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Reviews: August 12

12 Aug, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Collier & Co. รน Hot Pursuit

Collier & Co. — Hot Pursuit
Prebook 8/14; Street 9/18
Westlake, Action, $19.98 DVD, ‘PG' for mild language, violence and thematic elements.
Stars John Schneider, Elly Castle, Rex Smith, Karis Schneider.

Soaring through the sky from a bygone era, it's Bo Duke in that most famous of TV cars, the General Lee.

Well, not quite. This time John Schneider's playing J.R. Collier, a down-on-his-luck con man not too dissimilar from an older Bo. And the car's still a Dodge Charger, but it's called Traveler, named for General Lee's famous horse.

Schneider, best known as Bo on the classic “Dukes of Hazzard” series, says he made this movie in the spirit of the old show, in contrast to the official big screen adaptation, which he said left a sour taste in fans' mouths.

Collier & Co. has everything you would want from a “Dukes” movie: family values, goofy villains and exciting car chases.

In introducing the movie, Schneider describes it as a gift from his family to yours. He said he enjoys nothing more than to see grandparents and grandchildren enjoying the same thing. Schneider, who also directed, first wrote the script for Collier & Co. in 1982, and the movie plays out with a certain timeless quality.

The story involves Collier's attempts to sell the fancy cars he wins street racing, while scheming to win back the heart of his estranged wife (played by Schneider's real wife) with the help of their daughter (played by their real daughter). He runs afoul of some bad guys when one of the cars he wins carries some precious cargo they want back. It's all in good fun.

“Smallville” fans will appreciate a few behind-the-scenes snippets in which Schneider pays tribute to his role as Jonathan Kent on that show. But a lot of the humor is geared toward “Dukes” fans, and they shouldn't be disappointed. John Latchem

Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season — The Bettyfied Edition
Street 8/21
Disney, Comedy, $59.99 six-DVD set, NR.
Stars America Ferrera, Eric Mabius, Vanessa Williams, Becki Newton, Michael Urie, Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Mark Indelicato.

One of the 2006-07 television season's breakout hits, “Ugly Betty,” based on a Spanish-language soap opera, is a classic fish out of water story.

Betty, a Queens girl, lands a job in the shark-infested offices of Mode, a Manhattan fashion magazine, and even though she is neither stick thin nor drop-dead gorgeous, her hard work and common sense earn her the respect, friendship and loyalty of her womanizing boss.

The Mode offices are populated by a cast of quirky characters, led by Williams, who does everything but twirl her mustache as the series' resident villainess. Other characters are Newton, the perennially passed-over-for-promotion receptionist, and Urie, the mincing, back-stabbing assistant to the editor.

The wacky factor at the office is exceeded only by Betty's wacky family, consisting of her undocumented father, unemployed sister and fashion-obsessed nephew.

This set includes all 23 episodes of the series' first season and a number of bonus features that will interest fans of the program. “Becoming Ugly” is a behind-the-scenes documentary that details how the idea for “Ugly Betty” developed and how the series ultimately made it to the small screen.

“Green is the New Black” is a documentary about how the series uses green-screen technology to create the very convincing impression that it is filmed in New York (it's made on an L.A. soundstage).

“A La Mode” is a short piece about the look and feel of the fictional magazine where Betty works. Also included are deleted scenes and a blooper reel, neither of which is as interesting as the three documentaries. —Anne Sherber

'Til Death: The Complete First Season
Street 8/21
Sony Pictures, Comedy, $39.95 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Brad Garrett, Joely Fisher, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kat Foster.

The battle of the sexes, man vs. woman, husband vs. wife, generation vs. generation and neighbor vs. neighbor is the bread and butter of the situation comedy business.

Carrying on in the proud tradition of everything from “The Honeymooners” and “All in the Family” to “Married … With Children” and “The Simpsons,” the Fox Network's hit “'Til Death” manages to both evoke the past and breathe new life into the formula. The DVD collection of the show's first season is a thoroughly entertaining treat.

Garrett, best known from his years on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” serves as producer and star of this “married life is crazy but wonderful in the end” series. Garrett and Fisher star as a middle-aged Philadelphia-area couple, the Starks, who get an opportunity to re-examine and explore the nature of their own marriage when a misty-eyed newlywed couple, the Woodcocks (“American Pie” veteran Thomas and Foster) move in next door.

There is no way around it: This has all been done before and, in less capable hands, the material might be dreadfully stale and boring. Garrett, however, is a cantankerous dynamo. If anyone had to resurrect Ralph Kramden, Fred Flintstone or Al Bundy, it might as well be Garrett because he is perfect.

That he is surrounded by such great co-stars really takes the series to another level. The episodes are augmented with special features that are as enjoyable as the shows themselves.

