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Reviews: February 11

11 Feb, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Prebook 2/15; Street 3/13
ThinkFilm, Drama, B.O. $2 million, $27.98 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Jay Brannan, Peter Stickles, Justin Bond.

Director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) says Shortbus is an attempt to make a “film about love and sex that doesn't censor itself in any way.” It doesn't beat around the bush. The opening sequence depicts a young married couple experimenting with multiple positions, a young man attempting to self-fellate and a dominatrix performing to an aroused customer.

The film is clearly attempting to demystify sex, and particularly homosexuality, by showing as much of it as possible. It's explicit in its depictions, but this is not porn. There are no blonde bombshells in exquisite make-up performing on specially lit sets. The performers are shown largely in an unattractive light. For a film so reliant on sex in its narrative, it's not very sexy. But it is by nature controversial, and Lee reportedly almost lost her job as a radio host in Canada for her role.

Mitchell and the cast spent three years crafting the story and characters. In the mix are Sofia (Lee), a sex therapist who has never had an orgasm; the two Jamies (Dawson and DeBoy), a gay couple experimenting with multiple partners; and the dominatrix Severin (Beamish), who hides the fact that her real name is Jennifer Aniston.

At first glance, they have little in common, but behind their muddled sexual identities lie people seeking an emotional connection in a post-9/11 world.

They all meet up at Shortbus, a sex club whose proprietor (Bond) describes it as “a salon for the gifted and challenged.” Shortbus encourages sexual liberation with open minds, an array of gadgets and a special room that hosts an orgy 24-7.

Working through the angst, there are some very funny moments, especially a scene in which Sofia attempts to break a vibrating egg meant to provide a constant source of pleasure. There also are some inventive visual sequences, such as New York City represented by a bright and colorful animated mosaic. John Latchem

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
Street 2/20
First Look, Drama, B.O. $0.5 million, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for pervasive language, violence, sexuality and drug use.
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Shia LaBeouf, Chazz Palminteri, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson.

Dito Montiel's film, based on his novel about growing up in Queens in the 1980s, is more like a snapshot than a full memoir, but is ultimately a compelling glance at a life marked by violence and fear.

After 15 years, Dito is called home to help his mother (Wiest) take care of his dying father (Palminteri). We're thrown into Dito's early life as a street tough who splits his time between trying to get in his girlfriend's pants and trying to keep his best friend Antonio out of trouble.

As the film splits back and forth between the past and present versions of Montiel, with LaBeouf and Downey ably handling each role respectively, it becomes apparent that there are too many characters and not quite enough dialogue to present a clear picture of any of them. Instead, it's like looking through the wrong end of a telescope — you only get a glimpse, and perhaps it's Montiel's way of saying that some memories are too painful to look at dead on.

As a result, some scenes and characters resonate more than others. Wiest and Palminteri are great but underused. Tatum's sexy, dangerous portrayal of Antonio, on the other hand, lets us see underneath the macho hothead a misguided youth who cares about little else than his friends.

The wash of sounds, characters and sometimes-brutal visuals gives Guide a strange dreamlike quality, appropriate as most of the film is told in flashback. Credit is due to Montiel, whose film feels like a catharsis that doesn't always portray him in the most positive light.

Special features include interviews, alternate endings and director's commentary. Some of the deleted scenes could have beefed up the film were they left in. Billy Gil

Gandhi: 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition
Street 2/20
Sony Pictures, Drama, $24.96 two-DVD set, ‘PG.'
Stars Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, Edward Fox, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Martin Sheen.

This new DVD set is what one would hope for such a classic, which 25 years later remains effective and relevant. In addition to the film itself — a fitting tribute to a man whose ideals changed the 20th century — the behind-the-scenes extras paint a story of an artist's dedication and reward.

In the early 1960s, director Richard Attenborough was asked to make a film about the life of legendary non-violent activist Mohandas K. Gandhi. Attenborough admits to spending the next 20 years making a series of bad films so he could raise the money for the Gandhi project, and drew no salary when he finally made it.

