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Reviews: Dec. 30, 2007

30 Dec, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Shoot ├ŽEm Up


Shoot ‘Em Up
Street 1/1
New Line, Action, B.O. $12.8 million, $27.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘R' for violence, disturbing images and sexuality.
Stars Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci.

DVDs have given movie buffs a backstage pass to their favorite films, but can knowing too much about a movie be a bad thing? Watching the making of Shoot 'Em Up and seeing the extent of the effects work, one can't help but feel a sense of disappointment creep in upon further reflection of the movie.

Shoot 'Em Up is little more than an excuse for writer-director Michael Davis to stage a series of elaborate gunfights in increasingly unlikely settings, slowing down just long enough to acknowledge its barely there plot. But it's this sense of the preposterous that makes the movie so much fun. The story plays out like a Looney Tunes adventure, albeit one in which Bugs Bunny impales the bad guys with his carrots.

However, seeing how reliant the movie is on greenscreens and CGI makes one realize how much more effective an actioner Shoot 'Em Up would have been had it utilized more stunt work akin to the classic James Bond epics that Davis admits influenced his film. But then it would lose some of its goofy charm.

On the subject of Bond, Clive Owen emits a swagger and bravado in Shoot 'Em Up that does little to shake the notion he should be playing 007.

Listening to Davis' commentary, it's clear he had too much fun staging the gun battles (a 15-minute animated pitch reel of some key sequences is included). But rather than watch Shoot 'Em Up again, hearing Davis' reverence for the Bond pictures may inspire viewers to check out one of those DVDs instead. John Latchem

Quick Take: More Clive

If Shoot 'Em Up hasn't soothed your Clive Owen fix, check out “Chancer,” a nugget from early in Owen's career.

The popular British TV series ran from 1990 to 1991 and features Owen as charismatic con man Derek Love. The first 13 episodes were released this past summer by Acorn Media, which releases Chancer: Series 2, containing the final seven episodes of the show, as a two-DVD set Jan. 29 (prebook Dec. 31) at $39.99. The second season takes on a darker tone, and Owens demonstrates much of the machismo that made him a star. John Latchem


Bordertown
Prebook 1/3; Street 1/29
ThinkFilm, Drama, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence including a brutal rape, sexuality, nudity and language.Stars Jennifer Lopez, Martin Sheen, Antonio Banderas, Sonia Braga.

Bordertown, based on real-life events, is both a drama about the power of a free press and a highly critical look at the effect that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had on the lives of the working poor in countries that trade with the United States.

Lopez, who also produced, plays a reporter who reluctantly agrees to investigate a story about young women being murdered in Juarez, Mexico. She discovers a situation worse than anyone could have imagined. Hundreds of young women who worked in the low-paying factories that supply the United States with cheap electronics have gone missing, and most turn up in mass graves. One young woman, raped and left for dead, survives and identifies her attackers. But can Lopez keep her alive long enough to testify?

Among the most admirable things about Bordertown is the way the script tackles the complicated and sometimes terrible human consequences of America's need for cheap computers.

The luminous Lopez delivers a nuanced performance in which she makes the emotional journey from hard-boiled, cynical journalist with her eye on the next plum assignment, to champion of these downtrodden women.

Banderas is effective and sexy as a firebrand editor whose paper is taking heat for publishing stories about the missing women. And Braga is wonderful as a wealthy woman who assists Lopez in her investigation.

The film has been honored by Amnesty International for shedding light on NAFTA's hidden costs. Occasionally, however, the filmmakers allow their passion for their subject to get in the way of the storytelling. The film can veer into the earnest and didactic. But there is also genuine drama and suspense. — Anne Sherber


The Jane Austen Book Club
Prebook 1/3; Street 2/5
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $3.6 million, $26.96 DVD, $38.96 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13' for mature thematic material, sexual contact, brief strong language and some drug use.
Stars Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Hugh Dancy, Jimmy Smits, Marc Blucas.