The behind-the-scenes footage is priceless. Bloopers and insightful interviews with the cast genuinely heighten the experience of watching the show because it is apparent that everyone has so much fun producing it.

Finally, footage of Garrett presiding over the real-life weddings of several couples is not to be missed. — David Greenberg

The Ultimate Gift
Street 8/21
Fox, Drama, B.O. $3.4 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic elements, some violence and language.
Stars Abigail Breslin, Brian Dennehy, Bill Cobbs, Drew Fuller, Ali Hillis, Lee Meriwether, James Garner.

One of many notably popular faith-based films in recent years, The Ultimate Gift employs no overtly religious material, but seeks to inspire the art of better living through the simple act of better giving.

Garner plays a dying billionaire who has suffered a falling out with many of his family members. His last hope is his somewhat spoiled grandson. Seen in videotapes after he dies, the billionaire tells the grandson he can collect a massive inheritance if he completes a series of challenges that will, in theory, make him a better person.

Forced now into hard labor, and assigned a series of tasks helping him understand the art of friendship and loyalty, the grandson is prompted to improve himself. He undergoes an emotionally harrowing journey that sees him lose everything before allowing him the opportunity — the privilege — of finding his way back again.

The story, based on the popular novel, is a soft and sentimental human-interest drama, but with enough bite to make some of its emotional moments work quite well. It helps to have talents such as Breslin as an ill child to help lend credibility to the piece.

Extras are plentiful. A behind-the-scenes documentary allows the author, cast and producers to not only tell what happened during the making of the film, but also expand on its meaning.

Another segment allows viewers to learn more about how they can leave a legacy of their own, through the organization of the same name (www.leavealegacy.org).

Two music videos further help capture the spirit of the film. Also included are the original trailer and a sneak peek at the upcoming faith-based title The Redemption of Sarah Cain. — Dan Bennett

Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Special Field Trip Edition
Street 8/28
Paramount/Nickelodeon, Family, $16.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Devon Werkheiser, Lindsey Shaw, Dan Curtis Lee.

This popular Nickelodeon series follows Ned and his pals Moze and Cookie as they negotiate the emotional, developmental and social minefield that is middle school.

During the course of each episode, Ned delivers asides to the camera meant to help viewers make use of his hard-earned experiences for getting through middle school or junior high school without getting beat-up, mercilessly picked on or socially ostracized.

Included on this disc are one extended episode and two bonus episodes. In “Field Trips, Permission Slips, Signs and Weasels,” Ned enlists Moze to help Cookie, who has forgotten to have his parents sign a class trip permission slip. All three are caught and banned from the trip. But that doesn't stop Ned. Additionally, it has just occurred to Ned that maybe there is more to his relationship with Moze than meets the eye.

The two bonus episodes are “Survival Guide to Dismissal,” in which Ned shares tips for getting out of school and all the way home in one piece, and “Survival Guide to the School Play,” in which Ned instructs viewers on how to participate in this popular school activity while keeping one's ego and self esteem intact.

Embedded in all the wacky sitcom hijinks is some pretty sound advice for kids approaching middle school with trepidation, delivered humorously and in a matter-of-fact way by cute, cleancut Werkheiser.

Although the program may be too little, too late for kids already in the thick of the middle-school morass, kids who have sixth and seventh grade looming large may find these programs both amusing and comforting. — Anne Sherber

Kappa Mikey: Lost in Transportation
Street 9/18
Starz, Animated, $14.98 DVD, NR.

Any halfway cool tween these days is well-versed in anime. Raised on “Pok?mon” and regular viewers of Cartoon Network's Toonami block of shows, kids are familiar with the oft-ridiculous and charming hallmarks of Japanese animation.

Nicktoon's “Kappa Mikey” takes these familiar tenets and knocks them on their heads in a pint-sized version of Lost in Translation.

American Mikey is a fish-out-of-water when he gets cast in a plum role on a hit anime show called LilyMu. His four co-stars — nice girl Mitsuki, jerky brat Lily, oafish Gonard and Pok?mon-like Guano — alternately exclude him from their circle and try to help him fit in his new home.

Mikey is a lot like Fry on “Futurama” — he's a dolt who doesn't fit in, but he's enthusiastic and means well. In one episode, his co-stars ditch him on the way to a public appearance and he tries to make his way there alone. He ends up in a bar, joining a biker gang called the Chums.

One doesn't watch “Kappa Mikey” for culture lessons — or culturally sensitive humor. One particular character — Yes Man, the assistant to the show's boss — acts like Asian stereotypes right out of the golden age of cinema.

Other times, characters or events played as jokes just feel out of place, such as the appearance of some Dickensian street urchins. Isn't this supposed to take place in Tokyo?