In the meantime, he had to secure the support of India, whose people held Gandhi in such high regard. He even met with India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru — himself a close friend of the Mahatma — who suggested Alec Guinness was ideal to play the role, thinking no Indian actor could handle the demands of a Western production.

Once funding was secured, Attenborough followed his son's advice and awarded the part to half-Indian stage actor Kingsley, who made it his signature role. Kingsley, in only his second film, won a best actor Oscar, and the movie went on to upset E.T. for best picture, to Attenborough's great surprise.

The film is marked by an extraordinary bigness so often attempted but rarely achieved today. The visually stunning sequence of Gandhi's funeral, for example, was filmed on the anniversary of the actual procession, after filmmakers invited the locals to view the re-creation. Nearly 400,000 people showed up, and the result is a spectacular mass that today would be simulated with computers.

Throughout the commentary and featurettes, Attenborough details the complete experience of making the film, and even points out tidbits such as an early performance by Daniel Day Lewis.

Kingsley unfortunately does not participate in the new retrospectives, although a very good recent interview is included.

It is to the credit of the DVD producers that they fit a complete three-hour movie on one side of a disc, much to the relief of collectors easily annoyed by the prospect of flipping the disc at intermission. John Latchem

Mutual Appreciation
Street 2/13
Image/Home Vision, Drama, B.O. $0.09 million, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for language.
Stars Justin Rice, Rachel Clift, Seung-Min Lee, Andrew Bujalski.

Mutual Appreciation is filled with lengthy shots of young people doing their best to fill dead air. They talk and talk and talk about their dreams and desires, sometimes actually acting upon them. Usually, though, they just sit around and drink and overanalyze their choices, and ultimately have nothing to show for it.

Alan (Rice), an indie-rock guitar player, is in town for a gig and wants to re-form his upstart band. Rice is a real-life musician in the band Bishop Allen, and some of the group's songs are used in the movie.

While considering his uncertain future, Alan finds himself uninterested in a relationship with a local disc jockey, Sara (Lee), and doesn't want to act on a mutual attraction with his best friend's girl.

The whole thing plays out like an episode of some MTV reality show shot in black and white. The characters speak in such a naturalistic cadence one could almost imagine they were real. They smirk and grin and fidget in step with the awkwardness of the situations in which they find themselves.

Some viewers will find it refreshingly honest. Others might find it boring. It will primarily appeal to hardcore fans of indie films, wannabe musicians with garage bands, and unemployed recent college grads with nothing better to do. I felt like I was back in a film studies class watching a Jim Jarmusch picture.

The DVD has a commentary that consists of observations by the cast and crew's parents. Anyone who has difficulty getting into the movie the first time should turn on the commentary; the enthusiasm of the family members is kind of infectious. Sometimes what they are saying is more interesting that what's happening on screen.

Also included is an eight-minute bonus short, “Peoples House,” in which Alan's father takes a friend on a tour of his home, and they talk about Alan's music and bad customer-service hotlines. Unlike the main movie, it's in color. John Latchem

Bravi! Beginnings Vol. 1: Do-Re-Mi in the Key of C
Prebook 2/20; Street 3/13
Victory Multimedia, Childrens, $20.95 DVD, NR.

The primary goal of this video is to spark a musical interest in young children by presenting short arrangements of classical music and giving basic instructions about how to play some of the notes. The lessons are intended to introduce concepts of formal musical training. Points of learning include musical staffs and fingering for keyboard skills.

Each musical number is accompanied by visual sequences of nature scenes and cute little kids engaged in various activities, so there are more than enough audio and visual clues to keep the attention of young children, not unlike a vignette from “Sesame Street.”

The video works on many levels as entertainment for preschoolers, especially for kids who like cats. For those kids who want to try out what they are watching, the DVD includes keyboard stickers that correspond to the note lessons in the video. The piano melodies also are presented separately from the main program, as a special feature.

The program was created by Debra Wesemann-Siebert, who provides an introduction and talks parents through some of the research and ideas behind the lesson concepts.

