Log in

Reviews: December 10

10 Dec, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Step Up

Step Up
Street 12/19
BV/Touchstone, Drama, B.O. $65.3 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘PG-13' for thematic elements, brief violence and innuendo.
Stars Channing Tatum, Jenna Dewan, Rachel Griffiths, De'Shawn Washington.

Untrained hip-hop dancer with petty criminal tendencies meets classical ballerina with a sneaking desire to walk on the wild side. Sparks fly. A tragedy threatens to rip them apart, but, ultimately, brings them closer. If the plot has a familiar ring, it's because Step Up is the latest scion in the cinematic genealogy that starts with Save the Last Dance. And although the film falls into a crowded sub-genre, the director makes up for her film's familiar plot by staging explosive and exciting dance scenes and then showcasing those scenes remarkably well.

A juvenile delinquent is sentenced to community service at an arts high school because he's been caught defacing the school. Surrounded by kids who share a love of art and burst with creativity, he finds that he is attracted both to the passion of the school's students and to one very talented dancer who happens to be in need of a rehearsal partner.

They approach each other cautiously, but soon they have merged their dance styles into something original.

Both Tatum and Dewan do a good job of finding new truths in roles that are recognizable. And although Griffiths' role is little more than a cameo, she commands attention whenever she appears on screen.

The disc features a full menu of extras. First up is a very short reel of deleted scenes. A blooper reel, also very short, mostly features dancers falling down or dropping props. In a making-of documentary, director-choreographer Anne Fletcher talks about the difficulty of wearing both hats in a dance-intensive film.

The most interesting extra is a section devoted to a dance contest that was held on MySpace.com during the making of the movie. The filmmakers invited amateur dancers to submit videos of themselves. Dancers could win parts in the film or the music videos. Many of the audition tapes are included. Also included are four music videos from such artists as Ciara, Chamillionaire and Sean Paul. — Anne Sherber

This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Prebook 12/12; Street 1/23/07
Genius/IFC, Documentary, B.O. $0.3 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

This is a must-see film for anyone interested in the business of movie-making.

Since 1968, many filmmakers and critics have been perplexed by the secrecy and perceived randomness of the ratings process used by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). To earn an ‘NC-17' rating means most studios will not release the film, most theaters will not show it, and many stores will not carry the video.

Director Kirby Dick interviews several filmmakers who felt slighted by the anonymous members of the MPAA ratings board, claiming the MPAA is acting on behalf of the studios to the detriment of indie films.

“South Park” co-creator Matt Stone talks about the MPAA offering no advice for cutting the indie Orgazmo, while being more than generous with suggestions about how to deliver an ‘R' rating to the Paramount-produced “South Park” movie.

Dick tells two stories in this film. One is an examination of the methods used by the MPAA to assign ratings. The other is Dick's quest to expose the hidden board by hiring private investigators to uncover their identities. The implication is that the board is hypocritical, since most do not have children younger than 18.

One of the film's biggest complaints is that the MPAA seems to apply no objective standard when rating a film. Excessive violence is frequently treated as less objectionable than sex, particularly expressions of female pleasure and/or homosexuality. This seems to be the opposite of attitudes in Europe, where violence is discouraged in a culture more open about sex. In that light, the film could be seen more as a complaint about American ideals not being in line with those of most filmmakers.

Dick documents his conversations with various MPAA representatives as he submits this very film for approval, which is labeled ‘NC-17' because it uses graphic clips to illustrate the difference between ‘NC-17' and ‘R.'

Among the rules Dick is told when preparing his appeal is that he cannot compare the content of his film with similar material from other films that received lighter ratings.

The rules are arbitrary, but in focusing his ire at the MPAA specifically, Dick only briefly touches on what should be his real target — the Hollywood studio system that sanctions the ratings system to begin with. John Latchem

I Trust You To Kill Me
Prebook 12/11; Street 1/9/07
Vivendi Visual, Music, B.O. $0.01 million, $19.98 DVD, ‘R' for language.

Never less than utterly compelling, the documentary I Trust You to Kill Me is unique among “behind the music” portraits of rock bands and “true story” examinations of celebrities because it combines elements of each genre and winds up being about so much more.

