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Reviews: December 31

31 Dec, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Beer League

Beer League
Street 1/2/07
Echo Bridge, Comedy, B.O. $0.5 million, $26.99 two-DVD set, ‘R' for nonstop language, including strong sexual references, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Stars Artie Lange, Ralph Macchio, Anthony DeSando, Cara Buono, Jimmy Palumbo, Jerry Minor, Laurie Metcalf, Seymour Cassel, Louis Lombardi.

I love this movie. It's the perfect tonic for the Al Bundy in us all — an ode to camaraderie, teamwork and the art of the great insult.

It's the Bad News Bears as drunken thirtysomethings — a portrait of men whose last shot at glory rests with success in one of those community softball leagues where the teams consist of bar buddies.

Lange plays Artie, whose team is so bad they always pick a fight with their main rivals rather than admit defeat. A local cop (a great cameo by Lombardi of “24”) is so fed up with breaking up the fights that he orders the team that finishes with the worst record to leave the league.

All seems lost until Artie realizes that if his team can stay sober in a league of drunks, they might actually have an advantage.

Tragedy inspires the team to binge at an inappropriate time, leading to a final game one must see to believe. There's just something special about seeing a batter throw up in mid-swing.

Cassel steals the best lines as a crotchety old-timer. Also notable is Palumbo as Johnny, who constantly refers to his quest to finish the season with a .700 batting average. (“It's so unfair … it's like pitching to a healthy Lou Gehrig.”)

Frank Sebastiano directed (in a Yankee cap and bath robe, as evidenced in a featurette) and co-wrote with Lange (based on Shakespeare's Ale League, Sebastiano quips).

The pair provide commentary, which is surprisingly serious in comparison to the tone of the film itself, mainly because, between Lange laughing about his various drug habits, they actually focus on how the film was made.

The budget was so low that the rain in one scene only seems to affect a 20-foot radius, the apparent limits of the sprinklers hanging above the camera (the raindrops also criss-cross).

With its flair for crudeness and apathy toward the human condition, Beer League is a perfect companion piece for 1998's Dirty Work, which Sebastiano also co-wrote. John Latchem

Farce of the Penguins
Prebook 1/4/07; Street 1/30/07
ThinkFilm/Lionsgate, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, ‘R' for pervasive crude sexual content and language.
Voices of Bob Saget, Christina Applegate, Lewis Black, Mo'Nique, Tracy Morgan, Samuel L. Jackson.

Between March of the Penguins, Madagascar and Happy Feet, penguins have taken over Hollywood. The oversaturation is ripe for parody, so it's disappointing Farce of the Penguins is such a misfire.

Written and directed by Saget in the aftermath of his head-turning performances in The Aristocrats and “Entourage,” this crass effort has no focus. It's just a series of voiceover jokes to accompany stock footage of nature films spliced together to tell roughly the same story as March of the Penguins, with a few musical numbers thrown in.

The first hour or so plays like an extended gag from “America's Funniest Home Videos.” You know the one, where Saget would try to prop up weak videos by doing a stupid voice.

It would be one thing if the clips were inherently funny, but for the most part it's footage of animals going to the bathroom and having sex, with endless banter comparing penguin mating rituals to human social interaction.

Saget spent so much time trying to be clever he forgot to make it funny. Any humor to be mined from the laborious script is strictly due to the verbal talents of the performers, especially Black.

The basic story focuses on two penguin buddies named Carl (Saget) and Jimmy (Black), who are part of the long march to the mating grounds in Antarctica. Meanwhile, Melissa (Applegate) wonders to her friend Vicky (Mo'Nique) if she's good enough for this year's crop of men. As if there was any doubt how this would turn out, Carl meets Melissa and they fall in love.

In another subplot, two hopelessly lost penguins are voiced by Saget's “Full House” co-stars John Stamos and Dave Coulier. And Carlos Mencia plays a penguin afflicted with Hispanic stereotypes.

Those who get through the early tedium will be treated to some funnier moments in the latter half. There's a particularly funny exchange between Jackson, as the narrator, and a penguin voiced by Gilbert Gottfried who doesn't enjoy the frigid penguin lifestyle. Those who prefer raunchy humor should enjoy a bit during the mating process when Jimmy has an accidental encounter with Melissa in a tender location. John Latchem

What's on DVD?

  • “To the Earth's Anus and Back: A Director's Journey”
  • Never-before-seen bonus footage
  • “Birdz Gone Wild” teaser

Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas
Prebook 1/2/07; Street 1/30/07
Anchor Bay, Drama, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Christina Applegate, Johnathon Schaech, Kathleen Rose Perkins.

Despite its schmaltziness, or, perhaps because of it, Suzanne's Diary is a satisfying tearjerker in the same tradition as The Notebook and Message in a Bottle.

This 2005 made-for-TV movie, based on a novel by popular writer James Patterson, is driven by two parallel love stories.