The box art suggests an age range of 0 to 6, although the program suggests children won't start to comprehend the complexities of musical ability until after age 3. Since this is labeled as “Volume 1,” there will no doubt be further volumes offering advanced lessons or tips for older children. John Latchem

The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl
Street 2/20
HBO Video, Documentary, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Christiane Amanpour.

The murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was among the more chilling reverberations in the post-9/11 world, with many more to follow.

The HBO documentary The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl details the life of the optimistic family man and talented reporter, from his days growing up in Southern California, through his education at Stanford, to his life as a husband and dedicated foreign correspondent.

The documentary also presents a parallel profile, that of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, the London-born former economics student who later took on the cause of extremism, and lured Pearl to a meeting in Pakistan, convincing Pearl the meeting was an interview with an Islamic sect leader.

By also using interviews with FBI investigators, State Department employees, Pakistani officials, Islamic scholars, Pearl's family members and associates of the since-convicted Sheikh, the documentary attempts to present a clearer picture of the paths that led to Pearl's tragic end.

There is also commentary and rumination from French philosopher Bernard-Henri L?vy, author of the book Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, who assesses what Pearl's death means in the larger picture — particularly how the new world order will affect individuals, as well as nations.

The somber but reflective 80-minute documentary seeks to be more than a re-telling of facts, but also a presentation of larger issues, though it remains a personal and respectful tribute to Pearl. The documentary first aired last October, at the same time events coordinated by the Daniel Pearl Foundation — an organization battling cultural and religious intolerance through journalism, music and dialogue — were happening around the world.

Ultimately, the documentary seeks not only to honor Pearl, but set a cautiously optimistic tone for the future, despite the vast challenges ahead. — Dan Bennett

Paper Dolls
Prebook 2/22; Street 3/13
Strand, Documentary, B.O. $0.04 million, $24.99 DVD, NR.

With debate over immigrants raging in this country, Boomers aging and jobs going overseas, Paper Dolls lends a different perspective on imported labor and who's willing to do various jobs.

Tomer Heymann's documentary looks at transgender Filipinos brought to Israel to care for elderly people whose families can't or won't care for them, replacing Palestinian workers barred from the country in 2001. It leads to some startling juxtapositions (it's safe to say most of us have never seen Hava Nagila danced as a bump-and-grind) and tender moments one might not expect from a potentially grim situation.

Who knew there was a voguing scene in Israel? But there is, and so many of its participants are elder-caregivers by day and club kids by night. One wonders how many of these people are able to keep their jobs because the elders, who might not approve of their lifestyle, don't remember them from one day to the next. It's clear that the filmmaker is trying to come to terms with it.

The stage scenes are positively surreal, even when several of the dolls are dressed as geishas (it's not unusual for men to dress as women in Japanese Kabuki theater). Considering they're drag queens, there's an odd sort of propriety. Some lines are not to be crossed; some public displays are frowned upon.

That's partly a matter of safety, an effort to avoid bigotry and hate-violence. A newspaper illustration of a proposed camp for migrants — which suspiciously resembles a German concentration camp — is chilling. The film does a good job of conveying the undercurrent of fear and the constant pressure to conform that is part of the human condition.

The film is in Yiddish with English subtitles, which may be a tough sell for some folks. Then again, most documentaries aren't for everyone. — Holly J. Wagner

Street Soccer
Street 2/20
Laguna, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Joel Ezeta, Marco Antonio Sol?s.

Sex, soccer and alcohol fill the minds of six young friends on summer vacation in the coming-of-age film Street Soccer. It sounds a little like American Pie with sports thrown in, but director Coco Castillo goes deeper by giving these boys real personalities rather than making them caricatures.

As the underdogs of their town's soccer scene, the boys spend the summer gathering money to buy uniforms for a competition and dealing with problems both serious and sweet. Norman faces an abusive alcoholic father. Newcomer Luchito is about to be sent to the United States and is also falling for his first love, Marlene. Aldo worships a mysterious sexpot who lives in his complex. Coach Vargas Llosita is handicapped, but he's the glue that holds the group together.

