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Reviews: August 13

13 Aug, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Silent Hill

Silent Hill
Street 8/22
Sony Pictures, Horror, B.O. $47 million, $28.95 DVD or UMD ($38.95 Blu-ray), ‘R' for strong horror violence and gore, disturbing images, and some language.
Stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean.

The film adaptation of Konami's best-selling horror game Silent Hill was a critical and commercial hit domestically ($47 million) and globally ($86 million). And for good reason. It's the best adaptation of a video game made and captivates even those without any knowledge of the game. Gamers are rewarded with the back story that explains the history of the haunted town of Silent Hill.

The DVD sports six detailed featurettes. Four are particularly good.

“Origins” explores the process the filmmakers used to adapt the horror game. “Casting” also has a heavy game focus, as French director Christophe Gans explains why Rose (Mitchell) became the protagonist in the film, rather than the male lead of the game.

“Creatures Unleashed” focuses on some of the key monsters from the film, many of which were taken directly from the game. The process of translating these creatures from the interactive world into the real world is interesting. “Creature Choreography” shows how real dancers were hired to bring some of the bizarre monsters to life. The film's choreographer actually plays two monsters, an original Janitor creature and the famous Red Pyramid from the game franchise.

The DVD has no commentary, which is a shame. Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) and writer Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction) are both avid gamers. I can only hope a special edition is in the works. — John Gaudiosi

House: Season Two
Street 8/22
Universal, Drama, $59.98 six-DVD set, NR.
Stars Hugh Laurie, Omar Epps, Lisa Edelstein.

When did Bryan Singer take over Hollywood? First, he scores big with Superman Returns, and now here he is plugging away with one of the hottest shows on TV, “House.”

In “An Evening With House,” the cast and the producers, Singer among them, tell the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences about the history of the show and how it evolved from its original concept. Intended as a show about medical mysteries, star Laurie's take on the main character so dominated the show that his portrayal became an iconic centerpiece.

The show's brilliance is not in its medical science, but in Laurie's performance, House's willingness to bend ethical considerations and the character interactions. It's a serious show with a main character who doesn't take things too seriously.

A couple of clips highlight the fun the actors and crew have with each other behind the scenes. The blooper reel is amusing, and a montage of excessive “Lupus” diagnoses raises an eyebrow. Two alternate scenes, in which the female stars read their lines as “valley girls,” are classic.

There also are a couple of good commentary tracks from the producers, but the episodes themselves are reason alone to buy the set.

This DVD's 24 episodes represent the show's breakthrough year, as recognized with an Emmy nomination for best drama series. The fact that Emmy turned a blind eye to the transcendent performance of Laurie as House — without whom there is no show — is a travesty. John Latchem

Stay Alive
Street 9/19
BV/Hollywood Pictures, Horror, B.O. $23.1 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘PG-13' (full-screen) for horror violence, disturbing images, language, brief sexual and drug content (also available in unrated widescreen)
Stars Frankie Muniz, Jon Foster, Samaire Armstrong.

With more and more movies being based on video games, it's refreshing to find a film with a game at the heart of its story that is not a glorified marketing tool for another product.

When an old friend and his houseguests are found brutally murdered after describing an intense new video game, Hutch O'Neill (Foster) returns to his hometown to reconnect with his past, look for clues and get together with other hardcore gamer friends.

He begins to suspect a connection between the game and the crime. Much like the mysterious, fatal videotape in The Ring, the video game Stay Alive has a connection to a grisly period in history and players meet their violent ends in real life in the same way they do in the game.

Writer-director William Brent Bell and co-writer Matthew Peterman did their job with the legendary origin for the story that is the basis for the game, but their efforts seem to stop there. Stay Alive, while not especially boring, is a run-of-the mill tale of attractive young people hanging out, being cool and getting chopped up and dispatched in visually novel ways.

Selling Points: Movies about video games have a built-in audience, and horror movies about video games always find fans. Star power is at the lower end, but the film does boast Muniz, who seems to relish a role that allows him to break free of the parts audiences associate with him. — David Greenberg

The Great New Wonderful
Prebook 8/14; Street 9/12
Vivendi Visual, Comedy, B.O. $0.1 million, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for language and sexuality.
Stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tony Shalhoub, Olympia Dukakis, Judy Greer, Edie Falco, Stephen Colbert.

