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Reviews: August 20

20 Aug, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Hard Candy

Hard Candy
Prebook 8/23; Street 9/19
Lionsgate, Thriller, B.O. $1 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for disturbing, violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language.
Stars Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh.

There's nothing sweet about Hard Candy, an intense, exhausting psychological thriller that will hopefully give any potential online predators second thoughts.

Hayley (Page) is a precocious, wise-beyond-her-years teen who should probably know better than to flirt with men online and then agree to meet them in person. But that is exactly what she does. Her charm and intelligence do not go unnoticed by Jeff (Wilson), a thirtysomething fashion photographer who chats with Hayley and then sets up a face-to-face meeting at a local coffeehouse. It's not long before they are out of the coffeehouse, into the car and on their way to Jeff's house.

Jeff's intentions appear pure, and he is the model of professionalism while hosting the minor in his home/studio. But his guest begins a campaign to test the limits of his decency. Soon, Hayley's innocent inquisitiveness gives way to interrogation as she presses Jeff on his personal life and whether he has information about the disappearance of another local girl.

Secrets come out and motivations are revealed in a brutal game of cat and mouse, the centerpiece of which might go down in movie history as one of the most excruciating scenes of physical and mental torture.

Hard Candy is more entertaining than intelligent, but it is compelling and will leave viewers wondering until the end.

Selling Points: The captivating box art, complete with clips from reviews, will attract audiences who are looking for a nail-biter. The Woodsman, a similar film, is a dramatic look at a reforming child molester. — David Greenberg

What's on DVD?

  • Actor commentary
  • Director and writer commentary
  • Deleted scenes
  • Making-of featurette
  • “Controversial Confection” featurette about how hard it was to get the film made
  • DVD-ROM Director's production book

  • Beowulf & Grendel
    Street 9/26
    Union Station/Anchor Bay, Action, $29.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence, language and some sexuality.
    Stars Gerard Butler, Stellan Skarsgard.

    A reasonably savage and barbaric trek through the first epic of the English language, Beowulf & Grendel combines mythic themes with contemporary sensibilities. Some may be put off by the dialogue, which (minus references to the troll) could fit in most action films, but it's far from the schlock that made “Hercules” and “Xena” so gratingly amusing. In fact, the cursing and contemporary interactions seem well wed to the theme — certainly the ancient heroes hunting the vengeful troll Grendel spat their share of expletives into the rolling countryside.

    It is, instead, excessive darkness and a sluggish start that most plague Beowulf. After an enticing prologue in which King Hrothgar (marvelously played by Skaarsgard) slaughters Grendel's father, the action decelerates to a near-standstill as the film lays groundwork for Beowulf's arrival. Unfortunately, once he arrives, it still takes a while to get moving, and the short spurts of action in the interim happen at night or in dank caves, where scenes seem to be lit for realism rather than viewer appreciation.

    As the film moves along to its climax, though, its complexity growing stranger and more pre-medieval with each passing minute, it finally thrums with the earthy primitive power of its source material.

    Selling Points: Relatively unsung in the market, Beowulf will be a nice find for fans of the genre, with a strong cast, efficient script and often breathtaking cinematography. The big-budget Robert Zemeckis Beowulf hits theaters Nov. 16, starring Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich. For a more family-friendly take on Beowulf and Grendel, comic-book fans can visit kidbeowulf.comJ.R. Wick

    Population 436
    Street 9/5
    Sony Pictures, Thriller, $24.96 DVD, ‘R' for brief sexuality and violence.
    Stars Jeremy Sisto, Fred Durst.

    Census takers don't show up in movies much, but Hannibal Lecter mentioned one in Silence of the Lambs: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

    There's a chance the hero of Population 436 would have lasted longer, but it's unlikely. Steve Kady (“Six Feet Under's” Sisto) is suspicious enough to get to the bottom of standard discrepancies, but what is he to do with the remote town of Rockwell Falls, which has maintained the same population for 100 years? After his car breaks down on the way into town, Kady becomes more and more engrossed in the mystery of the town's stable number. The place is full of friendly, god-fearing people, but they're a little obsessed with their odd religion, teach their kids some strange things and seem to watch his every move.

