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Reviews: December 2, 2007

2 Dec, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Battlestar Galactica: Razor
Street 12/4
Universal, Sci-Fi, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, Tricia Helfer, Michelle Forbes, Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen.

The third season of “Battlestar Galactica” ended months ago with a cliffhanger that won't be resolved for several months more. Just in time to ease the effects of “Battlestar” withdrawal comes “Razor,” an awesome standalone film that fills in some gaps while shining new light on other story elements.

An edited version first aired on Sci Fi Channel a few weeks ago, but the DVD director's cut is really the way to go (although the broadcast version is offered on the DVD as well).

“Razor” delivers everything we've come to expect from “Battlestar Galactica” — action tempered by serious human drama. It tells the story of Kendra Shaw, a bright-eyed young officer scarred by war. Through her eyes we see the story of the Battlestar Pegasus and its commander, Admiral Cain, both of which played a central role in the second season.

Their arc is presented as a counterpoint to the story of the Galactica, and as an example of how easy it is to cross the line when no one is watching. The flashbacks tend to overshadow the regular action (at one point we even get a flashback within a flashback), but with so much story to tell it's to the credit of the creative team that the episode manages to maintain any cohesiveness at all.

The commentary with executive producer Ronald D. Moore and writer Michael Taylor sheds a lot of light on the creative process and how much the final episode changed between the script and the editing bay (anyone interested in more details can download podcasts of the writers room sessions at scifi.com).

In terms of series continuity, the telefilm (which doubles as a two-part episode) takes place late during the second season and will no doubt have regular viewers scrambling for their Season 2.5 DVD sets.

As a special treat for fans, “Razor” includes a number of homages to the original 1978-79 “Galactica” series. A scene at the 1:18 mark will have hardcore fanboys cheering. John Latchem

Street 12/4
Sony Pictures, Comedy, B.O. $121.5 million, $28.95 DVD, $34.95 two-DVD set, $43.95 Blu-ray, UMD $24.94, Available in ‘R' and unrated editions.
Stars Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader.

The tales of McLovin and Co. began with the imagination of a pair of screenwriters named Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, when they were 13. Rogen, of course, achieved fame with the hit comedy Knocked Up, directed by Judd Apatow, who produced Superbad.

The collaboration has all the makings of a cult comedy troupe, a propaganda furthered by the Superbad DVD. The two-disc set includes a scene from their next effort, Pineapple Express.

Superbad follows three high-school losers looking to hook up at one last party before college, which is pretty much the same plot as every movie about high-school losers trying to lose their virginity before college. The cast and crew even note this during a commentary in which they constantly compare their movie to American Pie.

Superbad sets itself apart by having fun with the formula, and generally being as vile (yet still hilarious) as possible. It comes as no surprise that the DVD turns it up a notch. In addition to alternate takes of some of the nastiest lines of dialogue, listening to the movie's commentary is like enjoying the film with some drinking buddies.

The best scenes involve a pair of bored cops (Rogen and Hader) who would just as soon join in on a caper than arrest the perp. Hader shows a lot of the versatility that makes him so good on “Saturday Night Live.”

Their adventures continue in “Cop Car Confessions,” a series of sketches on disc two in which Rogen and Hader crack wise with a lineup of celebrity cameos in a takeoff of HBO's “Taxicab Confessions.” John Latchem

High School Musical 2
Street 12/11
Disney, Musical, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.'
Stars Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel, Monique Coleman.

The whole gang from the wildly successful High School Musical phenomenon is back for a second go-round. This time, summer vacation is upon them and they all get jobs at the local country club and, continuing the tradition of “Hey kids! Let's put on a show,” decide to perform in the end-of-summer staff talent show.

The cast brings the same infectious exuberance to this highly anticipated sequel as it did to the surprise hit original. Efron and Hudgens are charming as the slightly star-crossed lovers who are finding it difficult to find time for each other. Tisdale is amusing as the only actual member of the country club who decides that she would like to have Troy (Efron) as a boyfriend/dance partner and sets out to separate him from his working-class girlfriend. There are a surprisingly large number of elaborately choreographed song-and-dance numbers.

Extras include a very well padded blooper reel; virtually any bit of footage in which one of the young actors flubs a line or starts laughing is included.

Of much more interest is the “Backstage Disney” segment. Viewers can watch as the cast rehearses all of the elaborate production numbers. The DVD also offers viewers the opportunity to bounce between rehearsal segments and the finished sequences in the film.