However, the show does get some aspects of anime right, such as the overly dramatic reaction shots of the characters. And other jokes and tidbits are just fun, especially the dancing sushi that shows up between scenes.

This set only has three episodes, and one of those is considered a bonus. Other extras include a music video, “How to Draw Mikey” tutorial, a LilyMu Squares DVD-ROM game and wallpaper. Fans will surely want to pick up this fairly priced disc for the extras. — Laura Tiffany

Street 9/4
Well Go USA, Comedy, $14.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Ralphie May, Al Johnson, Corey Holcomb.

Some people played rock, paper, scissors in their youths; others engaged in “baggin.’ Baggin' used to be known as playing the dozens, or for some, just raggin' on friends and foes with venom and vigor with jokes about their momma.

Back in the 1970s, when this became a popular pastime with many youths, particularly African-Americans, playing the dozens meant you and another individual engaged in some bad-boy behavior, resulting in jokes that started with “yo momma,” then followed it with your best shot. The insults sometimes reached new heights and sometimes resulted in the combatants coming to blows.

This DVD, hosted by the overweight and wise-cracking Ralphie May, who generates more laughs than anyone, features wannabe comedians baggin' on each other in front of a live audience with each trying to capture $1,000, some parting gifts and bragging rights.

Among the contestants are a Latino transvestite called “Flame,” a “white boy” from Memphis and several black contestants from the Southern California area. The theme and contests carry on with a hip-hop flavor that probably appeals to the under-30 crowd. Still, some of the older crowd would have no trouble reminiscing about this so-called art from their heydays.

The bonus features offer much of the same as the main event. They include a rap-off between an additional set of competitors, who use poetry to sling their insults. — Benny Lopez

The Alice
Prebook 8/14; Street 9/11
BFS, Drama, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Erik Thomson, Jessica Napier.

Though the characters in The Alice all seek to witness the same celestial phenomena, all are from different planets.

A scenic and visually wondrous Aussie import, The Alice features actors familiar to TV viewers Down Under. The film is a character-driven drama that takes its time to tell the story within, even if the 98-minute running time passes quickly.

The story is of a disparate group of characters all converging on Alice Springs in central Australia. They include a young woman trying desperately to cope with the mental illness of her ailing mother; a rock star whose best days are behind him; a German family notably out of place; and a squabbling married couple.

They come from north, south, east and west to witness a rare total eclipse of the sun, hoping the experience will somehow ease the pain in their lives, as well as provide insight for miracle cures and renewed hope and faith.

The result is both outback travelogue and universal human drama, as gorgeous cinematography — culminating in the stunning creation of the eclipse — combines with back-to-basics character journeys to make a workable package.

The metamorphosis of these characters in some ways resorts to stock tricks, but there's also an underlying intelligence and quality. — Dan Bennett

The House of Usher
Prebook 8/16; Street 9/11
ThinkFilm, Thriller, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for some sexuality and violence.
Stars Austin Nichols, Izabella Miko, Beth Grant.

Drawing upon two tried and true horror traditions — the literary genius of Edgar Allan Poe and the influential cinematic style of England's Hammer Studios during the 1960s — The House of Usher is an inventive adaptation of a classic by the former, a loving homage to the latter and an extremely well-crafted film with its own original merits.

When Jill (the stunningly beautiful Miko) gets an out-of-the-blue phone call, the news is not good. Roderick Usher (Nichols) had been Jill's boyfriend, and his sister, Maddy (Danielle McCarthy) was her best friend, but both disappeared from her life, suddenly and mysteriously, cutting her out with no explanation.

So when Jill hears Roderick's voice on the other end of the phone, there is a rush of complex emotions, soon complicated when he reports that Maddy has died and, as a final wish, requested that Jill come to the funeral.

Jill travels to the huge, remote New England Usher mansion where Roderick and Maddy led a solitary existence as the only remaining members of their family's lineage. After the funeral, Roderick explains to Jill that, like Maddy and most of their relatives, he too suffers from a fatal nervous system disease. Jill reluctantly accepts Roderick's request/demand that she stay on with him despite the open disapproval of Mrs. Thatcher (a magnificently stony performance by Grant), a severe personal assistant who tends to his domestic and medical needs.

As is often the case at giant old houses in the middle of nowhere, nothing is exactly what it seems, and Jill begins to question her sanity, her history with the Ushers and eventually the dark and profoundly disturbing reality of the situation. The handsome, effective production is as moody and creepy as the story is dark. —David Greenberg

The Castle
Street 8/21
Kino, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR. In German with English subtitles.
Stars Ulrich M?he, Susanne Lothar, Frank Giering, Felix Eitner, Nikolaus Parvia and Andr? Eisemann.