With his once-fading career jump-started by the success of “24,” Kiefer Sutherland now has a new creative outlet on the side: record-label executive. Manu Boyer's beautifully shot film documents the physical, spiritual and artistic journey of manager-roadie Sutherland and musicians Rocco DeLuca and The Burden as they tour Europe for two weeks before releasing their debut CD.

This fascinating film introduces viewers to the little-known, iconoclastic and prodigiously talented DeLuca but, more than anything, it delivers an intimate, sometimes agonizingly personal look into the personality of Sutherland, who despite a career that spans more than 20 years demonstrates how little is known about him.

Sutherland comes off as genuine, sincere and unafraid to look bad at times. It's this side of his personality that the film and Sutherland himself are exploring. Far more than documenting the struggles of a band trying to make it, the film is really about the man behind the band coming of age and coming to terms with the ups and downs of life in the past, present and future.

The terrific band does get its fair share of the spotlight, proving to be equally engaging onstage and off. The events depicted in the film clearly have a profound, clarifying effect on Sutherland — after a particularly warm reception in Iceland, he has the words “I Trust You to Kill Me” tattooed in Icelandic language on his arm — and his fans and detractors will never look at him in quite the same way. — David Greenberg

Martin: The Complete First Season
Street 1/2/07
HBO Video, Comedy, $29.98 four-DVD set, NR.
Stars Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Tichina Arnold, Thomas Mikal Ford, Carl Anthony Payne II.

For five seasons, the Fox network's comedy series “Martin” provided fans of actor-comic Martin Lawrence a weekly dose of his humor. He provides plenty of it in the first season, with ample help from a strong cast.

“Martin” stars Lawrence as a radio DJ in Detroit. His co-star, Campbell, who also appeared with him in the “House Party” flicks, plays his live-in girlfriend Gina, and much like the rest of the cast, is fodder for Lawrence's jokes. Other notable cast members include Arnold as Gina's best friend Pam, Ford as Tommy and Payne as the comical Cole Brown.

Some of best episodes from the 1992-93 first season include “Credit Card Blues,” “Jerome's in the House” and “Variety Show.” Guest stars include the late Richard Pryor, the lovely Beverly Johnson, actor-comedian David Alan Grier, Lark Voorhies of “Saved by the Bell,” LaWanda Page, best known as Aunt Esther on “Sanford & Son,” and Colt 45's celebrated spokesperson Billy Dee Williams, otherwise known as Lando Calrissian in the “Star Wars” films.

The special features are somewhat limited, which probably will leave Lawrence fans craving for more. Still, they provide some insight and laughs, a blooper reel being the gist of the latter. In a commentary segment, Lawrence offers his take on how the show's characters were developed and their inspiration. He also tells how he personally pursued Campbell for her role as his girlfriend, which also led to a role for Arnold. Lawrence says the two actresses were roommates at the time.

It should be noted that Campbell later sued Lawrence for sexual harassment and battery during the course of the series. The matter was reportedly settled out of court, though Campbell refused to appear in any scenes with Martin. — Benny Lopez

The Veteran
Street 1/9/07
Anchor Bay/Union Station, Thriller, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Ally Sheedy, Bobby Hosea, Michael Ironside.

Of all of the military conflicts in which the United States has been involved, none are surrounded with as much mystery as the Vietnam War. Few people really know what actually went on in the field and behind the scenes.

Even those who were in power might disagree or put their own spin on the truth. The war has directly and indirectly been the subject of a number of fine films, and fans of the genre should take a particular interest in The Veteran, which revisits the past but makes it distinctly relevant to the present.

Director Sidney J. Furie delivers an engrossing dramatic thriller that touches on the experiences of those who served in Southeast Asia, and the motivations of those who have a stake in either their well being or their continued silence.

Hosea stars as Ray, a priest now running for Congress who goes back to Vietnam and has to confront not only the haunting memories of his experiences there but also some of the people he left behind — a lover and a member of his platoon long listed as missing in action.

While the emotions are intense, the situation is not nearly as simple as making peace with the past. Bobby is surprised at gunpoint by Doc (Ironside in a subtle, moving performance), his long-forgotten comrade who has memories of his own he wants to deal with.

Meanwhile, the whole situation is being monitored by a hodge-podge of agents from various departments. Sheedy appears as an agent who has both a professional and personal interest in the plight of soldiers who are POW/MIA.

