woman who wasn’t expecting to become involved with someone like Andy, but finds herself in an opposites-attract situation.

Throw in a discovery of Andy’s music talents by Broadway producers, and Andy’s life is filled quickly with surprises both good and bad.

Pope Dreams is smarter and livelier than most early-adult coming-of-age stories, with strong dialogue and a willingness and ability to travel from comedic to serious — not always easy. It’s helped by a nice performance from Vaden, alternately beleaguered and bedazzled as the struggling but ever-hopeful Andy. Also, veteran character actors Haggerty and Tobolowsky provide weight and their usual solid skills. – Dan Bennett

3 Little Wonders
Street 8/26
Passion River, Children’s, $19.95 DVD, NR.

This new entry into the burgeoning early childhood video category is a series of three shorts that focus on stimulating baby’s primary senses.

In each of the three segments, two of which are largely wordless and brightly colored, images slowly dissolve to illustrate a central theme.

The first, “Baby’s Stroll Through Nature,” includes lovely, live-action pictures of the flora and fauna that one might see on a nature walk, with colors so saturated they appear to be watercolor paintings. Occasionally, viewers catch a glimpse of baby sneakers peeking out of a stroller, but the segment is meant to mimic the perspective that a baby might have as he or she is wheeled along on a family nature walk.

In the second segment, “Cellos, Bassoons and Musical Toons,” which combines live action and animation, musical instruments become sources of fanciful wonder.

And in “Wheel Time Express,” the third segment, all manner of wheels spin soothingly, including tires of motorcycles, spinning wheels, Ferris wheels, potter’s wheels and trains. All three segments are accompanied by music both familiar and original.

The video will captivate babies as its brightly colored images move slowly from one to the next. The music is calming and rhythmic. And each segment focuses on aspects of baby’s world that he or she will find delightful. – Anne Sherber

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