When a young, pretty book editor's boyfriend suddenly leaves her, she is bereft. As a parting gift, he presents her with a diary that a young woman wrote as a love letter to her unborn child.

The diary's author, it turns out, was a successful, big-city doctor who discovered that a heart condition would make pregnancy dangerous for her. When her husband discovers that they shouldn't have children, he leaves her and she is thrown into a dark pit of despair.

Slowly, the diarist emerges from her black mood, looks around and decides to make a change. She leaves Boston for Cape Cod, where she takes over a country doctor's practice. She meets the local handyman and, slowly, the pair fall in love.

As she reads the diary, it dawns on the editor that the handyman in the diary is the boyfriend who's just abandoned her, and the diary is his way of trying to make her understand the tragedy that brought him to this place.

Applegate, Schaech and Perkins are all fine in their parallel stories. For comic relief, Hall Eisen is spot-on as a ponderous and long-winded author of a gardening tome, and Robert Donat is perfect as the deadpan hypochondriac who makes daily visits to the town's new doctor.

Suzanne's Diary is a romance in the style of a Harlequin novel — not for everyone. But if only a tiny fraction of Harlequin fans seek out this film, it will become a video goldmine. — Anne Sherber

Prebook 1/3/07; Street 1/30/07
Lionsgate, Comedy, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for some language.
Stars Stuart Townsend, Amy Smart, Seth Green, Kate Ashfield, Steve John Shepherd.

More durable and consistently reliable than marriage itself, movies about people preparing to get married have a rich tradition that ranges from It Happened One Night and Father of the Bride to Four Weddings and a Funeral and My Best Friend's Wedding.

Unhitched embodies this proud heritage, hits all the right marks and fits solidly into the genre of wedding movies.

Dashing Townsend steps into his romantic-comedy shoes here, playing Olly, a once promising novelist whose career is shot down by a debilitating bout with writer's block. When he is asked, somewhat out of the blue, to stand up and be the best man for James, an old friend from college, he welcomes the opportunity for a change of pace and the chance to throw himself into a new project.

When he becomes smitten with the bride-to-be, Sarah (Smart), he rediscovers his passion, and his childhood best friend Murray (Green) devises a plan to both make Olly happy and expose the boorish James for the cad that he is.

The proceedings follow an entertaining if familiar trajectory, with Olly and Sarah bonding quite attractively as they grow closer and Murray upping the wedding-spoiler ante with growing intensity.

Townsend delivers a solid, very well-rounded performance that should convince anyone who wonders whether he is better suited to dramas or thrillers. Smart delivers an engaging performance, projecting a mix of beauty, brains and a sense of being a real, down-to-earth woman. Green, as usual, succeeds in the role of comic foil, demonstrating not just a knack for good timing, but a real talent for physical comedy.

Unhitched is not going to rise to the top of the heap in this genre, but it makes a strong case for itself. — David Greenberg

The Couple
Prebook 12/19; Street 1/16/07
First Look, Drama, B.O. $0.3 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘PG-13' for violence, disturbing images and thematic elements.
Stars Martin Landau.

The Couple can't be faulted for lack of ambition. The centerpiece of the Holocaust-era drama is a dinner with the Nazis' supreme engineers of destruction: Adolf Hitler, Adolf Eichmann and Heinrich Himmler.

The trio have gathered to milk money and property from a wealthy but vulnerable Jewish magnate, Mr. Krauzenberg (Landau). The Nazi-offered devil's deal is that Krauzenberg will give up his business to the Germans in exchange for routing his entire family from the death camps to a safe haven in Palestine.

If that wasn't suspenseful enough, Krauzenberg's servants, Hans and Ingrid, are really not the good Nazis they pretend to be. The Aryan couple are really German resistance fighters who want to flee with Krauzenberg and/or murder as many Nazis at the dinner-party as possible.

The whole dramatic thriller sounds fantastic, with leanings toward melodrama — Landau chewing the scenery in sad poses as string music plays, and Nazis being inhumanly brutish and vile.

It could have been yet another Holocaust drama with a neat twist, but the plot starts so slowly and with such confusion for viewers. Why can't Hitler just take the wealth from the Jew? What's the Europa Plan? Why don't the resistance fighters reveal themselves earlier to Krauzenberg?

These will be answered, but only after viewers have laboriously struggled and probably given up.

For World War II thriller fans patient enough to endure the slow start, the fine acting and decent production values will engage them in the end. —Brendan Howard

Final Move
Street 1/9
MTI, Thriller, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for violence, language and some sexual content.
Stars David Carradine, Rachel Hunter, Daniel Baldwin, Matt Schulze, Lochlyn Munroe, Amanda Detmer.

Littered with a recognizable cast, Final Move is a passable, fairly entertaining ‘B'-movie thriller.

Directed by Joey Travolta (yes, John's brother), Final Move stars Schulze (The Transporter and The Fast and the Furious) as Dan Marlowe, a clairvoyant ex-cop bought out of retirement to catch a copycat killer.

