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Reviews: August 26

26 Aug, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Kickin' It Old Skool

Kickin' It Old Skool
Street 8/28
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $4.5 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for crude and sexual content and language.
Stars Jamie Kennedy, Maria Menounos, Michael Rosenbaum, Bobby Lee, Aris Alvarado, Miguel A. Nuñez Jr., Debra Jo Rupp, Christopher McDonald.

It's a predictable story, but that doesn't lessen the enjoyment factor of Kickin' It.

The cast is a major reason for the film's success. It's a nice, rounded mix, starting with Kennedy (Scream) who stars as Justin Schumacher, opposite Menounos' Jennifer Stone.

The plot revolves around them — as goofy a couple they make — but the performances of Nuñez as Darnell, Alvardo as Hector and Bobby Lee as Aki make this a decent little comedy.

Rosenbaum, as Kip, plays the loveable jerk to a hilt. Vivica A. Fox is on top of her game, too, despite her limited role — though it comes with much impact and gusto — as the wife of Nunez' Darnell. There also are some wonderful cameos by Emmanuel Lewis and David Hasselhoff.

The story sets Justin as the frontman for a youthful breakdancing crew, a foursome that includes Darnell, Hector and Aki. But Justin spends 20 years in a coma after conking his head in a nasty spill during one of the group's performances.

Reality is almost as harsh as his 20 years of being out of commission. Now he has to endure and rely on his wacky parents (McDonald and Rupp), who have their own issues, and catch up on all he's missed. He also has this wild dream about reuniting his former breakdancing mates.

The bonus features are plentiful. There are a lot of deleted scenes that provide a few laughs. A segment called “The Internet” is among the best of the bunch. — Benny Lopez

Bloodrayne 2: Deliverance
Prebook 8/21; Street 9/18
Vivendi Visual, Action, $26.99 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Natassia Malthe, Zack Ward, Brendan Fletcher.

Director Uwe Boll (House of the Dead) has started from scratch with this vampire Western. From the casting of Malthe (Elektra) as the zamfir (half-human, half vampire) Rayne, to the Wild West setting, this sequel really has nothing to do with the original that starred Kristanna Loken, Michelle Rodriguez and Ben Kingsley.

That's not a bad thing. BloodRayne 2 is a huge improvement over the original. Despite the lack of the recognizable stars, this sequel serves up better acting and a classic Western story with some bloodsucking vampires thrown in for good measure.

Set 150 years after the events of the first film and a world away from Romania, Rayne heads to the town of Deliverance to track down Billy the Kid (Ward). He wants to use the town's new railroad station as an outpost to create an army of vampires.

In the DVD's commentary, Boll talks about wanting to make a Sergio Leone-style Western, and the film does have plenty of close-ups, little dialogue, and more build-up to action than action itself.

While it's nowhere near as good as any of Leone's films, this Western does offer something unique with its blend of vampires, the Wild West and a video game character. Fans of the game franchise will be happy to see Rayne toting a gun this time around (she didn't in the first movie), and using some of her classic arcade moves, but the story has nothing to do with the second game.

Malthe holds her own as Rayne and looks great in a long black leather coat and Western get-up.

As with the first movie, the DVD comes with the original PC game. Also included is a digital BloodRayne: Tibetan Heights comic book, plus an assortment of deleted and extended scenes, and a featurette on the making of the movie. — John Gaudiosi

Prebook 8/28; Street 9/25
Arts Alliance America, Comedy, B.O. $0.2 million, $24.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some language.
Stars Troy Schremmer, Chris Mass, Janelle Schremmer, Shannon Haragan.

Although it's billed as a comedy — and it is funny at times — Mike Akel's Chalk offers a surprisingly serious and unflinching look at the quotidian frustrations endured by America's beleaguered high school teachers.

Their lot, the movie effectively argues, is not a very comfortable one, and the laughs are there only to keep the picture from sinking into what might otherwise be a slough of unrelenting pathos.