A karaoke function allows viewers to become musical theater stars. Although the extras menu includes mention of music videos for some of the songs performed in the film, they are simply the excerpted scenes from the movie. – Anne Sherber

Paradise Texas
Prebook 12/3; Street 12/26
Monarch, Drama, $22.95 DVD, ‘PG' for mild language.
Stars Timothy Bottoms, Meredith Baxter, Polly Bergen, Sheryl Lee, Ben Estus.

Two families get lessons about what really matters in this quietly moving film.

Mack Cameron (Bottoms) is a once-hot movie star who now goes from ‘B' movie to ‘B' movie trying to recover some of his illustrious past. CJ (Estus) is an adolescent with dreams of stardom who must balance his own dreams against his family's expectations. The pair meet and bond on a movie set. That is, until Mack's emotional demons decide to take residence along with the actor and his splintering family.

With the film unraveling and his family heading off into the sunset without him, Mack loses his grip and shoves CJ, breaking the boy's arm. The terrible incident serves as a wake-up call for the actor. But has the call come too late?

What distinguishes Paradise Texas from other similarly themed family films is the strong cast of actors. Bottoms, best known for the films he made in the early 1970s, including The Last Picture Show and The Paper Chase, connects as Mack, making him believable and sympathetic, even when his behavior veers into the unforgivable.

Baxter, who had her own acting heyday in the 1980s on television's “Family Ties,” brings a recognizable frustration to her role as Mack's long-suffering wife. And newcomer Estus seems tailor-made for tween heartthrob status.

Although the film ends with every character having learned a fairly predictable lesson, the film avoids the cavity-inducing sweetness of some family fare with plotting that recognizes the characters as flawed human beings. Families looking for a feel good film to watch during the holidays will find much to like in Paradise Texas. – Anne Sherber

Hip Hop Harry: Fun With Friends
Street 12/11
Allumination, Childrens, $14.98 DVD, NR.

Part Barney, part Alvin (of “Alvin and the Chipmunks”) and part Fresh Prince, Hip Hop Harry touches on all of everyone's favorite kid's show topics — sharing, friendship, courtesy — all delivered with a hip-hop beat.

“Fun with Friends” includes three episodes of this Learning Channel television show: “My Favorite Things,” “Making New Friends” and “Words Have Power.”

Harry, a large neon-yellow chipmunk, and his posse — six kids who span every demographic segment imaginable- — meet on a primary-colored set to act out life lessons meant to help kids negotiate difficult situations.

Each episode includes several musical numbers that involve both singing and dancing in the hip-hop style. The kids all seem to have a number of signature acrobatic moves, and even Harry, ensconced though he is in mountains of foam rubber, manages to get a little jiggy with it.

For each of the three episodes, the disc also includes a memory game, meant to reinforce the messages and lessons included in each episode. An interesting bit of trivia: Actor David Joyner, the man inside the Harry suit, spent five years inside the Barney suit. – Anne Sherber

Czech Dream
Street 12/4
Arts Alliance America, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.98 DVD, NR. In Czech with English subtitles.

Two Czech film students, armed with a bad idea and a whole lot of nerve, contrived a massive hoax for their senior project: Stage a fake mega-store opening. And they didn't half-ass it either. The store was named Czech Dream, and it duped thousands.

Filming their entire process, Vit and Filip began by making themselves over as executives, getting conservative haircuts and, with the help of Hugo Boss, buying the appropriate wardrobe. Next they contacted a graphic designer to come up with a logo. Then they hired an advertising team. Then a marketing team. Then a shopping psychologist, etc.

All of their preparation was geared toward a fictitious “grand opening,” for which they built a 100-meter facade with nothing behind it. By the time of the big day, they had saturated the city of Prague with fliers, posters, and radio and TV spots, and would-be shoppers were adequately convinced. But when the gag was finally exposed, few were amused.

One can easily imagine the kind of argument that might be given for doing this — a study in media manipulation, a critique of the power of advertising — but nothing coherent ever emerges. Vit and Filip refuse to explain their motives. Instead, they include a lot of after-the-fact TV footage in which their effort is unfavorably compared with the Czech Republic's expensive national ad campaign advocating EU membership. This is, at best, a flimsy justification.

On film, their stunt might prove funny to the very young or the very cynical, but for most it will appear as it did to the many shoppers who showed up for nothing: a senseless and mean-spirited joke. – Eddie Mullins

Dark Blue Almost Black
Prebook 12/6; Street 1/8
Strand, Drama, B.O. $0.005 million, $27.99 DVD, Unrated. In Spanish with English subtitles.

