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Reviews: August 27

27 Aug, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Down in the Valley

Down in the Valley
Prebook 8/31; Street 9/26
ThinkFilm, Thriller, B.O. $0.6 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence, sexual content, language and some drug use.
Stars Edward Norton, Evan Rachel Wood, David Morse, Bruce Dern, Rory Culkin.

Urban cowboy Harlan (Norton) bewitches Tobe (Wood) when she meets him working at a gas station. The pair begin a courtship, oblivious to their near 20-year age difference. Harlan also wins over her 13-year-old brother (Culkin), a quiet kid who's intimidated by his father but feels empowered by Harlan. Tobe and Lonnie's dad (Morse), however, is not won over so easily.

Down in the Valley would have been terrible in the hands of lesser talent. The plot even sounds like a Lifetime film. But Norton completely sells the anachronistic cowboy so out of place in California's San Fernando Valley. His aw-shucks charm, romantic worldview and lean grace believably create a cult of two with Tobe and Lonnie. Wood again uses her well-acted Thirteen persona, although her character here has a better head on her haughty, rebellious shoulders. Morse turns in a stoic performance as the protective but awkward father who makes nearly as many mistakes as his headstrong daughter.

Director David Jacobson (Dahmer) elevates this strange romance-turned-thriller (the first half definitely outclasses the second) by creating an homage to the landscape itself — golden hills, abandoned structures and sweeping vistas that Harlan traverses on a white stallion. It's a gorgeous film, and Jacobson's camera tricks and angles (particularly a lovely sequence where Wood and Norton blend into one another as they discuss life and love as only a new couple can) add to the air of magical realism.

Selling Points: Norton is in the top echelon of today's actors, and this is a great performance. Anyone looking for a movie far outside the mainstream would do well to watch this unusual title. — Laura Tiffany

EXTRAS: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Street 9/26
New Line, Horror, $26.99 two-DVD set, ‘R.'
Stars Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp.

Considering Wes Craven's journey from “Nightmares” to “Screams,” it may come as a bit of a shock, but … Freddy Krueger is back! This time, it's not just a battle with some hockey goalie gone wrong; Freddy is back in all his glory — looking better (or worse; whatever floats your boat) than ever. The latest DVD set of the original Nightmare on Elm Street is a must-have for Freddy fans and a solid purchase for horror fans who don't own the movie, and it's still got the goods to scare the bejeezus out of any newbie.

It's amazing how the formula of “deranged killer returns from the grave through dreams to take revenge on the progeny of his executioners” never disappoints. As any Freddy fan knows, we all have to go to sleep sometime. Plus, it remains extraordinarily difficult to kill someone who is already dead, thereby lending Freddy's frights a kind of timelessness. It may be laughable, but minus some bad haircuts, poor fashion choices and 1980s lighting, Nightmare has enough shocks, blood and mayhem to hold up for a long time.

Prime among the new DVD enhancements is New Line's now-familiar Infinifilm feature, which has additional options and facts pop up while the DVD plays. This time, viewers have access to deleted scenes, newly added bits of commentary and little-known trivia. Some of the tidbits may help in the included trivia challenge, or on the questions accessible through the DVD-ROM.

For a quick scare, flick through the alternate endings — there are a few short jolts capable of stopping (or starting) your heart.

For more traditional enhancements, viewers have the commentary, or the less-than-stellar accompanying documentaries. As always, there are a few behind-the-scenes bits and some original trailers to legitimize a second disc. — J.R. Wick

Drop Dead Sexy
Prebook 8/30; Street 9/26
Lionsgate, Comedy, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence.
Stars Crispin Glover, Jason Lee, Pruitt Taylor Vince.

Jason Lee is better than this. How do I know? Because this movie has been made before — only it's TV's “My Name Is Earl.” It's a well-written, incredibly funny show with a loveable cast of losers. Drop Dead Sexy, however, is not funny, nor are the characters loveable.

Small-town hoods run afoul of the local crime boss (a convincingly creepy Vince). For reasons not worth mentioning, they kidnap Crystal, the dead wife of the wealthiest guy in town, and hold her for ransom so they can repay a debt. It turns out Crystal was also a stripper and someone murdered her.

Frank (Lee) just wants to get out of trouble and will step on anyone in his way. His none-to0-smart sidekick, a gravedigger named Eddie (Glover), feels an affinity for the corpse — which is alternately creepy and sweet — and wants to solve the mystery and re-bury Crystal.

The main problem with Drop Dead Sexy is the character of Frank. He's Earl without the moustache, but also without the charm, humor and heart. His constant belittling of Eddie is nails-on-chalkboard irritating. Eddie is the only interesting part of the film. King-of-creepy-roles Glover imbues the character with a genuine sweetness and has the best lines. If only the rest of Drop Dead Sexy worked as well.

Selling Points: This is clearly planned to capitalize on Lee's “My Name Is Earl” popularity, and some fans of dark comedy may enjoy it. — Laura Tiffany

The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Street 9/19
Sony Pictures, Documentary, B.O. $0.3 million, $24.96 DVD, ‘PG-13' for thematic elements, drug content and language, including a sexual reference.

A documentary to savor and then pass on, The Devil and Daniel Johnston is probably the best feature-length retelling of a life ever to be put to film.

Whether labeled an indie rocker, a folk artist or an outsider musician, Johnston is one of the best-kept secrets of the 1980s. His single mainstream release sold fewer than 6,000 copies, and the majority of his music is in self-distributed tapes — some of which are dubs from master versions, others albums re-recorded in their entirety for the sake of a single listener.