In an unnamed heartland high school, we follow several individual teachers over a typical school year. History teacher Mr. Stroope (Mass) aspires to win teacher of the year, and is much more concerned with his popularity among the students than with their education.

Assistant Principal Reddell (Haragan) thought her new job would mean less work than she had in the classroom, but finds the opposite to be true. Gym coach Ms. Webb (Janelle Schremmer) is looking for love, but finds herself hamstrung by everyone's knee-jerk assumption that she's gay. And, lastly, newbie teacher Mr. Lowrey (Troy Schremmer) is incapable of imposing order on his unruly pupils.

Shot in the increasingly popular phony-doc style (think TV's “The Office” and the films of Christopher Guest), Chalk supplements its candid classroom footage with at-home confessional sequences. By their own admission, all the teachers are fairly miserable, their professional lives unsatisfying and their personal lives in shambles.

As the opening epigraph informs us, 50% of all new teachers quit within their first three years, and Chalk builds a substantial case illustrating why: The kids are indifferent, the hours are worse than you'd think, the pay is lousy, and the co-workers only occasionally sympathetic.

What's magnificent about Chalk is that, unlike something such as Mike Judge's Office Space, it treats its subjects' workday dilemmas seriously, and doesn't soft-peddle the picture's rather grim underlying message for the sake of rote laughs.

Being a high school teacher is an always challenging, and usually thankless occupation, and director Akel has done well to make a film that, despite its surface giggle, is more realistic than ridiculous. — Eddie Mullins

Flock of Dodos
Street 9/18
Docurama, Documentary, $26.95 DVD, NR.

Is intelligent design a reputable science to be taught side-by-side with evolution? And if evolution is still the theory of choice for the vast majority of scientists, many of whom are deeply religious, why does it sound like a head-to-head battle of equals being fought tooth-and-nail?

In this humorous documentary, which recalls the work of Michael Moore and Ross McElwee, Dr. Randy Olson asks and answers the important questions.

Writer-director Olson can't fathom why his home state of Kansas was the center of the evolution vs. intelligent design debates in 1999 and 2005, when the Kansas school board argued to teach intelligent design in science classes. Some people don't like the idea that man may share common genetic ancestors with apes, and that the dinosaurs might not have co-existed with people a la “The Flintstones.”

The documentary begins with the dodos — cute, animated fellas — representing those who debated the evolutionists through the years: religious men, politicians, lawyers. They all lost — dead as, well, you know. By the end of the film, however, Olson demonstrates how the proponents of intelligent design, with millions of evolution-ignorant Americans on their side, are gaining support with their friendly demeanors, great talking points, and the appeal of a god-created universe behind their “science.”

Unfortunately, today it's the scientists, with their inability to communicate important ideas to nonscientists, who are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of future America. The smartest people are looking like the dopes.

Like a Moore documentary, Flock of Dodos doesn't hide the documentarian's serious bias. Olson doesn't believe intelligent design should be taught in public schools. For the majority of us who think talk of universe-creating beings belongs in churches, synagogues and mosques, Olson will appeal with this funny look at a problem that scientists scratch their heads at, and Americans wrestle with everyday. — Brendan Howard

The Sex Movie
Prebook 8/28; Street 10/9
Ariztical, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Michelle Mosley, Matthew Tyler, Mike Fallon, Eleese Longino.

Kris (Mosley) invites three pals over to her loft for an evening of ecstasy, liquor, confessions, fighting and sex. Kris is a manipulative provocateur, prodding her friends until they either fight or … well, you can imagine.

But the friends don't exactly mesh on the “you can imagine” front. J.D. (Tyler) is an oafish homophobe. Heidi (Longino) is a man-hating lesbian. Rafe (Fallon), the most likable of the quartet, is a mild-mannered gay guy who happens to be in love with J.D. They fit the typical stereotypes, but this film seeks to find out what's beneath the surface. Unfortunately, it's not very pretty.