Made for Austrian television in the same year (1997) as his masterpiece, Funny Games, Michael Haneke's The Castle is an austere, almost letter-perfect adaptation of Franz Kafka's unfinished novel of the same name.

M?he (The Lives of Others) plays K, a land surveyor summoned for vague reasons to a remote mountain village known only as “The Castle.” No sooner does he arrive than he is confronted by local government bureaucrats who disavow any knowledge of his alleged orders, nor of the mysterious work project that he is meant to undertake.

Undaunted, K struggles to gain entrance to the actual, never-seen Castle, but is thwarted at every turn by an unending parade of stubborn officials and unsympathetic villagers.

Haneke's vision of the Castle's town — a dreary, snowbound aggregate of poor lodgings — is appropriately stark, creating a pervasive mood of unendurable isolation and provincial narrowness.

Much like Orson Welles' The Trial, Haneke's rendering of a dystopian world bled dry of ambition and individuality benefits tremendously from a treatment more realistic than absurd.

At times mesmerizing, at times frustratingly enigmatic, The Castle should not be written off as a lesser TV side project, but rather regarded as a fitting and no less worthy companion piece to such works as The Piano Teacher and Code Unknown.

The film is included in the new boxed set The Films of Michael Haneke, which also includes Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown, Benny's Video, The Seventh Continent and 71 Fragments. — Eddie Mullins

Times Have Been Better
Prebook 8/14; Street 9/25
Picture This, Comedy, $26.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Arnaud Binard, Olivier Gu?rit?e, Charlotte de Turckheim, Bernard le Coq.

You will never truly know if you're a liberal until your son comes out of the closet. And according to the French comedy Times Have Been Better, that's doubly true if you're a man.

A somewhat bourgeois French family lives quietly outside Paris until their lives are disturbed when the prodigal son returns home. Jeremy (Binard) is wildly successful and by far the parents' favorite — until he comes out of the closet. The other son, Robin (a terribly dynamic Gu?rit?e — reminiscent of the boy from A Little Romance, only age 17), has long known about his brother's homosexuality and doesn't really care. He's biding time before college and has long come to terms with the worship of his elder brother. His parents, however, are a different story.

Mother Rosine (de Turckheim) seeks solace from her best friend and answers from a gay co-worker. The father Guy (le Coq) instead lets his inner demons surface and lashes out at everyone —his younger son, his friends and especially his wife.

The cast is wonderful, especially young Gu?rit?e; veteran actress de Turkheim, who shines as a woman rediscovering herself; and le Coq, whose older hangdog handsomeness is reminiscent of Bill Nighy.

But the character of Guy is so ugly, it casts a pall over the proceedings. Nothing could excuse this man's terrible behavior, especially toward Rosine. The idea that Rosine's acceptance and Guy's appalling reaction can be explained solely by gender is an insulting simplification.

The film is well-paced and often entertaining; it's just too bad that Guy's homophobia is treated as something so easily forgivable. Perhaps the character of Jeremy can get over his father's ill treatment, but audiences may have a more difficult time finding forgiveness. — Laura Tiffany

You Tell Me
Prebook 8/17; Street 9/25
Vanguard, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Amber McDonald, Jack Davidson, Joshua Cary, David Ledoux, Bryan Fenkart, Maren Levine, Ciara Pressler.

You Tell Me is a dialogue-driven comedy that focuses on a few members of the coddled class and explores what happens to them when they are left to their own devices. Three slacker friends, all of whom have very limited success with the women in their lives, are slowly self-destructing on New York City's Lower East Side.

The trio of twentysomethings, all underemployed, do their best to sabotage, undercut and cast doubt on each other, especially when it comes to each of their girlfriends.

Gray (Cary) is a man obsessed with adult-ed classes on obscure and useless topics, and whose girlfriend is a talented artist about to break into the art world in a big way. Jeff's (Ledoux) faith in women is rocked when he discovers that both his girlfriend and his mother have been cheating. And Flint (Fenkart) is crashing at Jeff's tiny apartment after being dumped and thrown out by his girl.

Through it all, the aimless trio gives each other painfully bad advice.

All three actors are almost frighteningly good at capturing the goal-, direction- and clue-free lives of the boys of Gen Y. Also very good are the actresses who play the women in their lives.

Particularly noteworthy are Pressler and Levine. Although it would be easy to wonder what their beautiful, smart characters see in their goofy, ambitionless boyfriends, both actresses manage to make the chemistry apparent.

You Tell Me is a bit of a homemade movie. Cary is credited as the film's director and all six leads are given writing credits on the film, which indicates that, perhaps, some or all of the intertwining stories are taken from real life. — Anne Sherber

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