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Reviews: Feb. 10, 2008

10 Feb, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews

The Independent
Street 2/12

Jesus, Mary and Joey
Prebook 2/11; Street 3/4
Monarch, Comedy, $22.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for language.
Stars Vincent Pagano, Marley Shelton, Olympia Dukakis, Jennifer Esposito, Jason Gedrick, Stacy Keach, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Melissa Joan Hart.

Vincent Pagano, who also penned the screenplay, stars in this vibrant comedy about the power and nature of faith. As Joey, a directionless son of a large, loud and loving Italian family, he overcomes a crisis of faith, his parents' objections and his friends' ridicule in order to find happiness with the woman he loves.

When Mary (Shelton) returns to the old neighborhood after having been away for several years, Joey falls head over heels. His feelings don't change even after he, a devout Catholic, discovers that she has become a born-again Christian.

As his love for her deepens, he adopts her religious views. He even accuses his observant family of possessing a facile religiosity. But his newfound fervor is not enough to convince Mary's cold and disapproving father that Joey is the right man for his daughter. This charming little film has a surprisingly high-wattage cast, including Dukakis, who cheerfully chews the scenery and steals every scene in which she appears as Joey's addled grandmother. Pagano is very good as a young man standing at not one, but several crossroads.

Jesus, Mary and Joey steps not at all gingerly into an area that films often avoid. All of the film's characters are fully drawn, flawed and human. They also all happen to be people of faith who act on their beliefs. Viewers interested in the ways in which faith informs lives as well as those who are interested in small, interestingly plotted independent films may find this film worth a look. — Anne Sherber

Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out
Street 2/19

Life After Tomorrow
Street 2/26
Arts Alliance America, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for language including drug and sexual references.
Stars Danielle Brisebois, Martha Byrne, Martin Charnin, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith, Charles Strouse.

Life After Tomorrow is an absorbing “whatever happened to” documentary about the children who starred in the Broadway production and national road tours of the musical Annie in the 1970s and 1980s.

Directed by Gil Cates Jr. (Phoebe's brother) and Julie Stevens, who was herself an Annie Cast member, Life After Tomorrow drops in on dozens of the musical's former stars. Although almost all of the women recall vividly their powerful desires to be a part of the musical, which was a Broadway juggernaut in its heyday, they are less unanimous about the aftermath of the experience.

There are surprisingly few former cast members who have gone on to become legitimate actresses as adults, although most of the women tried to continue their acting careers at least for a time. But perhaps the most riveting, and certainly the most disturbing reminiscences involve what happened to the girls while they were in the cast.

Many recall visiting New York's infamous Studio 54 as 11- and 12-year-olds. Most remember the very relaxed attitude with which the production approached their schooling. Some remember being harassed and abused by adults in the cast and crew. The most notable alumna of the production, Sarah Jessica Parker, remembers roller skating by a house of prostitution near the Broadway theater where the play was being performed and making friends with the working girls.

There is certainly enough information to give pause to any parent whose child is yearning to be on the stage.

Although most of the women with whom this documentary catches up are now living productive, even rewarding lives as parents and teachers and financial planners, they all share a wistfulness about their time in the spotlight. This is a very interesting but bittersweet look at the lives behind a musical that captured the nation's attention more than 20 years ago. — Anne Sherber

The Grange Fair: An American Tradition
Street 2/19
Inecom, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

Agricultural fairs were once a mainstay of rural America, giving farming families a chance to gather, socialize and trade livestock. Those days may be slipping away from us, but there are some pockets of America where the tradition remains vibrant.

Like a time warp to a simpler era, Grange Fair chronicles one of the last such fairs, drawing thousands of people every year to Centre County, Penn., since 1874. Fair participants camp out in Civil War-style tents that have been passed down for six generations. Access to a tent is considered a prized commodity, with a waiting list of nearly 500 families. Control of tent space can even become a bitter point of contention in a divorce.

Like the lifestyle it depicts, Grange Fair is not flashy, but it is nonetheless a wonderful slice of Americana. Director Joe Myers wisely chooses to keep things simple, effectively letting those involved tell their own story. The film follows several participants in the months leading up to the fair as they prepare their animals for show or plan elaborate tent decorations. For many families, the Grange Fair is the focal point of the entire year.

What's most fascinating about the film is seeing all the young children involved in raising livestock, ensuring the tradition will continue. This is not a simple lifestyle, but one that takes dedication and hard work, traits most city dwellers would probably shy away from.

At the heart of Grange Fair is the story of Ruth Wolf, who may miss her first fair since 1916 due to health issues. When she dies, she wants her family to spread her ashes at the fair. Everything important in Ruth's life is tied to the fair, she says, and the prospect of missing it devastates her. One of the best moments of the film occurs when Ruth realizes her medicine has given her the energy to make it to the fair after all.

There's something comforting about seeing Ruth sitting by her tent, waving at passersby, and knowing there are still parts of the country where a sense of history remains alive and well. John Latchem

Rock & Roll Superhero
Street 2/12
Cinequest, Documentary, $14.99 DVD, NR.

If ever a movie provided a snapshot of how tough the music industry can be, Rock & Roll Superhero is it.

Director Peter O. Devin profiles Watt White, who refuses to let go of his dream of becoming a rock star. With shades of Al Bundy, White has been working at a shoe store for eight years, telling himself he's doing it just to give him time to make it big.

After self-producing two CDs that were largely ignored, White begins to push a gimmick involving his band dressing as gothic superheroes on stage. White styles himself Machine, a seven-foot-tall guitar-playing cyborg. His buddy Jay becomes Flexx, a man possessed by a demon with the power to control women sexually.