First time writer-director-producer Colton Lawrence takes his cues from the stage — one set, four actors, lots of dialogue.

The staginess of the film could be forgiven — the script does offer some bits of wisdom about the fluidity of sexual identity and the difficult balance between love and sex — if only these characters were believable as friends.

From the moment the film begins, they can barely tolerate one another. The situation of them coming together for an evening feels as staged as the rest of the film.

The Sex Movie is meant to titillate and provoke, but it's hard to get to the deeper truths of sexual politics and identity when they're expressed by such bitter people.

Indie movies are prime ground for exploring different realities of sex, and in this, The Sex Movie has good company. It does dare to ask difficult questions, which is commendable. For folks who like amorous, provocative indies to be on the talky side — think Neil LaBute — and open to ideas outside of sexual norms, this might be their cup of tea. — Laura Tiffany

Coffee Date
Prebook 8/26; Street 9/25
TLA Releasing, Comedy, B.O. $0.004 million, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Jonathan Bray, Wilson Cruz, Jonathan Silverman, Sally Kirkland.

Coffee Date is like a perfectly portioned tart — quite sweet, a bit tangy and surprisingly substantial.

Todd (Bray) isn't gay — but everyone thinks he is. His fastidious nature, appreciation of film and theater, and reluctance to date after a bad marriage don't lend much credibility to his claims of straightness.

His loutish brother decides to help Todd find a date online, but puts the ad in the men-seeking-men section.

Todd falls in e-love with Kelly (Cruz), until they meet for coffee and he discovers Kelly isn't a she. The two become friends, despite Todd's “homosexual panics,” i.e. homophobia.

But Todd's family and friends really start to believe he's gay. Kelly also hopes it's true, and Todd is beginning to wonder what everyone around him sees that he doesn't. What does a straight man do when he finally finds his life partner, who just so happens to be a man?

Coffee Date offers a fun twist on the romantic comedy, and a 180-degree switcheroo of the typical coming out tale, but it never chooses sides. Gay, straight, bi — it doesn't matter. The message here is to be true to your heart.

The film doesn't have multimillion-dollar production values, but with strong performances and an insider's guide to gay L.A., it does just fine.

It's always a pleasure to see Cruz on screen. He's become a handsome, muscular man, but he hasn't lost the sweetness and vulnerability he showed as a teen on “My So-Called Life.”

Bray loosens up nicely as his character learns to stop fearing homosexuality and start loving himself. Silverman and Kirkland are entertaining as Todd's irritating family.While it should please all open-minded filmgoers regardless of their sexual proclivity, this smart and sweet film also deserves a place in the gay comedy pantheon beside films such as Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, But I'm a Cheerleader and Another Gay Movie. — Laura Tiffany

The Other Side
Prebook 8/28; Street 10/2
Allumination, Thriller, $29.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence and some language.
Stars Nathan Mobley, Jaimie Alexander, Cory Rouse, Poncho Hodges.

Sam North (Mobley) just graduated from college and is rushing home to Georgia to begin his new life with longtime girlfriend Hanna (Alexander), who has been biding her time as a waitress at a local diner waiting for Sam to come home for good.

But the homecoming celebration never takes place. On the night they're supposed to reunite, Hanna vanishes without a trace, and Sam ends up being killed by a van that rams his car into a river, sending him on a one-way trip to hell.

Fortunately for Sam, he arrives in the bowels of hell at just the right time, as he immediately stumbles upon a mob of damned souls who help him escape back to the world of the living.

This is just the beginning of the morbid supernatural thriller The Other Side, which tells the story of Sam and his newfound friends from beyond the grave. They track down his killer and try to figure out what happened to Hanna.

However, this proves to be a daunting task. He goes on the run from the cops, who think he killed his girlfriend, and is being hunted by a trio of indestructible reapers sent from hell to bring back escaped souls, including Sam.