Manic-depressive from an early age, Johnston ran away to join the circus, only to find himself beaten, penniless and mentally fragile in Austin, Texas, only a short while before its music scene was to receive national exposure. Owing to chance and the quality of his genius, he found himself smack in the middle of this coverage, barely having performed his songs, sans band, with only a collection of recordings made in his brother's garage.

Through this stage in his life, and soon into the prolonged madness beyond it, Johnston meticulously documented himself through audiotaped diaries, comic book-inspired art, music and home movies. While this makes for an insanely fascinating and emotional portrait, it also reveals his deep mental anguish and instability, all of which become dominant in his life and the documentary.

Tempered by a wealth of supporting voices — parents, rock 'n' roll stars, friends, business associates — this complicated vision becomes one of the most complete, tolerant and human films ever produced.

Selling Points: Artists from Pearl Jam to David Bowie have covered Johnston's music, but it's this film's quality that should draw attention. — J.R. Wick

What's on DVD?

  • Deleted scenes
  • Filmmaker commentary
  • Johnston's audio diaries
  • Radio broadcast
  • Footage of Sundance premiere
  • Three short films

  • Beyond the Ocean
    Street 9/12
    Passion River, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR. In English and Russian with English subtitles.Stars Dasha Volga, Tatyana Kamina, Rik Nagel.

    For almost 90 minutes, Beyond the Ocean is an engaging film. But the end turns this dark drama from a great film into one that crashes and burns.

    A pregnant Russian woman leaves her native land for New York to be reunited with her two-timing lover. In addition to dealing with his lack of devotion, she also has to adjust to a new country and the quirky characters in the city. New York alternates with snippets of her childhood in Russia.

    Volga heads a talented cast of little-known performers, with first-rate performances. Volga, the best of the ensemble, is one of three performers cast as Pitsee, the lovely and pregnant Russian woman. Tatyana Kamina and Rita Kamina play the role of Pitsee as a child.

    However, director Tony Pemberton — who co-wrote Beyond the Ocean — misses the mark with a miserable ending that leaves viewers with an empty climax.

    Selling Points: Beyond the Ocean is still worth a look. The film got high praise after its release in 2000, including a Sundance Film Festival nomination for the prestigious Grand Jury Prize. — Benny Lopez

    Me, Eloise and Eloise: Little Miss Christmas
    Prebook 8/30; Street 10/10
    Anchor Bay, Children's, $14.98 DVD each, NR.
    Voice talent from Tim Curry, Lynn Redgrave.

    Kay Thompson's blithely mischievous, hotel-dwelling Eloise comes to vibrant life in these two animated adventures.

    A cross between Dennis the Menace and Emily Post, Eloise prowls New York's famous Plaza Hotel, where she lives with her doting nanny and her rarely-at-home parents, looking for adventures, curiosities, potential friends and hidden treasures.

    In Me, Eloise, the Plaza is receiving a very special guest: a world-famous violinist. Eloise can't wait for her arrival, because the violinist is an 8-year-old girl! But Eloise misses her sixth birthday party, and her new friend almost misses her Carnegie Hall debut because the girls are having a little too much fun.

    In Little Miss Christmas, the Plaza kids have planned a multicultural holiday pageant. The only problem? All the Plaza's public rooms have been booked for months.

    Both programs do a good job of preserving Thompson's bone-dry sense of humor while still softening some of the original Eloise's roughest edges. Curry is good as long-suffering hotel manager Mr. Salamone, but but Redgrave steals both programs as Eloise's very proper but wonderfully loving British nanny.

    Selling Points: A resurgence of interest in Eloise is dovetaling nicely into the perennial 6-year-old's 50th anniversary in November. Although the Plaza has ceased to be a hotel and the famous portrait of the hotel's most famous resident no longer hangs in the famous Palm Court restaurant, a new generation of children can make friends with Eloise through these two programs. — Anne Sherber

    What's on DVD?

  • DVD Game
  • Sing-along
  • DVD-ROM activities
  • Featurettes

  • Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul
    Street 9/19
    Strand, Documentary, B.O. $0.06 million, $24.99 DVD, NR. In German and Turkish with English subtitles.

    Crossing the Bridge is a wonderful travelogue with an unlikely narrator. Alexander Hacke, bassist for seminal noise/industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten, fell in love with Instanbul while recording music for the film Head-On there. He returns with Head-On director Fatih Akin and a pile of recording equipment as an amateur ethnomusicologist.

    Hacke traverses the city, meeting rock bands, hip-hop artists, street performers, traditional Roma and Kurdish folk musicians, and the country's biggest pop and rock stars. Politics, cultural divides, music theory and history are woven seamlessly into the narration as musicians speak frankly about their lives and Istanbul.

    Hacke acts more as a musical partner than as a documentarian; he sets up equipment, dances, accompanies on bass, and often looks on with unadulterated joy as the musicians play. His appreciation, respect and curiosity about the different styles of Turkish music is admirable and infectious. Through it all, director Akin is silent, but the film's cinematic beauty belies a love similar to Hacke's for the city and music.

    There are a few complaints. The musicians are rarely identified until the end credits, which can be confusing. Also lacking is more explanation as to how Hacke landed interviews and recording sessions with Turkey's living legends, including actor-musician Orhan Gencebay, who has never given a live concert, but allows an acoustic performance to be filmed. Regardless, this is a gem that, in a perfect world, would demand sequels from any other city Hacke falls for.

    Selling Points: World-music lovers, Travel Channel fans and anyone with even a passing interest in other cultures will enjoy this unique look at the culture of Turkey. — Laura Tiffany

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