Different interpretations of the truth emerge, dark secrets are revealed and hidden agendas are uncovered as the whole situation draws to a shattering climax. — David Greenberg

The House of Sand
Street 12/12
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $0.5 million, $29.95 DVD, ‘R' for some graphic sexuality.
Stars Fernanda Montenegro, Fernanda Torres.

For reasons that are never made clear, elderly — possibly insane — Jose Vasco de Sa drags his family and a small retinue of laborers to a remote pocket of the Brazilian desert, thinking to establish a private, insular sanctuary apart from the influence of the outside world.

Like all such utopian fantasies, it inevitably founders badly. The restive and suspicious crew abandons him, and, shortly thereafter, he dies, leaving his pregnant wife, Aurea, and her devoted mother stranded in an inhospitable and, being 1910, thoroughly inaccessible locale.

At first, the pair consider escape. When they encounter a group of refugee slaves living in a desert oasis, they are heartened. But, with Aurea being pregnant, and the journey a long and intensely perilous one, they resign themselves to what they think will be a relatively short but endurable bivouac at the oasis. What they do not anticipate is they will never leave.

House of Sand is a quiet, almost magisterial film primarily concerned with the arbitrariness of life and the resilient adaptability of women. Aurea's strong impulse to flee is, over the course of time, transmuted into its very antithesis. So is her relationship with one of the oasis' inhabitants, Mr. Massu. The desert, unexpectedly, becomes her life, and she ironically ends up living out the quixotic, one-time fantasy of her now-deceased husband.

Director Andrucha Waddington handles this material — especially the passage of time — with restraint and a kind of elliptical dexterity that calls to mind the work of both David Lean and Hou Hsiao Hsien. She is not afraid of quiet spaces or nearly empty frames.

Indeed, she makes much of the undifferentiated desert backdrop, which in the hands of a less skilled filmmaker might easily have been made punishingly boring. — Eddie Mullins

De Nadie (Border Crossing)
Prebook 12/12; Street 1/16/07
Laguna, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

The Mexican-American border has been characterized as the most porous in the world, leading many people to think that all Latinos crossing into the United States are Mexican. De Nadie focuses on Central American migrants who make a dreaded trek across Mexico, fleeing poverty to reach the United States.

Once in Mexico, the victimization is endless. The El Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha robs and brutalizes Central Americans. Authorities — “thieves with permits” — also rob and beat them. Systems for handling complaints are a sham, since the threat of deportation or worse discourages complaints. Only the women of La Patrona, a small Mexican village, offer help in the form of food and water thrown onto the trains the migrants ride to get north.

While one can't help feeling sympathy for the desperation that drives these people, it's also apparent that many will be no better off at journey's end. Even Mexican authorities speaking on camera admit that Mexico treats Central American migrants much worse than America treats illegals crossing in, even as Mexican officials decry American policy and human rights abuses. The migrants who do reach the States may be caught and deported, and those who escape deportation often face shadow lives here.

Still, some percentage of those who reach the United States find opportunity, however meager. The evidence is that “remittances” — money sent home to families — prop up the economies of some destitute countries.

The film, a Sundance Film Festival winner for best documentary, does a good job of showing the horrors the migrants face trying to get to America — robbery, brutality, rape, even murder, as often at the hands of authorities as gangsters. But it has no solution to propose and leaves behind a feeling of helpessness to change anything.

If there is a bright spot in this film, it's to make us thankful for what we have. — Holly J. Wagner

Agnes & His BrothersStreet 12/19
First Run, Drama, B.O. $0.003 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
In German with English subtitles.
Stars Moritz Bleibtreu.

An unusual family drama, Agnes & His Brothers follows the lives of three very different siblings whose only significant shared trait is their tremendous difficulty in negotiating their romantic lives.

The eldest brother, Werner, is a successful politician for the German Green Party. While composed and controlling in his public life, his private life is in shambles. His wife loathes him, and his impudent, ungrateful, and very probably gay son delights in shooting video footage of Werner's more embarrassing private moments (e.g. when he is urgently relieving himself on the floor of his office).

The middle sibling, Hans, also endures his share of humiliations. Although a self-professed sex addict, he is absolutely luckless with the opposite sex, and has taken to compulsively peeping in women's lavatories.

