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Reviews: December 17

17 Dec, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews


Street 12/19
BV/Disney, Drama, B.O. $57.8 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘PG' for sports action and some mild language.
Stars Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Michael Rispoli, Kirk Acevedo.

For anyone who grew up with dreams of playing for their favorite sports team comes Invincible, a fairy tale for the working man.

It's inspired by the story of Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender who in 1976 became an unlikely player for the Philadelphia Eagles, his favorite team.

The franchise had become so bad by the mid-1970s that new head coach Dick Vermeil (Kinnear) decided to hold an open tryout in the hopes of sparking interest in the team.

There's an adage in sports that you can't teach speed, but Papale (Wahlberg) has plenty of it. (His bar-league team's favorite play is “the one where Vince kind of runs by everybody.”) Motivated by a scathing note from his ex-wife, Vince shows up at the tryout and leaves with an invitation to training camp.

The other players resent him, but Vermeil likes his heart. Papale would rather be back rolling in the mud with the guys.

The movie is closer in pedigree to The Rookie than Rudy, lacking the weepy-eyed sentimentality of the latter. The parallels between Papale's real situation and were played up by the media at the time, given the Philadelphia setting of each. The featurette “Becoming Invincible: The Story of Vince Papale” even shows the real Papale running Rocky-style through the streets to music similar to, but not quite, Bill Conti's famous theme.

The film takes some liberties with the historical record, such as omitting the fact that Papale played for two seasons with the World Football League before joining the Eagles, but the story on screen is no less effective.

Papale, producer Mark Ciardi and writer Brad Gann in one commentary discuss the story elements, and it's kind of touching to hear Papale tear up watching some of the more character-driven scenes based on his own life. Papale also drops trivia about his old buddies and life back then (NFL seasons tickets in 1975 were only $80!).

A second commentary, by director Ericson Core and editor Jerry Greenberg, focuses on the technical aspects of the film not discussed in the first commentary. It's a good one-two punch for fans who might care about some aspects of the movie and not others. John Latchem

My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Street 12/19
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $22.5 million, $29.98 DVD, 'PG-13' for sexual content, crude humor, language and brief nudity.
Stars Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, Anna Faris, Rainn Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Wanda Sykes.

It's hard to believe this movie and Ghostbusters were directed by the same man, Ivan Reitman, since this film is so far removed from his earlier classics.

Don Payne's screenplay is unsure of itself, and the film is underwhelming as a superhero parody. The attempt to mesh the genre with the conventions of a romantic comedy falls flat, further undercut by goofy special effects and a cutesy musical score.

It begins as a typical boy-meets-girl story, when architect Matt meets an art curator named Jenny Johnson (“you got the whole alliteration thing going,” he tells her). She's somewhat overbearing, so Matt dumps her.

It turns out Jenny is really the superheroine G-Girl, a basic Superman (or is that Supergirl?) clone who patrols New York and (literally) puts out fires. In a fit of jealousy, she uses her powers to avenge her broken heart. G-Girl is not merely jilted. She's insane.

The funniest sequence involves G-Girl throwing a live shark into the bedroom of Matt's new girlfriend. It's amusing mostly because it's such a bizarre visual, although the gist of the scene was spoiled in the film's trailer. An extended version appears on the DVD.

Other deleted scenes imply G-Girl is seeking popularity by going through the motions of being a hero (a much more fascinating premise), which explains how she could so easily ignore her duties and make jokes about killing her ex-lover. It's amazing these crucial character details were excised. Unfortunately, there's no commentary to expound upon the ideas behind the film.

It would have been more interesting to see the characters act as if they were in a superhero movie, rather than a romantic comedy featuring a superhero. Imagine the fun to be had when the characters understand the conventions of comic books and react accordingly, with all the requisite references. This is territory covered so well in “The Greatest American Hero” 25 years ago and, more recently, in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Hopefully, the Payne-penned Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer comes a little closer to the mark when it hits next summer. John Latchem

Stan Lee's Lightspeed
Street 1/9/07
Anchor Bay, Action, B.O. $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Jason Connery, Nicole Eggert, Daniel Goddard, Lee Majors.

Comic book fans will be very disappointed when Stan Lee's Lightspeed limps to their local video store.

Daniel Leight (Jason Connery, Sean's son) is a government agent who is chasing down his old friend turned nemesis Python/Edward (Goddard).

Python, who is half snake, is on the warpath and will stop at nothing to avenge the death of his sister. He was about to discover a way to heel burn victims by fusing human and snake skin together. In a scene reminiscent of Darkman, his lab burns down with Edward in it, giving rise to Python, who blames Daniel for the lab's destruction.

Years later, Python ambushes Daniel, putting him in the hospital. Python then kills what seems to be the entire hospital staff and gives him lethal doses of radiation (why he doesn't just shoot him is anyone's guess).

