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Reviews: August 19

19 Aug, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Blades of Glory


Blades of Glory
Street 8/28
Paramount/DreamWorks, Comedy, B.O. $118.2 million, $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray or HD DVD, ‘PG-13' for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references.
Stars Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer, Craig T. Nelson.

Leave it to Will Ferrell to turn the sport of figure skating on its edge. Blades of Glory is a film that both skewers and elevates the sport, mining a one-note premise for all it's worth.

Ferrell and Heder are rival skaters who, after their feud earns them a lifetime ban, join forces to compete on the pairs circuit, raising the ire of a ruthless brother-sister team played by Poehler and Arnett (who are married in real life).

The result is funny enough to appease most Ferrell fans and should bring in Heder's Napoleon Dynamite crowd as well. It is, at times, over-the-top, crude, sentimental and macabre, but Blades of Glory manages to hang together so well because its characters don't know how absurd they are.

A recent tradition in sports comedies has been for the real-life personalities of the sport to parody themselves on screen, and Blades of Glory is no exception. Scott Hamilton and Jim Lampley join a long list of announcers who lampoon themselves, with hilarious results. Former figure-skater Hamilton also is the focus of the featurette “20 Questions With Scott Hamilton,” during which he is interviewed by a DVD producer with a wit not unlike Ron Burgundy.

The other bonus materials similarly feed off the movie's farcical atmosphere, with varying results. There's about an hour of behind-the-scenes stuff, plus some amusing deleted scenes and alternate takes.

The DVD lacks a commentary track, which is unfortunate given the potential for zany antics with this cast. John Latchem


Two Weeks
Prebook 8/22; Street 9/18
Fox/MGM, Drama, B.O. $0.05 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language, including some sexual references.
Stars Sally Field, Ben Chaplin, Tom Cavanagh, Julianne Nicholson.

In this small, family drama, a woman enters the final stages of terminal cancer, and her four children gather to help care for her during her last days and try to find some way to say goodbye.

Confined to the house in which they grew up and surrounded by the people with whom they have the most history, both good and bad, the family goes through the stages of denial, fear and grief. All of it tempered by humor, much of it of the gallows variety. It's an intimate look at a brutal time in the life of one complicated family.

Not only is the cast uniformly good, but they have a remarkable chemistry with each other. They act with each other as families do: loving, hateful, jealous, angry, affectionate and accepting. Fields and Chaplin deliver especially powerful performances as a mother and son with a complex relationship.

Extras include a number of deleted scenes, at least one of which actually clarifies some minor dialogue that is in the film. Also included is a documentary in which the film's writer-director, Steve Stockman, discusses the ways in which his own mother's death informed the writing and shooting of the piece; a group discussion guide that aims to be a jumping off place for a consideration of death and dying and the ways in which families deal with that inevitability; and an audio commentary by the director. — Anne Sherber


Dane Cook: The Lost Pilots
Street 8/28
Sony Pictures, Comedy, $14.94 DVD, NR.
Stars Dane Cook.

It's good being Dane Cook. He co-stars in the recently released film Mr. Brooks with Kevin Costner, William Hurt and Demi Moore, and shares top billing with the lovely Jessica Alba in the Sept. 21 release Good Luck Chuck.

Last year, the comedian-actor starred opposite Jessica Simpson in Employee of the Month — proving he could act almost as well as he generates laughs — and his HBO shows Vicious Circle and Tourgasm garnered accolades.

For some, the hyper Cook is an acquired taste. This DVD is a perfect example. With all the excellent endeavors he's been involved in recently — particularly considering his fine work in Vicious Circle — this effort isn't one of Cook's finest. File it under holding him now to a higher standard.

Too often, The Lost Pilots bogs down with too many of Cook's sophomoric antics. But almost every comedian's act hits a bump in the road along the way, which is probably the case here. Surely Cook's future comedy projects will return with their usual luster and humor.

The bonus features include an extended bloopers segment and deleted scenes, the latter of which includes footage of Cook and some of the show's characters ad libbing while filming the episodes.

Overall, the bonus material is a mixed bag. There are times when Cook is absolutely brilliant — and funny, too — and there are other times he comes across as elementary and just plain goofy. — Benny Lopez


Crazylove
Prebook 8/21; Street 9/18MTI, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for language.Stars Reiko Aylesworth, Bruno Campos, Marla Sokoloff, Meat Loaf, JoBeth Williams.