Despite the money White pumps into his dream, his band continues to struggle, mostly because they can't shake the image that they're just a poor man's KISS. White isn't exactly the best singer, either.

White also doesn't have luck on his side. One important gig to gain industry attention is scheduled in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Needless to say, it doesn't happen.

The documentary is remarkably frank and honest with its subjects, especially when White's drummer criticizes his gimmicks and motivation.

Another current running through the film is the line between friendship and professionalism. White has no problem dropping members of his band when it suits him, even if it puts personal relationships at risk, in his obsessive pursuit of his music dreams.

Devin's raw directing style begins to drag after about an hour, but fortunately the movie doesn't run on too long. The soundtrack is provided by White himself. The songs aren't bad, proving White is definitely a better songwriter than a singer.

The DVD includes some deleted footage and a separate playlist of White's songs. John Latchem

Lake of Fire
Prebook 2/14; Street 3/11
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.03 million, $27.98 DVD, NR.

Abortion is perhaps the most divisive issue of our time, enduring beyond even wars. In Lake of Fire, filmmaker Tony Kaye gives us a long and exhaustive look at the American political battle over abortion.

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was decided on arguments surrounding a woman's right to privacy. Kaye eschews the privacy argument and looks at abortion as a debate fundamentally about when life begins, and therefore the ultimate battle over the separation of church and state (a position never tested at the Supreme Court level).

There is no zealot like a convert, so the film can't avoid talking with Norma McCorvey – known to the nation as Jane Roe – about her experience challenging abortion bans on privacy grounds, and her later religious conversion and activism on behalf of Operation Rescue. She tells how she found happiness among the happy people who moved in next door to the abortion clinic where she was working.

Often overlooked in the hyperbole and political rhetoric are the people who don't approve of abortion but are still pro-choice. Anti-abortion sentiment is not the sole province of the pious, but politicos on both sides use it to polarize opinions and rally their base.

We see some of the political strategies that go into abortion protests and, tellingly, how the anti-abortion movement shifted from the purview of true believers to a machine of paid activists (not coincidentally left unemployed when the Equal Rights Amendment went down to defeat). The extremists help demonstrate the incongruities of the disagreement: Abortion clinic murderers have pride rather than remorse at their acts; their fundamentalist followers say they would execute those who have or perform abortions.

Often graphic but equally thoughtful, this film is not for the young or squeamish. It's a serious consideration of religion and politics and the issues on which they converge, and the stakes are often life or death. – Holly J. Wagner

For the Bible Tells Me So
Street 2/19
First Run, Documentary, B.O. $0.3 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

An effort to dissect homophobia as an extension of Christian fundamentalism, For the Bible Tells Me So opens on Anita Bryant in 1977 doing an interview about how evangelists could have stamped out gays but didn't, then getting hit in the face with a pie. She prays through the pie “to be delivered from this deviant lifestyle.”

It aptly sets the tone for what is to follow, which is a fairly strong case that churches, particularly evangelical churches, fuel hatred of homosexuals as well as others. There's no shortage of self-caricatured televangelist clips to support the point.

A series of interviews with devout families with gay children tells more about their family experiences than it does about any orchestrated church effort to bash homosexuality.

Probably the most heartbreaking accounts are those from people who married straight before coming out, or coming out of denial. It's an intimate glimpse of a special kind of social pressure, imposed against perceived flaws that can be changed. But even most of those have happy endings.

An animated film about homosexuality called “Is It A Choice?” offers homosexuals George and Martha refuting arguments to a homophobe named Christian.

Interviews with Biblical scholars addressing literalism and putting the oft-cited Bible verses against homosexuality in context also push back at Bible-thumpers who rail against homosexuality.

The film culminates with most of the interview subjects taking part in a march on James Dobson's Focus on the Family headquarters and personal statements about their journey.

The real question with a film like this is, will it reach the target audience? It could help some people understand they are not the only ones feeling pressure from church and family.

It may lead some to the Bible to research some of the verses or context cited here. But even the family members who came around did it because of personal experience. Will the churches and family members who rail against homosexuality even watch? – Holly J. Wagner

Terror's Advocate
Street 2/19
Magnolia, Documentary, B.O. $0.05 million, $26.98 DVD, NR. In French with English subtitles.

Terror's Advocate serves as a portrait of Jacques Verg?s, high-profile attorney of notorious international figures such as Carlos the Jackal, Slobodan Milosevic and Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.

Director Barbet Schroeder combines archival footage with interviews with those who know Verg?s, and tops it off with an interview with Verg?s himself who, with cigar in hand, very methodically and with a touch of pride reflects on his long career.

He first gained exposure defending Djamila Bouhired during the Algerian revolution against France. Verg?s was noted for instructing his clients not to cooperate with the court, which he claimed did not have the authority to legitimately prosecute the case anyway.

At one point, Verg?s disappeared for nearly a decade, only to resurface by defending a number of politically unpopular people.

Schroeder takes his time using the interviews to set up each chapter in Verg?s' life on which he centers the movie. Verg?s seems inspired by the challenge of taking on the establishment. His hatred of colonialism also is touched on in the film. His defense of Barbie consists primarily of arguing that Nazi Gestapo tactics were little different that how French agents treated various colonials.

Terror's Advocate is a fascinating glimpse into history. However, at 137 minutes, many viewers might find it too long for their liking, especially as it references a number of events with which they may not be familiar.

The DVD includes extended interviews and deleted scenes. John Latchem

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