You don't have to be familiar with Jane Austen's novels to enjoy The Jane Austen Book Club. You do, however, have to be a fan of fictional romance — the delightfully diverting kind that is rather formulaic and predictable in nature, but just too lovely not to enjoy.

In The Jane Austen Book Club, five women and one man create a book club to distract themselves from their everyday lives. Instead, they discover that their lives are paralleled by the characters in the books they are reading, and they are forced to confront their heartaches and take solace in the novels and each other.

The talented and well-balanced ensemble cast and the ever-twisting plot make this movie easy to enjoy. The storyline of repressed French teacher Prudie Drummond (Blunt) is particularly moving, perhaps made even more impressive because Blunt is almost completely unrecognizable from previous film roles (The Devil Wears Prada), positively embodying this character.

If you are familiar with the novels, there are many treasures to be found in both the dialogue and plot lines. (It made me want to read them all again.) But even if you have never read the books (you should), it is easy to follow the movie because the dialogue does a marvelous job of pointing out where the plot of the movie and the plots of the books intersect.

The Jane Austen Book Club is wonderfully entertaining and a credit to its namesake. It makes for good company while you await your next meeting with old friends. Kyra Kudick


The Naked Brothers Band: Season 1
Street 1/8
Paramount/Nickelodeon, Family, $26.99 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff, Michael Wolff, Thomas Batuello, Allie DiMeco, David Levi, Qaasim Middleton.

“The Naked Brothers Band,” a Nickelodeon phenomenon that started with a 2005 TV movie, is, at its heart, a re-imagining of the loose and more-than-a-little-goofy “Hey kids! Let's start a band” plot that produced The Monkees a generation ago.

Written and directed by Polly Draper, best known for her role in the emblematic series “Thirtysomething,” it is a sweet, harmless show aimed at kids ages 7-14 who fantasize about being famous.

In each episode, the kids encounter some issue or problem common to pre-adolescents and then find some way to negotiate the puzzle. There is emphasis on respecting other's feelings and honoring diversity, but the show is not above going for the fart joke to keep kids on board.

The season one set is heavy on bonus features, mostly fluffy, bordering on downright silly, that will, nevertheless, please fans of the series. Music videos for five of the band's songs are included.

Also included among the extras is a featurette in which Qaasim, a member of the group, gives other members of the band lessons on how to get and keep the girls. Alex, the smallest Naked Brother, demonstrates his skateboarding prowess. Alex and Thomas go head to head, literally, as they debate which is better: straight or curly hair.

In a series of short vignettes called “Nat and Alex Rock Out and Speak Out,” the band's pair of real-life brothers riffs both verbally and musically on a whole variety of topics, including long-distance relationships and banana smoothies.

In “How to Rock,” a series of quick hits, Alex offers advice about the kinds of temporary tattoos that will attract girls, and Nat and Rosalina (DiMeco) advise viewers to be themselves and have fun with their friends. There is also a burping lesson. —Anne Sherber


The Box
Street 1/8
Vivendi Visual/Codeblack, Thriller, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for violence and language.
Stars Gabrielle Union, Giancarlo Esposito, Mia Maestro.

With The Box, writer-director AJ Kparr has constructed a tense thriller akin to The Usual Suspects, although its requisite plot twists don't hold up as well.

The story involves the search for a hidden cache of $1 million, which leads to two groups of friends converging in a bloody confrontation. One survivor remains from each group; each is interrogated, leading to a series of flashbacks to explain the crime. Among the dead: a disgraced former cop caught in the middle of a blackmail scheme.

The movie's early scenes have all the makings of a classic whodunit, with the audience following the evidence along with the police. Soon after, however, the script plays its hand, and holds back just enough information to put the viewer one step behind.

Kparr isn't charting any new territory with this caper and its aftermath, using the non-linear structure of the story to maintain curiosity (a technique exploited brilliantly by Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs). When one plot thread starts to stall, Kparr changes things up, keeping the movie entertaining without overstaying its welcome. Still, the final solution relies a little too much on coincidence and convenience, and the twists won't hold up to much scrutiny.