In this bittersweet drama, a young woman whose life, on the surface, seems to be perfect, has a ticking time bomb inside her. Letty (Aylesworth), a gifted and dedicated elementary-school teacher, lives with her boyfriend, a successful attorney, and is planning for her sister's upcoming wedding. To the naked eye, things could not be better, more normal or more stable.

But inside, the pressure is building, and in the middle of an especially tense dinner party, something finally gives. Letty loses control and ends up in a psychiatric facility. There she is surrounded by other damaged souls who are in varying stages of healing.

In particular, she connects to Michael (Campos), a schizophrenic who has been in and out of hospitals his whole life. They become involved, and it even seems that they may be able to build a life together.

They are both released from the hospital and set about the task of rebuilding their outside lives. But things don't go as smoothly as they had hoped.

This character-driven drama relies almost entirely on the relationships that its actors establish with each other. Aylesworth and Campos are wonderful together, beginning with a mutual antipathy and evolving to a deep but complicated love.

Williams is also very good as Letty's mother, well-meaning but an emotional bull in a china shop, pushing her daughter even when it is clear that pushing is not what is required.

The best bits of Crazylove come during the small moments: the hospital patients playing poker; Letty tending to a boy with a nose bleed.

Consumers who are interested in dramas that do not tie up neatly in bows will find this small piece interesting. — Anne Sherber


The Insatiable
Prebook 8/23; Street 9/18
ThinkFilm, Horror, $27.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Sean Patrick Flanery, Charlotte Ayanna, Michael Biehn.

The Insatiable is an out-of-the-blue delight, possibly the funniest, most offbeat vampire movie since Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers or the Nicolas Cage oddity Vampire's Kiss, with all due respect to Dracula: Dead and Loving It or Love at First Bite.The always-reliable Flanery, perhaps one of the most underrated ‘B'-movie actors of his generation, really gets to shine here, playing Harry Balbo, a lonely plumbing supply salesman.

Despite a spate of mysterious decapitations in his neighborhood, Harry ventures out to the local convenience store for some take-out. On his way home, he witnesses an attack by the killer, Tatiana (Ayanna), a beautiful vampire who rips the heads off of her victims to make her crimes appear to be simple homicides rather than the work of a mythical creature.

When, in an effort to avoid causing public panic, the police either refuse or choose to not believe Harry's assertions that the murders are being committed by a vampire, he decides to take matters into his own hands, taking the next logical step: searching the Internet for a vampire hunter.

Complications arise when Strickland (the terrific Biehn) — a Van Helsing for the digital generation — helps Harry track down and imprison the vampire. Harry also unexpectedly falls in love with her.

The film is an ingeniously conceived mix of equal parts black comedy, gory horror and rich character study. Generous credit to writer-directors Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon is well deserved, as they have seamlessly woven together these various elements into one wildly entertaining, unpredictable and even moving little film. — David Greenberg


Macbeth
Prebook 8/30; Street 9/25
Starz/Union Station, Thriller, B.O. $0.01 million, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Sam Worthington, Victoria Hill, Lachy Hulme, Gary Sweet, Steve Bastoni, Mick Molloy.

Blood flows in this moody, grisly version of William Shakespeare's tragedy, updated for the gangsta generation.

Set in contemporary Melbourne, the original text is somewhat adapted, with Worthington playing the title character as a somber No. 2 in a successful crime syndicate, fulfilling his supposed destiny by brutally killing his boss in preparation for taking over.

Lighting the fire for all this is the cold Lady Macbeth, as the ever-devious instigator with the not-so-hidden agenda. With an erotic witch trio leading the easily influenced Macbeth down his road to ruin, and a running stream of espionage, betrayal and backstabbing — both literal and metaphorical — Macbeth seeks to shock as it moves along with speed, if little grace.

It all adds up to a gruesome run of bombast that may appeal to a generation of moviegoers accustomed to such shock. Macbeth is often difficult to look away from, even when things get nasty. Lighting and music are well done, though performances are sometimes more about grimaces and sweat than deeper understanding of text.

The extras include a making-of documentary, allowing Aussie director Geoffrey Wright to explain his outlook, along with interviews of the key players. — Dan Bennett


Severance
Prebook 8/21; Street 9/18
Magnolia, Horror, B.O. $0.1 million, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong bloody violence, language, drug content and some sexuality/nudity.
Stars Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Toby Stephens, Tim McInnerny.

Severance is an oddly entertaining horror-comedy hybrid that will have you laughing and cringing at the same time. The British import tells the tale of seven dissimilar marketing executives who work for an international weapons manufacturer.

They embark on a team-building weekend deep in the Hungarian forest. Most of the group has no desire to be there, especially after their promised luxury lodge turns out to be a deserted, rundown chalet with a mysterious past.