Daniel survives and, in a typical reaction to radiation in comic books, now also has super-powers — the ability to run at the speed of light. After heading to the local sporting goods store to buy a costume, Lightspeed is born.

The rest of the movie plays out like a standard good vs. evil tale as Lightspeed tries to stop Python from world domination.

Having aired earlier this year on the Sci Fi Channel, Lightspeed is a mediocre ‘B'-movie, playing like a poor man's Darkman. Stamping comic book icon Stan Lee's name on the title does not give the filmmakers the right to make such a clumsy film. The storyline is all over the place, and the special effects are really cheesy. The movie also stars Majors of “The Six Million Dollar Man” and Eggert of “Baywatch” and “Charles in Charge.”Lee's involvement should generate some initial curiosity from comic book fans. — Jonathan Rosenbloom

Prebook 12/19; Street 1/23/07
Universal/Screen Media, Drama, B.O. $0.2 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for for strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug content.
Stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Simpkins, Brad William Henke, Danny Trejo, Bridget Barkan.

The common knock against Sherrybaby, by writer-director Laurie Collyer, is that the film is clich?d, but the lead performance is spectacular.

That's true in part: If Gyllenhaal doesn't get nominated for an Oscar for this part, it's only a matter of time before her work, which keeps getting better and better, is recognized.

But the film itself also is enjoyable, if admittedly a little hackneyed. Collyer gives Gyllenhaal an open palate from which to paint Sherry, a reformed addict newly out of jail after having been imprisoned for robbery.

Sherry is written more realistically than nuanced. Most of her emotions are immediate and on the surface — reacting violently to strangers who cross her, singing to her daughter at the dinner table without regard to the uncomfortable situation it creates, and relapsing when sexual abuse returns to haunt her.

The nuance is where Gyllenhaal comes in. There's fire in her eyes when she screams in the face of a much larger tormentor who lives in the same halfway house, or softness when she plays in a homemade tent with her daughter (played so convincingly by Simpkins).

It's the setup that's clich?. It's not surprising that Sherry's brother Bobby is a saint, taking care of Sherry's daughter while she sat in jail — even though Sherry never asked him to — and that his wife Lynette resents Sherry and wants to keep her daughter for her own.

Even less surprising is that Sherry has trouble staying clean, finding the right guy, keeping her temper in check … you get the idea. From the opening credits, you can guess what the film is getting at — responsibility takes hard work, and a lack of it can't be forever blamed on circumstances.

Still, Sherrybaby is a worthwhile ride, if only because Gyllenhaal, usually relegated to best-friend and big-sister roles, makes every scene she's in electric. Billy Gil

Her Minor Thing
Prebook 12/19; Street 1/16/07
First Look, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for sexual content.
Stars Estella Warren, Christian Kane, Michael Weatherly, Rachel Dratch, Kathy Griffin, Victoria Jackson, Ivana Milicevic, Flex Alexander.

After the success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, how many more comedies about adults who have never had sex can there be? Charles Matthau's new film, written and produced by novices Jim and Debra Meyers, should answer that question for any interested parties.

Wisely choosing to avoid imitating the Steve Carell hit, this film takes a similar premise but keeps it very clean, turning it into an old-fashioned comedy of errors and a twist on the conventional battle-of-the-sexes story.

The “minor thing” in the title refers to the fact that, at 25, the wildly attractive, accomplished and intelligent Gina (Warren) is still a virgin. Her secret inadvertently goes public when her boyfriend, vain newscaster Tom (Weatherly of “NCIS” and “Dark Angel”), mistakenly mentions it on the air, touching off a series of events that brings both rabid virgin-hunters and frothing feminists out of the woodwork.

Needless to say, the broadcast cancels the relationship between Gina and Tom, leaving her to weather the storm of publicity, struggle to retrieve a refund for a cruise that the once-happy couple planned to go on, and attempt to avoid becoming attracted to Paul (Kane from “Angel”), the new guy in town and Tom's cameraman.

The major thing that Her Minor Thing has going for it is a wildly appealing cast. Now, where it was completely believable that Steve Carell's geeky character was a virgin at 40, it is the ultimate exercise in suspension of disbelief to accept the astonishingly beautiful Estella Warren's smart, successful and lovable character as a 25-year-old virgin.

But, the experience of watching Warren and the rest of the cast, which also includes Dratch from “Saturday Night Live,” having so much fun really elevates the featherweight plot and sometimes hokey dialogue to enjoyably watchable-film status. — David Greenberg

The Celestine Prophecy
Street 12/19
Sony Pictures, Adventure, B.O. $0.6 million, $24.96 DVD, ‘PG' for some violence.
Stars Matthew Settle, Thomas Kretschmann, Annabeth Gish, Hector Elizondo.