    Something spooky's going down, and it becomes more and more unclear whether Kady will make it out of Rockwell Flats alive. The real ending and the DVD's alternate ending present different spins on that.

    Durst, singer of Limp Bizkit (“I did it all for the nookie”), does a serviceable job as a trusting, simple-minded cop who makes friends with Kady but never seems to get the skeptical census taker to buy into the small town's insulated charms. He's got onscreen presence, and he could make it in small roles like these.

    Selling Points: Population 436 is a little slow, but the town's mystery will keep thriller and horror fans hooked to the end. Brendan Howard

    Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of Mystery & Imagination
    Prebook 8/22; Street 9/19
    BFS, Thriller, $49.98 four-DVD set, NR.

    Edgar Allan Poe's ability to attract new audiences nearly 160 years after his death is no mystery. Almost everyone enjoys a good, spine-tingling thriller, and few writers have scored as many thrills and chills as Poe.

    While there's no denying the attraction-revulsion element of Poe's work — some horrified readers feel compelled to keep reading — there also can be no denying that this 1995 production is, at times, decidedly low-rent. Shot with soap opera production values on a mix of video and film in South Africa and Croatia, the 13-part anthology of Poe classics and lesser-known works might hold the most appeal for young adults attracted to the dark themes to the point where they can excuse certain technical failings. The programs would be suitable source material for students who want to see dramatized versions of the stories they've read.

    Christopher Lee hosts informative prologues and epilogues in each episode in addition to acting in a few of the adaptations. These brief biographical segments are genuinely informative and underscore the themes present in the stories, demonstrating the relationship between the artist's life and his art. They're nearly as gripping as any of his fictional works.

    Selling Points: As mentioned, the production seems most appropriate for junior-high-school audiences. Not too gory and at 30 minutes per episode, the adaptations are short and relatively sweet. Still, they cram a lot of narrative into their modest running times, perfect for some of today's attention-challenged crowds. — David Greenberg

    EXTRAS: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Ultimate Edition
    Prebook 8/28; Street 9/26
    MPI/Dark Sky, Horror, $29.98 two-DVD set, ‘R.'
    Stars Gunnar Hansen.

    After all of these years, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains, you know, a real cut-up. If that wordplay is too cheap and easy, remember that Massacre was made for almost no money and was never intended as a barrage of intelligent wordplay — a barrage of human flesh and bone chips, maybe.

    This is the first high-definition transfer from the original 16mm negatives, remixed in 5.1 sound. Again, we wallow in the gruesome story of a group of young people terrorized by a chainsaw-wielding murderer, supplemented with a cannibalism sidebar. The disc offers a choice of running commentary of the film's actors or its makers, including director Tobe Hooper.

    The bonus disc lets fans of this cult classic bathe in excess details. Featured are two making-of documentaries. Other extras include a tour of the original house where the film was shot, deleted scenes and outtakes, a blooper reel and a photo gallery.

    Inside-scoop stuff makes the supplements entertaining and informative, such as how the energetic young filmmakers defied instructions from bosses and went for cool, artsy camera shots when they could figure out a way to rig them. Also covered is how the film fit in with the psychology of the 1970s. How often does American cultural sociology fit into discussions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? These extras take the trouble, squeezing every morsel of minutiae from the film, making it a must-have special edition for horror fans. — Dan Bennett

    10th & Wolf
    Prebook 8/24; Street 9/19
    ThinkFilm, Action, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for some brutal violence, pervasive language, some drug content and sexuality/nudity.
    Stars James Marsden, Giovanni Ribisi, Brad Renfro, Piper Perabo, Dennis Hopper.

    10th & Wolf aspires to be Philly's answer to The Godfather, a taut family saga about loyalty and betrayal in the Mafia. As a gangster picture, it's not bad, if viewers don't mind seeing familiar earmarks of the genre.

