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Reviews: August 6

6 Aug, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid
Prebook 8/8; Street 10/3
BV/Disney, Animated, $29.99 two-DVD set, ‘G.'

One of the last true Disney classics of non-CG animation, The Little Mermaid has finally come to DVD in a limited-edition, double-disc set that pays better homage to the film than the previous release.

As expected, the film looks and sounds wonderful. But for fans, it's the extras that'll sell them on buying another copy.

Co-director and co-writers Ron Clements and John Musker, and composer Alan Menken provide a commentary track that's chock full of trivia and explanations of the effects and animation techniques. They generously give credit to the animators and storyboard artists who brought the film to life, as well as the late Howard Ashman, who produced and scored the film with Menken.

The featurettes explore the making of the film and the special effects. “The Story Behind the Story” examines the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen as well as a 1940s Disney script unearthed in The Little Mermaid production process. As far as eye candy, the set offers art galleries, seven deleted scenes, a fun presentation reel, the original trailer and “The Little Match Girl,” a beautiful and heartbreaking short based on another Andersen tale.

For animation freaks of a different type, i.e. kids, there's a video for “Kiss the Girl” by Disney popster Ashley Tisdale (song: not so bad, video: awful). There's the typical ability to watch the songs separately and with lyrics.

The one extra parents and kids will want to watch together is the “Under the Sea Adventure” virtual ride, which hasn't made it into a Disney park but should. Imagineers explain the “magic” behind the ride, which goes above and below the sea. — Laura Tiffany

Street 8/15
New Line, Family, B.O. $8.1 million, $27.95 DVD, ‘PG' for mild bullying and brief language.
Stars Luke Wilson, Robert Wagner, Logan Lerman, Brie Larson, Cody Linley, Jimmy Buffett.

Based on best-selling author Carl Hiassen's novel for young adults, Hoot is the story of three kids who work together to make a difference.

A new boy in town meets up with a runaway hiding in nearby woods and the runaway's stepsister. One day, while hanging out, they overhear an evil entrepreneur plotting to circumvent the environmental rules that would keep him from building on the unspoiled site. So they decide to wage a battle for the endangered owls there.

A lot of Hoot will be recognizable to anyone familiar with movies aimed at the 'tween and teen demographic. Some of the adults are buffoons. The adults who aren't clowns are too distracted by trivial matters to pay attention to what's important. Many of the kids have the ability to cut through murky, grown-up reasoning and see the truth of things.

But there is something charming about Hoot. Maybe it's the owls, which are incredibly cute. Or maybe it's the surprisingly gifted young actors who, despite their tender years, manage to make the story not only believable but also compelling. Or maybe it's the delightfully goofy Wilson, who steals every scene he's in.

On DVD also are a blooper reel and some uninteresting deleted scenes. The three featurettes, however — “Hoot's Hands-On Habitat Projects,” “Backyard Habitat” and “Animals in Action” — are fascinating looks at the efforts being made to save endangered species and will appeal to kids with an interest in the environment.

Selling Points: Hoot received good reviews as a family film in theaters, but didn't score big bucks — perfect for DVD. Baby boomer music icon Jimmy Buffett and author Hiassen produced the film, and each makes a cameo. — Anne Sherber

Land of the Blind
Street 8/15
Vivendi Visual/Bauer Martinez, Thriller, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Ralph Fiennes, Donald Sutherland, Lara Flynn Boyle.

Thanks to a bizarre style and good casting, Land of the Blind never becomes the jumbled mess the script calls for. Though it comes close on more than one occasion, Fiennes' scarred visage soon appears, spouting pseudo-poetic revolutionary nonsense with tortured intensity, and saves the day.

Piloted by writer Robert Edwards, the film posits a strange nation akin to that of 1984 or similar dystopias. Where and when this nation exists is left to speculation; it's an amalgam of so many clich?s and political criticisms that it seems impossible it could ever take place in our world. Similarly, the concepts supporting this pretend nation are so flimsy that it falls apart even within the confines of our imagination. Only intervention by Fiennes and Tom Hollander keep the odd construct from disintegratingFollowing the rise and fall of Fiennes' character from his beginnings as a mild-mannered prison guard to his ascension to high-ranking security chief, to his confinement in a re-education camp, the film sketches two dictatorial regimes. Neither of these is believable. In one leader, we find Caligula, George W. Bush and Hitler; in the other, we get Osama Bin Laden and Karl Marx. Each succeeds the last (in a never-ending cycle, if we are to believe Edwards), with nary a good quality between them.