One of the pleasant surprises found in foreign cinema is actors unknown on our shores. While Daniel Sanchez Arevalo is a sure-footed writer and director, it's the breakout cast of Dark Blue Almost Black that propels the story forward.

Dark Blue Almost Black tells a universal story of quarterlife crisis. Jorge (Quim Guti?rrez) is a janitor who cares for his unlikable invalid father. He has a lifelong relationship with a girl (Eva Pallar?s) from the building where he works, but feels beneath her. He has a business degree, but can't find finance work with his janitorial background.

To top these issues off, his jailed, impotent brother (Antonio de la Torre) wants him to impregnate his also jailed and very beautiful girlfriend (Marta Etura).

Jorge feels imprisoned in his life, and projects his escape fantasies on an expensive suit in a store window — a symbol of moving up into a white-collar job and out of his situation.

It's an appealing film that effortlessly rides the dramedy line, heartfelt but never sentimental. There is little true tragedy, but Jorge's struggle to escape the life that's been built for him tugs at you just the same. Jorge is the quintessential nice guy, but Arevalo never lets him fall into the victim trap, instead creating a fully realized character who must accept some responsibility for his atrophied existence.

The cast, film and director have been nominated for and won a slew of awards, including two Venice Film Festival prizes and three Goyas, but the film barely made a blip in the United States.

This is one of those flicks that Roger Ebert might deem overlooked. With its credentials and charm, one can hope it'll find the strong audience it deserves on DVD. – Laura Tiffany

Naked Boys Singing
Street 12/4
TLA, Musical, B.O. $0.01 million, $22.95 DVD, NR.

Due to the illogical and puritanical double standard of nudity in American films — girls OK, boys no way! — it's not often that moviegoers are treated to full-frontal male nudity outside of foreign films, brave indies and glorified ‘B' flicks. (Kevin Bacon's shower scene from Wild Things is still scorched in my brain.)

So what is perhaps most refreshing about this DVD of the off-Broadway musical revue Naked Boys Singing (besides its quite literal title) is how near pedestrian male genitalia becomes after five minutes. After that, it's time to focus on the talented and multiculturally handsome cast who find a surprising number of naked-themed topics to mine for their risqu? song-and-dance numbers.

The comedic songs, full of double entendres and bawdy humor, fare much better than the few ballads, which remind you how to use the fast-forward button. “The Bliss of a Bris” might give rabbis a heart attack, while “Fight the Urge” describes gay high-schoolers in gym class struggling to stay uninterested in their surroundings. “The Naked Maid” and “Perky Little Porn Star” detail a few jobs you can perform in the buff. The coup de grace, however, is “Members Only,” an impressive chorale rendition of just about every penile nickname, conducted by a cast member who pulls a wand from … well, you can guess where.

The filming belies that this is a production housed in a small theater, but no mind — visual tricks and the choreography keep your eye moving.

National and international productions have taken Naked Boys Singing outside of New York City since it began its run in 1999, but it's likely a lot of pockets of the country haven't been, er, exposed to the production's charms.

For gay cinema fans and very open-minded Broadway fans, viewing this DVD of the live show will prove a treat. — Laura Tiffany

Blu-ray Spotlight: Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary Edition
Sony Pictures, Sci-Fi, $49.95 Blu-ray (two-disc), $39.95 three-DVD set, ‘PG' for intense sci-fi action, mild language and thematic elements.
Stars Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr.
HDTV: Philips 1080p 47-inch
Player: PlayStation 3

Everyone has been searching for high-def disc killer apps, and putting several versions of the same movie on one disc may be one of them. The spectacular Blu-ray edition of Close Encounters incorporates all three versions of Steven Spielberg's seminal sci-fi film: the original 1977 theatrical release, the re-edited 1980 special edition and Spielberg's 1998 director's cut. The “view from above” option lets you watch one version and see exactly how it differs from the other two.

This could turn out to be a revelation for fans of “The Lord of the Rings” or the films of Oliver Stone. On one disc, viewers can toggle between the different versions without having to hunt for (or store) multiple editions. For Close Encounters, it is the definitive look at the classic film.

While the technique is in a somewhat rudimentary stage — you can't jump from version to version in midstream — hopefully DVD producers will allow viewers to hear commentary from filmmakers on the changes as they come up.

That feature aside, another revelation is how great the film looks. If you ignore the fashions, it looks like it was shot yesterday. I have had my doubts that catalog titles would translate well to high-definition, but Close Encounters is one that does. Stephanie Prange

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