But the real question that is on everyone's mind is what did Sam do to be banished to the underworld?

Premiering at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival, it's easy to see why The Other Side, which plays like a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode, has been winning over audiences at film festivals nationwide.

The film's well-choreographed action sequences combine with its intense plot to create a supernatural thrill ride that will keep you guessing until the very end. — Matt Miller

The Haunting of #24
Street 9/11
MTI, Horror, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for language and some violent content.
Stars Stuart Laing, Nina Sosanya, Robert Blythe, Susan Engel.

What horror fan doesn't love a haunted house? OK, so it's more of a rooming house, but that just means more interference from creepy neighbors. Right?

John Hare's room looks fine, but no sooner has he handed money over to the landlord than strange things start to happen. It's no comfort when he finds a small headstone in the garden marked not “RIP,” but “Lie Still” (also the film's British theatrical title).

A batty neighbor admonishes him to get rid of his TV. His estranged girlfriend Veronica thinks he should move. Getting a good night's sleep is near impossible. Items go missing.After a few sleepless nights, John has had enough, but he's out of options. He calls for a lifeline, but it goes wrong and only deepens the mystery. Once John is back in the house, there's only one way out … and even that may not succeed.

Special effects are simple but well deployed. It's easy to forget how much mileage you can get out of a few disturbing images and rattling doors. Their use here is a tribute to writing that carries the story and the director's ability to squeeze every drop out of a small budget.

Too often, flashy indie box art hides a dud in the case. This is the pleasant opposite, a competent horror flick with gaudy art (which is sure to catch horror fans' eyes).

But if you're looking for a gory slasher flick and lots of screams, look elsewhere. This is more cerebral. Stylistically reminiscent of the classic “Twilight Zone,” the film simmers unsettlingly for a long time before bubbling over with horrific realizations.

Be sure to watch through the credits because it's not over until it's over.

This film is fun for anyone who likes the style of The Shining, Rosemary's Baby and The Skeleton Key. — Holly J. Wagner

The Hole Story
Street 9/4
Cinema Libre, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Alex Karpovsky.

Karaoke video editor and would-be director Alex Karpovsky has a dream that is not unusual for these times: he wants to make it big in television. Badly.

His ticket, he imagines, is his own show, “Provincial Puzzlers,” which will take as its subject the oddball phenomena (so-called “mystery spots,” outlandish folklore, etc.) upon which small towns often stake their claim to fame.

For his pilot episode — self-funded, of course — Alex sets out from his native Boston to Brainerd, Minn., where, despite sub-zero temperatures, an inexplicable hole has formed in the center of a frozen lake. Theories abound, ranging from radiation to underground springs, and Alex duly thinks this the perfect exemplar of his show's premise. That is, until the hole freezes over.

Shot as a documentary made accidentally, or behind-the-scenes of the “Provincial Puzzlers” shoot, The Hole Story concerns itself with Karpovsky's floundering efforts to produce the show despite the loss of its subject.

It's a fairly charming conceit. We see Alex interviewing the locals, shooting B-roll footage, and basically tap-dancing until the hole, the fates willing, reappears. The longer it takes, the more desperate Karpovsky becomes, and he soon succumbs to drinking and increasingly manic behavior. By the end he's in a mental institution.

The Hole Story is too staged and controlled to be credible as a documentary, but that's fairly small potatoes overall. Real or not, the picture presents a worthy meditation on the burden of dreams that is particularly relevant to today's absurd celebrity culture.

Karpovsky is not especially charismatic as a host, nor does he genuinely care about his subject. What he cares about is being somebody, accruing the kind of success that will only be legitimized by his eventual appearance on television. To this end, he is willing to trade even his sanity.

That this kind of outsized ambition unsupported by talent and/or common sense ultimately leads to derangement is a lesson, albeit an extreme one, that strangely befits our times. — Eddie Mullins

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