A post-9/11-inspired ensemble piece that falls prey to a wide range of problems, The Great New Wonderful boasts a bevy of great performances but not much else. Neither funny nor particularly dramatic, Wonderful is far more concerned with character than telling stories. The exceptionally talented cast does its best, but such character exploration is best accomplished in a more narrow scope. The film's brief length allows us only a cursory look into each tale before fizzling out with a whimper.

Among Wonderful's primary problems is its director's history. Those braving the latest from the man responsible for Dude, Where's my Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle will be bored. The stoner wit and semi-eloquent idiocy that made those films so comfortably amusing is completely absent, replaced by dark humor that isn't dark or humorous enough.

Then there is the seriousness of it all, the insistence that 9/11 dwells like an unspoken monster in every New York City apartment and every heart in the five boroughs. But there are New Yorkers, the chattiest people in the world, and if there's one thing they like to do, it's talk (argue, if at all possible).

Worse, 9/11 here serves to legitimize a rather uninspired investigation of middle-class malaise. The problem child is simply sent away, the World Trade Center worker finds release by hitting his therapist with a chair, the old lady's wasted life is appeased by a simple dish cleaning … the list goes on.

Gyllenhaal, Dukakis and the rest lend these cathartic moments emotional weight, but certainly not enough to warrant the overly somber feel of the remainder of the film.

Selling Points: For all its problems, The Great New Wonderful moves along fast enough to hold viewers. Some may even find relief and wisdom in its approach. Oliver Stone's World Trade Center hit theaters last week — also starring Gyllenhaal — so Wonderful may find itself on a wave of free publicity. — J.R. Wick

Colombian Love
Street 8/29
SISU, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, NR. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
Stars Nir Levy, Assi Cohen, Mili Avital.

Light-hearted humor and charm go a long way in Colombian Love, an Israeli romantic comedy that follows the love travails of three best friends. All are nearing 30, and the specter of marriage and kids is looming.

Omer's wedding opens the film, and the disastrous proceedings bode poorly for his marriage to Ya'el. Frightened by the prospect of kids, the former military man becomes a depressed pothead.

Uri is a likable fellow, head over heels for his girlfriend, Tali. Their happiness and upcoming nuptials, however, are ruined by his insane father, who inexplicably hates Tali.

Finally, Samir, the film's narrator and perpetual bachelor, believes he'll die if he doesn't find a soulmate. He focuses on a girl he met in Colombia, though he's better suited to a hooker he met in junior high.

While there are no out-loud guffaws in Colombian Love, there are small snickers aplenty. And the actors are all appealing, particularly Avital as Tali, who is downright luminescent.

The film has a similar feel to American Pie 3, but with no gross-out scenes and no Stifler, thankfully. It's about men growing up, finding love and dealing with a number of ridiculous situations. It's also about the divide between traditional values and a younger, more secular society. In fact, some of the film's content — including pill-popping, handcuffs, hookers and a pot-smoking rabbi — may shock foreign-film viewers who know little about modern Israeli society (myself included, I humbly admit).

Selling Points: This is a fun, though confectionary, introduction to Israeli cinema. — Laura Tiffany

Are You Scared?
Prebook 8/16; Street 9/12
Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong horror, violence/gore and language.
Stars Alethea Kutscher, Carlee Avers.

Six twentysomethings awake in an abandoned factory thinking they're contestants on the reality show “Are You Scared?” to which they sent audition tapes. If they face their fears, they are promised luxury rewards.

But it's all an elaborate ruse by a man with a disfigured face who watches them over closed-circuit TV and communicates via loudspeaker and a voice distorter as, one by one, they are slaughtered in sadistic ways.

So, for example, Jason, who fears surgery without an anesthetic, must remove a bomb implanted in his chest. Twins Dylan and Cherie must decide who will die to save the other from being drilled through the forehead.

The disfigured host is being tracked by a detective and an FBI profiler, who arrive too late to stop the carnage, which has as its real target Kelly (Kutscher), the obligatory last teen standing, whose fear that her secret involving her mother, an abusive father and a fire will be found out.