Half fiction, half lesson plan, The Celestine Prophecy runs like an ad for a new worldview — a spirituality that says religion is restrictive and that we all need to feel the love, see each other's auras and get beyond the old creeds.

It has action sequences, where protagonist John Woodson (handsome Settle of TNT's Into the West) and others flee mercenaries, soldiers and rebels, but it's mostly Woodson running into enlightened teachers and being taught the “Nine Insights.”

These “Insights” were developed by spiritually minded writer James Redfield back in 1993 when the titular bestselling novel was published. They're still going strong, but here's the short answer: The world is full of coincidences and dreams are part of a grander plan that involves humans evolving to give energy to each other rather than take it away.

Woodson's personal inability to hold onto a long-term romantic relationship is explained amateurishly through telling, not showing, thus not making use of his only interesting character trait.

The plot whisks Woodson from place to place, meeting new spiritual guides as he travels from the United States to Peru on a quest to discover ancient scrolls that the Catholic Church and the local military want to keep hidden.

Finally, the world lights up and helps him choose one road over another, helps him see energy auras and shows him the Ninth Insight.

Do you believe in magic? James Redfield does.

While The Celestine Prophecy's plot of secret scrolls hidden by a church conspiracy could appeal to The Da Vinci Code's adventure-seeking fans, the film is really about Woodson being led through New Age college, with viewers along for the ride. Those already into this brand of spirituality will enjoy it. Those looking for solid drama, adventure or speculative fantasy could be disappointed. — Brendan Howard

Alchemy in Light: Making Art Glass
Prebook 12/19; Street 1/9/07
Victory Multimedia, Documentary, $29.98 DVD, NR.

Anyone who's interested in art and the artistic process can appreciate this multiple-festival award winner.

Alchemy in Light examines the work of three glass formers who work individually and as a group to create their art. Each artist has his or her own vision, but, as with theater or music, each person must communicate that vision to others who help execute it.

Glass is so much a part of our everyday lives that it's interesting to look at it in a new way, not just as the sand, windows and tableware we take for granted. In this view, glass is as ethereal as it is solid.

The artists' commentary helps bring viewers into the elemental nature of glass, as well as the artistry of what they produce. There's also a daredevil aspect of working with a substance at 2,000-plus degree temperatures. The artists help us appreciate the fleeting fluidity of the medium as well as the fragility of the process and the end product. It's paint and sculpture on steroids — and at molten temperatures. It's playing God, commanding barely imaginable heat to re-form the simplest of materials into the complexity of angels.

The film is a scant 29 minutes, yet it accomplishes beauty by making the common so uncommon. The score is alternately serene and mechanical, adding to the unexpected drama.

Bonus materials include production stills, DVD-ROM foreign-language study guides and a work print that gives insight into the filmmaker's process. Overall this is art for artists and aspiring artists, whether in film or more tangible media. — Holly J. Wagner

Dane Cook's Tourgasm
Street 12/26
HBO Video, Comedy, $29.94 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Dane Cook, Gary Gulman, Jay Davis, Robert “Bobby” Kelly.

Following the wildly successful comedy album Retaliation and subsequent HBO special Vicious Circle, this year's comic it-boy Dane Cook set out on tour with some of his best friends in comedy.

On stage and off, the event appeared to be a guaranteed laugh-fest in the making, and HBO tagged along with Cook and his cronies long enough to film nine episodes of the reality show “Tourgasm.”

Unfortunately, Cook's manic charisma was left somewhere on the cutting-room floor. Even with his presence, the entirety of Tourgasm has less comedy and drama than a single episode of “Top Chef.”

The recent DVD release does what it can to salvage the show, offering a wealth of commentary from the tour comedians — thereby allowing them to riff more than is possible in a reality-TV world.

Also featured is a short featurette in which each comedian discusses his personal style, some newly released footage and an occasionally funny gag reel.

Diehard fans may give Cook enough leeway to enjoy Tourgasm, but it is not likely to find many receptive new viewers. — J.R. Wick

Quick Take: The Gift of Horror

With the Weinstein Co.'s remake of Black Christmas due in theaters Dec. 25, Somerville House and Critical Mass have bowed a new special edition of the 1974 original, distributed by Koch Entertainment.

The sorority-house slasher flick, directed by Bob Clark (Porky's), stars Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxon and Keir Dullea.

The $24.98 special edition of the cult fave includes more than two hours of bonus materials, which collectively make the case that the film was very influential on the horror-genre explosion of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Also included are informative new interviews with some cast members. The Kidder interview is a trip — shot on the cheap next to what appears to be a hotel pool, with guests preparing to sunbathe in the background. John Latchem

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