The last of the three brothers is Agnes, who has had a sex change operation and has taken up with a churlish boyfriend who constantly, and erroneously, accuses her of infidelity. She also has been diagnosed HIV positive.

Although the film cuts back and forth between the three brothers' respective stories, it might as well have been structured as a triptych, as their narratives do not often collide. Writer-director Oskar Roehler obliquely suggests that their eccentric father might be at the root of their problems, but then cagily withholds sufficient detail to ascertain why, or even if, this is the case.

Hence, the subtending question that the film poses is this: Are the experiences of these three individuals typical or atypical? Are their difficulties unique to this (possibly warped) family, or do they speak to a larger social pathology?

The brilliance of Agnes & His Brothers is the way in which art fully dances around this inquiry, resolutely refusing to respond one way or another, but rather leaving it to the discretion of its audience. — Eddie Mullins

Quick Take: A Baseball Coach in a DVD
Just in time for youngsters preparing to play organized baseball for the first time comes the instructional Little League's Official How-to-Play Baseball DVD from Mastervision.

The 70-minute program includes 19 chapters covering the fundamentals of playing baseball, from equipment to fielding to hitting. The instructions are delivered by real kids, so new players can relate. Experienced players may find the overall program a little corny, but are sure to pick up a few tips to work out any bad habits they may have developed over the years.

The original video was made in 1985 and has been available on VHS, but the lessons are timeless.

The DVD is available by itself for $29.95, but for $39.95 you can get the video with a handy companion booklet that expands on the on-screen tips and includes the Little League rulebook. John Latchem

Doctor Who: Series Two
Prebook 12/12; Street 1/16/07
Warner/BBC, Sci-Fi, $99.98 six-DVD set, NR.
Stars David Tennant, Billie Piper.

Having watched the new “Doctor Who” both on disc and week to week, I must say I prefer it on disc. In the style of the Doctor himself, the sense of fun seems heightened by jumping in and going with the flow in marathon mode, rather than taking the time during commercial breaks and a weeklong hiatus to dwell on the bizarre concepts and quirky storylines that have become the hallmark of the British tradition of goofy science-fiction.American audiences have been spoiled by “Star Trek” into expecting a modicum of logic and scientific extrapolation with their sci-fi. The British, with their tradition of medieval fantasy, don't seem to take sci-fi as seriously.

To the British, it's all illogical. Once you establish a ship can travel through time, or faster than the speed of light, who cares how it's done? Any explanation of the impossible is bound to sound like gibberish, and the British prefer to keep it that way.

The fine line between sci-fi and fantasy is the difference between technology and magic. As far as shows like “Doctor Who” are concerned, the technology may as well be magic, as long as it doesn't get in the way of the heart of the story, or the effectiveness of the character interactions.

It's the latter that is the strength of ‘Doctor Who.” As absurd as the plots may be, the emotional subtext is real, especially considering The Doctor “died” at the end of the previous season, and his companion, Rose, has to adjust to the inevitable changes spawned by his regeneration.

Audiences have to adjust as well, but David Tennant makes it easy. He injects a sense of fun and wonder into his Doctor, the tenth incarnation of the character since its debut in 1963, whereas the ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, was more serious and driven by duty.

Tennant inhabits the role with greater comfort, but the storylines from the previous season were more interesting. This time around, Rose and the Doctor meet Queen Victoria and Madame de Pompadour, bear witness to the coronation of Elizabeth II, and face off against the Devil himself.

In “School Reunion,” the Doctor re-encounters Sarah Jane Smith and K9, companions from the 1970s run of the show. The episode also features a villainous turn by Anthony Stewart Head, better known in America as Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”Also of note is the season finale, “Doomsday,” featuring a battle between notable “Doctor Who” villains The Cybermen and The Daleks.

The DVD also has a season two prequel that wasn't shown on Sci Fi Channel.

Like the previous season, the DVD set is loaded with extras, thoroughly dissecting each episode enough to appease any fanboy.

All the episodes have commentary, which is always a plus. Some are “in-vision” commentary, with a little pop-up screen show the commentators in the recording booth. It's an interesting gimmick, but doesn't really add much beyond the basic dialogue.

The menus present an intriguing interface, but unfortunately the commentary can only be accessed through the set-up menu, and the audio and subtitle tracks cannot be toggled within the episode, which is really inconvenient. John Latchem

Add Comment