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Reviews: February 18

18 Feb, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny
Street 2/27
New Line, Comedy, B.O. $8.3 million, $27.95 DVD, ‘R' for pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Stars Jack Black, Kyle Gass, Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, Meat Loaf, Dave Grohl.

Ah, the mighty D … Kyle and JB. Are there two less-likely stars anywhere in the universe? Certainly, there are no other overweight, aging rockers who were able to storm the world without even an album's worth of songs — or a single record to their name.

Part stoner genius, part just stoner, the pair known as Tenacious D won their fame by finding exactly the right balance between the two, and then spicing the mix with Black's infectious, manic charm.

Billed as “The Greatest Motion Picture of All Time,” The Pick of Destiny somehow lives up to its ludicrous tag line for the first 10 minutes (excluding the opening credits), perfectly exploiting the Tenacious D formula, and making one wonder how it received such dismal reviews. Had it not been for the “Uncle F**ker” song from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the opening track of Pick of Destiny would have stood as the most hilarious, brilliantly irreverent track ever put on film. For God's sake, it features Meatloaf and Ronnie James Dio. How could it not be perfect?

But where the opening track soars, the rest, while pleasantly amusing (warm-hearted, even), falls far short of the magic of the D. Quite simply, too much stoner, not enough genius. Still, the real pleasure of listening to or watching the D boys has always been the sense that one is just hanging out with two riotous, ribald and nutty friends, a feeling they often manage to achieve, and one which the DVD brings to the forefront.

Surprisingly rich in content and design, the Pick of Destiny DVD is a complete and entertaining package.

Perhaps the most enjoyable feature is the “In the Studio” segment, in which Black hams it up for the digital home video camera, while little actual work gets done and KG displays his well-perfected skills as comedic straight-man.

The other two behind-the-scenes shorts are equally fun and impudent, though they lack the intimacy of the studio piece. The commentary? As might be expected, it's almost as good as watching the movie with the D — and a definite must for all D fans, despite their opinions of the film itself. — J.R. Wick

Peter Pan: Platinum Edition
Street 3/6
BV/Disney, Animated, $29.99 two-DVD set, ‘G.'

Disney has again crafted an excellent double-disc set of one of its animated classics, ideal for youngsters and collectors alike.

The 1953 film is rich in visual splendor and musical tradition, and many consider it the definitive adaptation of J.M. Barrie's classic play and children's story about a boy who doesn't grow up. Walt Disney had been trying to adapt the story since 1939, and the end result is a skillful blend of theatrical tradition and artistic flair that has proved hugely inspirational for the generations to come. Disney's version of Tinker Bell became the company's unofficial mascot, and the look of Ariel in The Little Mermaid seems inspired by the mermaids in this film.

For film-buffs, Disney has provided a number of extras to frame Peter Pan within the greater context of Hollywood history. The making-of featurette is shorter than usual for a “Platinum Edition” release, but is supplemented with other features that uncover the history of the production and some lost sequences.

Covering some of the same ground is a feature-length commentary hosted by Walt's nephew Roy Disney. It's cobbled together from various interviews of people associated with the film and studio, so there's no dead space. It's informative but gets boring as the speakers drone on.

Kids will prefer the interactive features. There's a few activities and games, including yet another soduku puzzle themed to match the DVD.

Curiously, the film is duplicated in its entirety on the second disc and paired with an on-screen read-along. This move is all the more puzzling considering the main feature already has optional subtitles.

And, just because Disney can't resist adding modern flair to these DVD releases, there's another god-awful music video “update” of one of the film's classic songs.

Disney also took the opportunity to use some of the bonus features to promote its direct-to-video animated movie Tinker Bell, slated for release later this year. John Latchem

Filmation's Ghostbusters Vol. One
Street 2/27
BCI, Animated, $39.98 six-DVD set, NR.

Many kids who grew up in the 1980s considered themselves fans of Filmation's “Ghostbusters” cartoon. I was not among them. I preferred the version spun off from the Ghostbusters movie with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, known as “The Real Ghostbusters.”

Confusion was inherent, and like so many others I assumed the “other” show was an attempt to cash in on the movie. How little did I know at the time.