Sex, nudity and unchecked shenanigans abound. Those nostalgic for the days when they played with friends and dreamed of escaping their impoverished town could find it an enjoyable journey, but it's not for an audience the same age as the main characters.

This is a low-budget film that, while not always original, has heart and respect for the characters. The out-of-place crime capers the boys undertake are low points, but Luchito's sweet romance and Norman's poignant struggle make up for the never-consequential heists.

What ultimately ruins the Street Soccer DVD has nothing to do with the acting, production values or storyline. It's the abominable subtitles. It's as if the filmmakers used an Internet translator, or someone who speaks neither English nor Spanish. Lines like “Here is when you reorganice your truly friends” are a code to decipher rather than meaningful dialogue. Those fluent in Spanish will enjoy this movie more. — Laura Tiffany

American Cousins
Prebook 2/13; Street 3/13
BFS, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Danny Nucci, Shirley Henderson, Gerald Lepkowski, Vincent Pastore, Dan Hedaya.

Move “The Sopranos” to Scotland, and enjoy some amusing culture shock. While American Cousins officially has nothing to do with “The Sopranos,” beyond the presence of New Jersey mobsters as main characters, this fish-out-of-water dark comedy enjoys some similarities.

American Cousins is more concerned with characters than crunching bones, although we do get some of the expected violence.

Hedaya and Nucci play the mobsters, two tough guys who flee to Glasgow when things get too hot back home following a confrontation with Ukrainian gangsters. In Scotland, the two hoods hide out with their Scottish-Italian cousin, who owns a fish-and-chips shop.

The quiet but always calm cousin is little like his hot-headed relatives from America. He works hard every day, assisted by his aging father and an assistant (Henderson) with whom he is secretly in love. Problems arise when his handsome cousin also falls for the assistant, and vice versa.

Worse problems pop up when the Ukrainians show up. Before that, though, the family takes on a group of local hoodlums who seek to take away the restaurant. This attempt is met with resistance by the American visitors, who show the local Scot gang a thing or two about mob-style confrontations.

Despite the rough story and a few gun shots, American Cousins is more of a character drama-comedy and even a romance, making subtle and not-so-subtle points about how even though extended-family members may share wildly different perspectives on how to live life, family is still family.

American Cousins benefits from its mostly low-key approach, but proves it's also not afraid to mix it up a little with some tough-guy stuff. And for those in need of a “Sopranos” fix until the series returns in April for its final run, American Cousins offers former “Sopranos” cast member Pastore in a key role.

The DVD version includes multiple special features, including a commentary track, cast and crew profiles, production notes and interviews. — Dan Bennett

Prebook 2/17; Street 3/6
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $0.2 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for nudity and language.
Stars Martin Freeman, Olivia Colman, Vincent Franklin, Jason Watkins, Jimmy Carr.

This mockumentary, which takes much of its tone from the hilarious films of Christopher Guest and company (This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), is a very funny send-up of every silly reality-TV stunt ever inflicted on unsuspecting viewers.

Confetti is a British wedding magazine that, as a publicity stunt, holds an ill-conceived competition, inviting its readers who are engaged to submit their ideas for the most original wedding they can think of.

The floodgates open and every nut in all of England submits an odd idea for a unique wedding. The competition ends up between three couples: a pair of neurotic and desperate tennis players, a couple of “naturalists,” and a pair of lovebirds obsessed with musical theater.

Peripheral characters, including two very excitable wedding planners, a callous magazine editor and a whole boatload of relatives with their own agendas, put the fizz in this amusing confection.

The most fun of the otherwise fairly pedestrian extras is the ability to pick an alternative ending. Viewers can rearrange the last fifteen minutes so their favorite couple wins the competition.

Fans of Guest's popular films will be interested in this unscripted giggle-fest. Customers who will be offended by frequent full-frontal male and female nudity should be warned away. — Anne Sherber

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