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Reviews: Feb. 24, 2008

24 Feb, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews

Justice League: The New Frontier
Street 2/26

101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition
Street 3/4

The Last Emperor: Special Edition
Street 2/26

Street 3/4
Lifesize, Drama, B.O. $0.003 million, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Batzul Khayankhyarvaa, Tsetsegee Byamba.

Here's one for the film-school crowd — a lush examination of Mongolian culture through the perspective of the shamanist tradition.

Young Bagi is a nomadic shepherd living with his family on the barren frozen steppes of Mongolia. One day while pursuing a stray lamb, he suffers a seizure and has a vision of the future destruction of his family home. His grandfather informs him his destiny is to become a shaman, but Bagi will have none of it.

Soon enough, government agents arrive with news of an animal plague, forcing the nomads to relocate to a mining town. There, Bagi befriends a girl after finding her buried in coal on a train. When authorities find them on the train, they are arrested and sent to a detention center and assigned menial tasks.

Bagi's seizures continue, and after more visions he slowly begins to accept his calling. Soon rumors start to spread that there was no animal plague, so Bagi and other detainees plan a revolt to not only escape, but also rescue the animals and restore some dignity to their way of life.

The theme of mysticism vs. modernism is common enough in cinema, and through Bagi the film effectively connects concepts of past, present and future in a thought-provoking way.

The writing and directing team of Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth has crafted a film brimming with symbolic imagery. Production values are high, but the story is told through quiet, drawn-out scenes conventional viewers may find tedious, with an ending filtered through a lens of surrealism that could be compared to Fellini or Kubrick.

The DVD includes a short featurette that is mostly a look at the filming of a few scenes, with some quick narration that Khadak was the first film shot entirely in winter in Mongolia, where crews endured temperatures as low as –37?C. John Latchem

Davie & Golimyr
Street 3/4

Extraordinary Rendition
Prebook 2/26; Street 3/25

Wristcutters: A Love Story
Prebook 2/27; Street 3/25

Quick Take: The Amateurs

Radiant City
Street 3/4
Koch Lorber, Documentary, B.O. $0.8 million, $26.98 DVD, NR.

Radiant City could be called Radial City because it's all about the suburbia that sprawls out from urban centers.

The film was made in Canada, and its defining image is the cookie-cutter tracts of McMansions that went wild during the real estate bubble. People in heavily populated urban centers started seeing them in the 1990s, but the rest of the country got a taste as builders went wild in a market that seemed limitless. Of course we know now it wasn't, and the sprawl is what's left behind. In some cases literally, as people walk away from deals going south.

This is not a pure documentary; our tour guides are the Moss family, a composite whose members have mixed feelings about a recent move to the suburbs.

Interspersed with their lives are comments from prominent planners and scholars and graphics that help quantify urban sprawl: Author James Howard Kunstler tells us 80% of the building in North America has happened in the last 50 years. A graphic tells us the size of a suburban home in North America was 800 square feet in the 1950s and has grown to 2,286 square feet today. The planned communities that preserve peace by isolating residential, commercial and industrial uses (and stratify owners by income, by way of housing density) also prevent people from walking or bicycling to work.

The message is that the suburbs we create to escape urban landscapes become the very things we fled, or worse: soulless dwellings with no community.

The faux family is a little too pat to believe. A real family grappling with the same issues might have been more effective. Nonetheless, Radiant City is entertaining and informative and could provide useful talking points for evaluating how we live and interact. It should appeal to anyone who's ever lived in a suburb, or wanted to. — Holly J. Wagner

Skid Row
Prebook 2/26; Street 3/25
Universal/Screen Media, Documentary, B.O. $0.006 million, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for drug use and language.

Los Angeles has been called ground zero for the homeless. California has more than 195,000 homeless residents, and 46% — almost 90,000 — live on the streets of L.A., according to a 2006 report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That's more than any other city in America.

It's 20,000 more than the entire state of Florida, which is runner-up to California with more than 68,000 homeless.

Fugees singer and hip-hop star Pras Michel wanted to bring more attention to this tragedy. With $9 in his pocket, a tent and a hidden camera, Michel directed his focus by producing a documentary, one that chronicles him living nine days in the notorious Skid Row area in downtown L.A. For some strange reason, Michel didn't believe this would be difficult.

“I went in with the notion that it'd be easy, but then you get there and you realize it's a whole other world and that ignorance is bliss,” Pras told Billboard.com about the ordeal. “Most people think homeless people are on drugs or lazy, but that is far from the truth. I left with a completely different mindset on the situation.”

A trip to Skid Row will do that. And if you haven't been there, Michel's documentary will give you a clue of the despair and hopelessness. This documentary details some of the raw events that occur daily, including the drug dealing, the assaults and the rats. Some Skid Row residents share their stories with Michel, including a heroin addict shooting up. He later dies from a drug overdose.

The documentary also includes individuals who have been close to the situation or written frequently about it, such as L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and Orlando Ward, a public affairs official for the Midnight Mission.

The bonus features include deleted scenes and chapter sequences. — Benny Lopez

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