The police scenes are anchored by a hard-edged performance from Union (Daddy's Little Girls), who gets the best dialogue and is reason alone to see the film. John Latchem


Black Irish
Street 1/8
Echo Bridge, Drama, B.O. $0.007 million, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for some language and brief violence.
Stars Brendan Gleeson, Michael Angarano, Tom Guiry, Emily VanCamp, Melissa Leo, Michael Rispoli.

In this gritty melodrama, promising young baseball player Cole McKay (Angarano) struggles to keep his life in order as his South Boston family falls apart

.Cole's devoted mother (Leo of 21 Grams) and distant, self-destructive father (Gleeson of Beowulf) have a relationship built on regret and resentment; his unmarried sister (VanCamp of “Brothers & Sisters”) is pregnant and determined to raise the baby on her own terms; and his sadistic older brother, Terry (Guiry of “The Black Donnellys”), is well on his way to having a splendid career as a full-time criminal.

First-time director Brad Gann has made a film reminiscent of Good Will Hunting and the underrated sports drama Invincible (which he wrote) — a tough movie with a sentimental streak. The fitful relationship between Cole and his father (one's life is going places; the other's is stagnant) is the movie's strongest point.

There's certainly enough going on to keep audiences occupied, but that activity comes with a price: Way too much happens for us to feel close to the characters, some of whom are given short shrift. Combine that with everyone in crisis mode, and there's little time to appreciate the dynamic between Cole and his family.

There are also obvious examples where Gann's script could use some editing. Cole's disastrous first date and his father's attempt to abandon the family dog are funny, but utterly misplaced.

Despite the cumbersome plot, Gann's intentions are true and he does care about his characters. Those are two qualities that may redeem Black Irish for viewers looking for a family drama. — Pete Croatto


Joshua
Street 1/8
Fox, Thriller, B.O. $0.5 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language and disturbing behavior by a child.
Stars Sam Rockwell, Vera Farmiga, Celia Weston, Dallas Roberts, Michael McKean, Jacob Kogan.

For nine years, Joshua has been the perfect child. He's intelligent (his teacher wants him to skip ahead a few grades), inquisitive, overly polite and a piano virtuoso. But when his ostentatious parents bring home a baby sister, Lily, everything changes.

No longer the center of attention, Joshua begins feeling neglected and questions whether his parents really love him. It doesn't help that his father, Brad (Rockwell), spends long hours at the office, leaving Joshua to watch his mother, Abby (Farmiga from The Departed), descend into a hysterical bout of postpartum depression as Lily cries for days on end.

The only person Joshua remains connected to is his uncle Ned (Roberts), who always makes time for the boy and shares his love of music.

But even his favorite uncle can't stop Joshua's sinister, inconspicuous ploy to destroy his parents' perfect world. If his parents hadn't been so self-absorbed, they might have questioned their son's new fascination with mummification, his constant lurking outside the baby's room at night, as well as the untimely death of the family dog and all of his classroom pets.

Unfortunately, by the time Brad notices his son's malevolence, Abby has been institutionalized and a tragic accident befalls Joshua's grandmother. At this point, there's only so much Brad can do to expose his son's dark side.

It's hard to watch Joshua without noticing parallels with The Omen. What makes Joshua much more disturbing is that the child is not the son of Satan; he's just a manipulative boy hell-bent on annihilating his parents and anyone else who gets in his way.

It's a great storyline that has played out in movies such as The Good Son, but what makes Joshua more riveting is the filmmakers' use of music and cinematography to create an ominous mood that keeps you on the edge of your seat, waiting for something bad to happen.

The film's success also comes from its cast, led by Rockwell, who is phenomenal in every role, and child actor Kogan as Joshua, who delivers a stirring performance as every parent's nightmare. — Matt Miller


Mammoth
Street 1/8
Starz/Union Station, Sci-Fi, $19.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Tom Skerritt, Summer Glau, Vincent Ventresca, Leila Arcieri.