    The narrative revolves around three family members who — again, after the fashion of The Godfather — might be dubbed the sensible one (Marsden, aka Tommy), the crazy one (Ribisi, aka Joey) and the stupid one (Renfro, aka Vincent).

    Tommy leaves the family's dirty laundry behind him by joining the Marines, but when he's jailed for assaulting an MP, federal agents offer to drop the charges if he'll help them bring down a drug-running crime boss back home.

    Tommy reluctantly agrees, but when he returns to his rough-and-tumble neighborhood, he's disappointed to find Vincent working for an unpredictable cousin. He resolves to protect Vincent, even if it means wearing a wire and being forever branded “a snitch” by his neighborhood peers.

    10th and Wolf doesn't offer anything fans of the genre haven't seen before. But it has an ably written script, and the performances are decent.

    Selling Points: The cast is top shelf. Marsden, Ribisi and Renfro are joined by Brian Dennehy and Piper Perabo. — Eddie Mullins

    What's on DVD?

  • Filmmaker commentary with actor Bobby Moresco and FBI agent Joe Pistone, aka “Donnie Brasco”
  • Deleted scenes

  • Going With the Flow: Classic California Soul Surfing
    Prebook 8/22; Street 9/12
    Victory/Arsen Multimedia, Sports, $29.95 DVD, NR.

    Anyone who's ever visited a California surf bar has seen some version of Going With the Flow. Granted it probably had a different title, different surfers and different footage, but at heart it was the same: a surf movie. It glamorized and immortalized the surfer mystique; it delved into the soulful magic and art of riding waves; it chilled in the easy dream of California sunshine.

    As its title suggests, Going With the Flow has no intention of changing the time-honored formula. It's a surf movie and aims to be a perfect ride: harmonious and tranquil; the basis for a legend but also a tribute to the old gods; long enough to satisfy, but short enough to taste transience; and a way to appreciate both oneness and rebellion in a single instant.

    Flow explores everything about classic surfing, from the making of the boards and the making of history to the current performers of vintage moves. None of it is seen in much real depth, except for the surfing, which is probably all the explanation really needed.

    Selling Points: For surfers and fans of the surf film, Flow hits its mark perfectly. It stands to fit in with regular market expectations for similar movies, maybe even reaching out a little past the usual audience. — J.R. Wick

    Exploring History's Treasures: Ghost Towns of the East
    Street 9/12
    Victory, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

    Aimed at those metal detectorists who don't mind looting the occasional off-the-beaten-path historical site, Exploring History's Treasures features Frank Pandozzi and John Demarcho, two amiable upstate New Yorkers who, armed with some local historical knowledge, proceed to dig up artifacts on private property. Their finds generally consist of broken spoons, buttons and old harmonicas.

    Forced by legal constraints to conceal the true locations of the historical sites visited, the episodes are lacking in presenting anything of historical significance. The information in the episodes on research and understanding the history of the sites is next to nil and, when presented, is fleeting, disjointed and practically unusable.

    Pandozzi and Demarcho come across as the “Bob and Ray” of outdoor enthusiasts for whom any rutted backwoods road is the peak of high adventure. The show's tagline is “History Whispers Its Story ... to Those Who Listen.” The show's narrator takes this to heart and dramatically whispers the most mundane statement as if he were imparting history-shattering information.

    The true star of the episodes is the hardwood forest of New York State, with its fall foliage, 19th-century stone walls and moss-covered glens.

    Selling Points: There is a large number of adventurers, history buffs, metal detectorists and outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy these type of shows. The series has a large and devoted audience in New York State, where it is produced and airs in syndication. — Andrew Melomet

    QUICK TAKE: Shorter Flight of Fancy
    For those who don't quite love Terry Gilliam's dystopian fantasy Brazil enough to want to get the three-disc special edition ($59.95), which explores the differences between the director-approved version and the 94-minute butchered “Love Conquers All” cut that pleased the studio and infuriated Gilliam, Criterion Collection Sept. 5 releases a single-disc edition ($29.95). It's got the remastered director's cut with Gilliam commentary and an essay on the film. Brendan Howard

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