A few years earlier, Dan had a nervous breakdown trying to solve the case of the Chess Piece Murders (the killer leaves a rook in each victim's hand). Using his physic powers, Dan was a valuable profiler, helping to catch the killer and send him to death row. But he always had doubt as to whether or not an innocent man had been convicted.

Years later, on the eve of the execution, a fresh crop of bodies pop up, confounding the police.

Having no significant leads, Marlowe's former partner, Detective Krieg (Munro), convinces him to help with the case.

Krieg, Marlowe and profiler Iris Quarrie (Hunter) scour Los Angeles, rounding up every possible suspect while the killer leads them on a wild goose chase.

The killer has taken an interest in Marlowe and gives him some incentive by threatening his family.

The movie also stars David Carradine (from the “Kung Fu” and the “Kill Bill” movies), and Daniel Baldwin, whose cameo alone is worth a rental.

The story is predictable, but it passes the time well.

Fans of any television procedural show, from “CSI” to “Law & Order,” might want to check this out. —Jonathan Rosenbloom

The Motel
Prebook 1/3/07; Street 1/30/07
Palm, Comedy, B.O. $0.05 million, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Sung Kang, Samantha Futerman, Jeffrey Chyau.

Indie films often have an overabundance of quirk. At first glance, The Motel seems to be a victim of that same idiosyncrasy — from the graphic-novel-inspired DVD cover to the film's setup.

Ernest (Chyau) is a 13-year-old growing up in a seedy motel and grappling with one hell of an awkward stage, while surrounded by sleazy characters and an overbearing mother.

Upon closer inspection, Ernest is a chubby kid who is good-hearted even though he may as well have “loser” written on his forehead. He's got a crush on his older best friend, a fellow first-generation Chinese-American forced to work in her parent's business. Sam (Kang of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), the drunk john who befriends Ernest to satiate his own loneliness, isn't the complete sleazeball he appears to be; he's devastated that his wife has thrown him out.

Even Ernest's mom, who seems like a dream-crushing tyrant, struggles as she raises two kids on her own while running a difficult business.

Director/screenwriter Michael Kang, a Fellow at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab and winner of the Humanitas prize at the festival, was smart to keep the characters to a minimum. A motel is a revolving door of potential clich?s, but Kang keeps the cast tight and real.

Chyau is one of those first-time kid actors who is so natural and unaffected, it's almost disarming. The film follows his wonderful lead. Equally winning is Kang, who masters the unlikely task of making an irresponsible lout sympathetic and sometimes charming.

The juxtaposition of this lothario, who ruined his marriage with hookers, offering love advice to a kid who cleans up hotel guests' porn and other goodies, becomes surprisingly sweet in Chyau's and Kang's hands.

The Motel isn't laugh-out-loud funny like Little Miss Sunshine. Rather, it has the heart and flinching embarrassments that make teen underdog movies such as Lucas, Angus and even About a Boy continually endearing, and slightly painful in a good way. — Laura Tiffany

Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
Prebook 1/2/07; Street 2/6/07
Warner, Animated, $19.98 DVD, NR.

Fueled by ultra-frenetic action scenes, the immensely popular “Teen Titans” series nonetheless takes time (cursory as it may be) to explore the more complex issues facing young adults, such as love, friendship and tolerance.

Trouble in Tokyo, released on Cartoon Network this fall, doesn't veer from the winning formula. Here it pits its heroes against Brushogun, a mysterious villain from Japan, in a series of energy-packed battles.

However violent, the animation is top-notch, especially considering common television fare. Battle scenes and montages alike cruise with rapid precision through changing backdrops.

The soundtrack, too, finds the right pacing, and even songs delivered by less-than-stellar singers such as Beast Boy have enough charm to be endured by adults — the target audience of pre-pubescent boys is virtually guaranteed to enjoy them.

At times, the action seems a little too geared to the ADHD crowd, appearing too much like part of the problem, but Trouble in Tokyo does slow down its pace long enough for viewers to catch their breath and consider deeper concepts than life as a superhero.

It may not be “Thundercats,” but if I were 10 again, I'd park myself at the television whenever it was time for “Teen Titans.”

The DVD includes Robin's Underworld Race Challenge and a previously unaired “Teen Titans” episode. — J.R. Wick

Quick Take: In on the Action

Its production values are top-notch, the writing is crisp and the action is tense. “MI-5,” Britain's answer to “24” and “Alias,” focuses on the United Kingdom's domestic security agency as its agents take on terrorists and other threats. (The show is known as “Spooks” in its native land.)

As the fourth season begins, the team must deal with the death of one of their own while facing a new threat to blow up London. The final episode, “Diana,” plays into recent speculation with a plot about a possible conspiracy by MI-5 to kill Princess Di.

A five-DVD set containing the 10 episodes of the fourth season hits stores Jan. 9 at $79.98 from BBC Video. Each episode includes 15 minutes of exclusive footage not broadcast in the United States.

The set is loaded with commentaries for every episode, interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes. John Latchem

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