But having been dropped off by a belligerent bus driver who was anxious to flee the area, and without cell phone reception, they have no choice but to settle in for a long night together.

Little do the executives know that they are going to have to rely on more than just teamwork in order to survive being hunted by an unknown demented enemy who is lurking in the woods, waiting to torture them to death.

What unfolds is a horror satire that has more gore than Scream and more laughs than Broken Lizard's Club Dread — a scene with the group trying to free a co-worker from a bear trap is unforgettably hilarious — as the corporate team tries to escape the deadlybooby-trapped backwoods.

Severance is a real treat for horror fans. From its bloody opening scene to its fight-to-the-death finale, the film maintains a steady flow of slapstick violence that at times plays out like a Monty Python sketch.

Despite this humorous undertone, the film still delivers a terrifying storyline fueled by a solid ensemble cast, led by a lovable drug-addled slacker Steve (Dyer, an accomplished British actor who voiced the Kent Paul character in the “Grand Theft Auto” video games) and tenacious American vixen Maggie (Harris, a seasoned film and TV actress who is most recognizable from reoccurring roles on “Dead Like Me” and “24”). — Matt Miller


Punish Me
Street 9/11
Picture This, Drama, $26.95 DVD, NR.
In German with English subtitles.
Stars Maren Kroymann, Kostja Ullmann.

Punish Me throws an additional kink into a sadomasochistic love story: a May-December romance that in some municipalities could constitute pedophilia. Elsa (Kroymann) is a 50-year-old probation officer for juveniles, kind but stern. Jan (Ullmann), her new charge, is a 15-year-old with soulful eyes and a sexual braggadocio belying his age. Jan taunts her, stalks her, stares at her with frank attraction, and finally tells Elsa that he's hers to have.

As Elsa tries to responsibly deal with this unwanted attention, Jan almost sociopathically cements himself into her life. She finally cedes to temptation, beginning a master-servant relationship with the boy. What seems at first an erotic exploration of a double-tabooed relationship begins to slowly feel very wrong as the power is transferred from the stalking Jan to Elsa, who by her career and age is already in a position of power.

As his partner in this affair, she finds new ways to beat him and control his moves, while he is often reduced to tears but still rapt for her attention and discipline. You wonder if he's looking for stimulation or a warped version of a parental figure.

Director Angelina Maccarone offers a spare black-and-white vision of this relationship with Dogme 95-like austerity. All pretense is stripped, natural light and sound fill the screen; Kroymann even appears in little makeup, allowing every line on her face to show.This is not a bad thing. It's brave filmmaking, and a masterful stroke to let the performers and story take the lead. Kroymann and Ullmann are marvelous actors, so subtly portraying the power exchange that once the viewer becomes aware of the film's journey from eroticism to the dangerous ground of teen exploitation, it's as shocking as Jan's first slap.

Less artificial than its S&M predecessors 9-1/2 Weeks or Secretary, and never played for laughs or cheap thrills, Punish Me is as thought-provoking as it is stimulating. Foreign and indie film fans who got hot under the collar recently by watching IFC's Indie Sex documentary series would do well to add this lesser-known film to their list. — Laura Tiffany


Dimension
Prebook 8/22; Street 9/18
Cinequest, Drama, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Paul Turner, Mary Kay Cook, Sarah VonderHaar, Harlan Hogan, Deanna Dunagan.

Dimension tantalizes in small ways with what might have been, reminiscent of an average “Twilight Zone” episode, but minus Rod Serling's trademark cynicism and macabre detailing.

The premise involves an unassuming hardware salesman named Chance who has been given a special gift by God. As a kind of heavenly compensation for the untimely death of his family, he is endowed with the privilege of granting needy customers a three-inch adjustment to their lives. How that three inches is employed is up to them, and ranges dynamically from the obvious (three inches added to the male member) to the highly creative (three inches of calendar pages taken off of one's life).

Chance dutifully carries out his heavenly injunction, but it does not make him happy in the least. He longs to be reunited with his family, a moment God has ambiguously promised to deliver “when the time is right.” Ironically, it is only through the intervention of the devil that Chance might get his opportunity.

Dimension satisfies most when it is exploring the varying ways people avail themselves of their allotted three. Characters are, in effect, summarized by their choices, and it's not surprising that the more imaginative among them belong to the characters most developed within the narrative.

The tone is even throughout, and among the performances, Dunagan gives a sympathetic turn as an aging widow who makes a romantic gesture of her wish. — Eddie Mullins


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