What this, or the film's footage of elephants, has to do with anything is virtually impossible to decipher. Something about the Republican Party, maybe?

Selling Points: For all its lack of focus, Land of the Blind is easy to watch. Its actors rarely disappoint, and the cinematography is top notch. The string of oddball scenes are filled with enough interesting images to keep things entertaining, if not exactly comprehensible. — J.R. Wick

Talking to Heaven
Prebook 8/8; Street 8/29
MTI, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for violent and disturbing content, and thematic elements.
Stars Ted Danson, Queen Latifah, Diane Ladd, Mary Steenburgen, Michael Moriarty, Jack Palance.

Danson as James Van Praagh sees dead people. Sometimes they want him to communicate with loved ones they left behind. And sometimes they want him to help the police solve the mysteries of their deaths. But no matter what they want, it never fails to freak him out a little bit.

Even as a child, dead people made themselves known to Van Praagh. But when a slew of deceased adolescent boys start frequenting James' home and office, he enlists the help of a cynical police detective, played by Danson's real-life wife, Steenburgen. Together they begin to unravel a 30-year-old murder.

Falling on the supernatural spectrum halfway between The Sixth Sense and television's “Medium,” Talking to Heaven boasts quite a few honest chills.

Originally titled Living With the Dead, this made-for-TV film features wonderful performances by a diverse and interesting cast. Latifah is effective as a Web site designer who befriends James. As a fellow psychic, Moriarty delivers some tough love about James' reluctance to open himself up to the unexplained. Steenburgen strikes a believable balance as a hard-boiled cop confronted with supernatural phenomena that she can't discount. And Danson is surprisingly poignant as a man who finds it difficult to come to terms with his ability.

Selling Points: It's got a big-name cast. Consumers who enjoy the recent spate of TV shows with folks who communicate with the dead, including “Medium” and “Ghost Whisperer,” will enjoy this. Interesting tidbit: This film was directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, father of Maggie and Jake. — Anne Sherber

Lucky Number Slevin
Street 9/12
Genius/The Weinstein Co., Thriller, B.O. $22.4 million, $29.95 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence, sexuality and language.
Stars Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman, Sir Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci.

Two New York mob bosses and former partners — The Boss (Freeman) and The Rabbi (Kingsley) — mistake Slevin Kelevra (Hartnett) for Slevin's friend, Nick, who owes both men nearly $130,000. Rather than try to correct their mistake, smart-mouthed Slevin plays along, and soon finds himself on the hook with The Boss to kill The Rabbi's son, The Fairy, in retribution for the recent murder of The Boss' son.

Tailing Slevin are a once-crooked cop (Tucci), who wonders what the unknown Slevin's business is with the mobsters he's surveilling, and a world-class hit man, Goodkat (Willis), who has “unfinished business” with Slevin — in particular, the playing out of a revenge killing plotted out 25 years earlier.

Trying to aid Slevin, who seems to enjoy himself the more he entangles himself in this web, is Lindsey (Liu), Nick's energetic, motor-mouthed neighbor, who's also, in an unfortunate complication for the overarching revenge plot, a New York City coroner.A meticulously unveiled twist ending brings everything to a satisfying close.

For DVD extras, particularly good are the deleted scenes, particularly an extended version of the only Freeman-Kingsley scene; a rollicking, Pulp Fiction-esque tale told by one of The Fairy's bodyguards; and the alternate ending, which is not only truly alternate but also shocking and unhappy. Also included are a perfunctory making-of featurette and two commentaries — one by director Paul McGuigan, the other with Hartnett, Liu and writer Jason Smilovic. Both really are, to quote McGuigan, for all the “sad, lonely people out there” who haven't anything better to do.

Selling Points: Beginning as dark humor and witty repartee, turning deadly sinister as the real plot is revealed, and ending in a state of redemption, Lucky Number Slevin features a powerhouse cast — including cameos by Danny Aiello and Robert Forster — and is smart, fast, and wicked, a low-budget Jackie Brown with a climax worthy of The Usual Suspects. — Mark Lowe

QUICK TAKE: In Other News
A bastion of foreign films, supplier SKD also has an important documentary in its repertoire. Al Manar (DVD $19.99) is a French-language documentary filmed in 2001 about a TV station run by Hezbollah, the terrorist organization in Lebanon responsible for the hundreds of rockets falling in northern Israel. The Arabic-language station shares the goal of Hezbollah: “the disappearance of the state of Israel and the fight against the Zionist enemy.” Its propaganda reaches millions of Arabic speakers 18 hours a day, and its “coverage” is largely unknown to the Western world. Brendan Howard

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