As with most films of this genre, Are You Scared? works only if you avoid obvious questions. The host has managed to perpetuate this hoax with numerous victims for two years and the faux TV show is known to the kids, so why don't they question how come it's never been broadcast? How does the host finance his massive technological set-ups? Once it's clear they're inside a killing machine, why do the potential victims keep going inside rooms that are clearly traps? Of course, such nods to reality would ruin the fun of seeing attractive young adults offed.

Selling Points: Are You Scared? will find an audience of those who enjoyed such “teens trapped in a grimy building with a killer” movies as Saw and Hostel. — Mark Lowe

Our Brand Is CrisisStreet 9/5
Koch Lorber, Documentary, B.O. $0.1 million, $29.98 DVD, NR.

Did you know that U.S. political consultants sometimes influence international elections? Surprise!

Our Brand Is Crisis, an intriguing and insightful documentary, chronicles the 2002 Bolivian presidential race, in which the American political consulting firm GCS swooped in and tried to rescue the struggling former Bolivian president Sanchez de Lozada, seeking to make his comeback in this dramatically poor country.

With former Bill Clinton political strategist James Carville — the C in GCS — as the driving force, Lozada's campaign is revived American-style. The effort includes a barrage of negative ads, focused messages and the reinvention of Lozada's persona, giving him charisma and for-the-people flavor — two characteristics he perhaps didn't have before.

The documentary offers insight into how these goals are achieved, with behind-the-scenes maneuvering and a thorough deconstruction of how a message is delivered to voters.

It's a study of campaign machinations, such as Carville's admission that he simply parrots the already stated advice of his business partners, but people respond and agree simply because it's Carville making the statements.

Our Brand Is Crisis isn't necessarily making a pointed political statement, but provides straightforward observations of how political campaigns operate.

Selling Points: With American global involvement much discussed these days, the documentary enjoys relevance. Fans of the excellent 1994 documentary The War Room, detailing the first Clinton campaign and introducing Carville as the charismatic, if slippery, genius, will like this. — Dan Bennett

Say UncleStreet 9/5
TLA, Comedy, B.O. $0.005 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for some language.
Stars Peter Paige, Kathy Najimy, Anthony Clark.

Paige, familiar to cable TV audiences for his role in “Queer as Folk,” writes, directs and stars in this dramedy that veers into disturbing territory before winding its way back to happily, if damaged, ever after.

Paul is an unattached gay man in a dead-end job whose surrogate family suddenly moves to Japan. Aimless and unhappy, with a very short attention span, he can't seem to find anything that makes him feel alive. Except for this: Paul loves kids. He loves playing with them, making them laugh, hanging around with them and telling them stories. And it doesn't take a Freudian analyst to see that his gift for relating to children stems directly from the fact that he never really grew up.

But his well-meaning attentions are misconstrued by an unhappy and unfulfilled woman who launches a campaign of hate against him because he fits the profile of a pedophile.

Paige is aiming for biting social commentary along the lines of Transamerica or Citizen Ruth by playing with audiences' prejudices. He seems to be saying that, in our world, a young gay man with no family and few friends can't possibly be someone with whom one might leave one's child. But when Najimy's character stakes out that very territory, we are repelled by her small-mindedness and willingness to do or say anything so that others will believe her.

Although it doesn't always rise to the level of biting, there are many interesting and poignant moments in Say Uncle, thanks to a couple of fine performances. Najimy is fearless as completely unsympathetic bully Maggie, and Clark is compelling as the best friend, who carries an unrequited torch for Paul, apparent to everyone but Paul. Paige effectively fleshes out his own vision of a man-child who longs for a family.

Selling Points: Say Uncle has a low-budget feel but will appeal to fans of indies that tackle difficult subjects in fresh and unfamiliar ways. — Anne Sherber

The well-paced, entertaining gymnastics comedy Stick It earned an undeservedly low $26.9 million in theaters, but that's no excuse for unimpressive extras on DVD (Buena Vista/Touchstone; street Sept. 19; $29.99). Producers missed an opportunity in having so many gymnasts as extras and stunt doubles and not interviewing them. The featurette “Hardcorps” simply names them and highlights their moves from the film. Featurettes on the real sport would have been welcome, too, but at least there are some full routines with commentary. Other extras include deleted scenes, cast and crew commentaries, a blooper reel and two music videos. Brendan Howard

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