Sci Fi Channel movies have come to represent a certain level of cheesiness, and Mammoth may be a new high (or low, depending on your point of view).

The premise is absurd, and the filmmakers know it, throwing in a goofy opening credits sequence involving an alien probe making its way to Earth. The probe re-animates a 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth that's frozen in a block of ice in a museum. The beast, brought to life through some truly terrible CGI, breaks free and begins killing everyone it sees, then uses its trunk to absorb their souls, or something like that.

There must be an audience for these movies, or Sci Fi Channel wouldn't keep ordering them up.

The museum curator joins forces with his daughter and a “Men in Black” wannabe federal agent to try to stop the mammoth, giving way to a cacophony of wisecracks and all sorts of references to other cheesy sci-fi movies. Tom Skerritt, whose presence is always welcome, lends some credibility as an old-timer who seems to be the only one taking things seriously.

The movie also gives genre fans another chance to check out Summer Glau before she takes on the role of a futuristic Terminator in Fox's upcoming “Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV show. However, Mammoth will do little to supplant her identity as the girl from “Firefly.” John Latchem


Eagle vs. Shark
Street 1/8
Disney/Miramax, Comedy, B.O. $0.2 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘R' for language, some sexuality and brief animated violence.
Stars Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement.

If Napoleon Dynamite traveled to New Zealand, developed a silly accent, discovered a whole new branch of his socially awkward family and filmed the entire experience, the result would be Eagle vs. Shark, a new entry into the canon of films about clueless nerds and geeks.

Lily, a sweet-natured young woman who has lost her job at a fast food restaurant, offers to help the young man on whom she has a crush return to his home town for what he believes will be a very special reunion. He has learned that a boy who picked on him in high school will be visiting, and he's decided to fight the former bully in order to avenge himself.

Both Horsley and Clement are completely invested in the film's odd universe; both deliver quirky, highly idiosyncratic performances without a touch of irony or insincerity. The result is a poignant comedy about people who are neither witty nor clever but who, nevertheless, are searching for their places in the world.

Extras include a slew of deleted scenes that are rescued from being mundane by a very funny audio commentary delivered by the film's director, Taika Cohen, and actor Craig Hall.

Bucking deleted scene convention, the pair continue to talk about minutiae long after the deleted scenes have ended. There is also a regulation blooper reel, and a music video of “Going Fishing” by the Phoenix Foundation. — Anne Sherber


Power to the Peaceful Yoga
Prebook 12/31; Street 1/29
Acacia, Special Interest, $19.99 DVD, NR.

For those who've considered doing yoga but feel like many of the programs on the market are too “airy-fairy,” Power to the Peaceful Yoga is a nice introduction.

The workout is easy to follow and fast-paced, the music is New Age but upbeat and accessible, and the narration leading the workout is matter-of-fact, but not cold.

Self-proclaimed peace worker, musician and filmmaker Michael Franti introduces the program with a brief statement of what yoga has meant in his life, then joins teachers David Life and Sharon Gannon in demonstrating the workout.

The workout is divided into progressively more challenging sequences, which more-advanced practitioners will appreciate along with the more-peerlike tone of the narration.

Beginners may want to run some sequences several times before feeling comfortable moving through the workout at the same pace as the demonstration, and may take some time to limber up for moves in some sequences.

Extras include a discussion among Franti, Gannon and Life; music performance tracks; biographies; and a “Freeform Asana” segment that starts with Gannon talking about how to blend yoga into social action and leads into a voiceover of a speech by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, which may put some people off while attracting others.

The disc also gives viewers the options of doing the workout with instruction and music, or music only.

This is a solid workout. Overall the pace and tone make it a refreshing change from the usual type of presentation one might expect from the box art. But folks attracted to the box won't be disappointed either. — Holly J. Wagner


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