Looking back, Filmation's “Ghostbusters” seems inspired more by “Scooby-Doo” than the 1984 film. The cartoon is just a sequel to a 1970s live-action kids show called “The Ghost Busters,” which soon will get its very own DVD boxed set from BCI. The cartoon kicks off with a five-part arc that uses the old characters (who, while they dress similarly, look and sound different).

This first volume includes 32 of the 65 episodes of the cartoon, which features the sons of the original characters taking over a supernatural detective agency. Animation gives the show a broader scope than the original, and the new show adds a catchy theme song (“Let's Go, Ghostbusters!”).

Special features aren't as loaded as BCI's other Filmation releases have been. Instead of a lengthy documentary placing the series within the context of Filmation's greater history, the set includes a few short interviews with the creators, and some historical materials, such as promos, scripts and storyboards.

Fortunately, the set also has the live-action pilot. Its inclusion is a masterstroke — it orients new viewers to the history of the cartoon's storyline, keys fans in to the history of the show and whets the appetites of anyone who remembers the original show.

Now, the live-action series was the epitome of cheap; bad split-screens, uncontrolled lighting conditions … it's the very model of every kiddie-program stereotype parodied on such shows as “South Park.” Yet, it is somehow endearing and fun, and I look forward to the expanded boxed set. John Latchem

Bratz Fashion Pixiez
Street 2/27
Lionsgate, Animated, $19.98 DVD, NR.

A recent Newsweek cover story bemoaned the innocence-ruining influence of hard-partying starlets such as Paris Hilton on today's adolescent girls. Some parents of younger girls might instead point their finger at the phenomenally popular “Bratz” toy line.

These dolls with bee-stung pouts, inch-thick makeup and bare midriffs do have questionable fashion taste that you might not want your 8-year-old to emulate, but surprisingly they offer some good lessons in Bratz Fashion Pixiez.

Symbolene is about to turn 18, and she's in full rebellion mode. Her younger sister, Breeana, plus Symbolene's four best friends, must undertake a journey to the dark side of pixie land to save her and to discover the truth regarding Symbolene and Breeana's family.

The 3-D animation is subpar — the characters move with the jerky gracelessness of The Sims video game — but some flair shows up in the kaleidoscope-colored pixie scenes and a flashy chase involving a raven and a motorcycle.

After you get accustomed to the gaudiness of the Bratz girls, it's easy to see why young fans love their gigantic eyes; ever-changing, multihued hair; and glittery outfits. And let's be fair: Some goofy humor is had with a particular lawn-gnome character and a fairy circle that resembles a rave.

But what's most admirable about Bratz Fashion Pixiez is the constant concentration on themes such as friendship, bravery, doing well in school, helping out in the community and always being there for the ones you love. It's not all boys and fashion for these girls.

Bratz Fashion Pixiez is part of a marketing onslaught that easily will attract the Bratz' legion of fans — the accompanying line of dolls is already available. For parents who hesitate at buying another product featuring the heavily made-up teens, they might end up pleasantly surprised by the Bratz' inner beauty. — Laura Tiffany

The Second City: The First Family of Comedy
Street 2/20
Acorn, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Hosted by Dave Thomas, Scott Thompson, Joe Flaherty.

Anyone with a casual knowledge of the landscape of comedy will recognize many of the faces from this documentary. As it delves into their collective history, something just clicks into place, and the reality of the bigger picture starts to come together.

Many will know of The Second City through the sketch-comedy series “SCTV,” which has always seemed to play second fiddle to “Saturday Night Live” in the respect department. But “SCTV” was created to showcase the talents of the comedy troupe after three of its stars — Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and John Belushi — left to join the first “SNL” cast.

The Second City traces its routes back to the 1950s, and took its name from a New Yorker article that mocked Chicago. The group's style of sketch-comedy and improvisation caught on, and a branch of the stage show opened in Toronto, which eventually gave rise to “SCTV.”

From the ranks of The Second City rose Mike Myers, Rachel Dratch, John Candy, Bill Murray, Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Harold Ramis, to name a few. So many describe the troupe as a comedy “university” because they learned so much. Current Oscar nominee Alan Arkin started there. “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” regulars Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles trace their improv genius to the Second City stage.

First Family of Comedy is a thorough breakdown of the troupe's history and alumni, littered with clips from “SCTV,” archival footage of stage performances and scenes from its stars' breakout hits. Each of the three episodes completely stand alone in describing a different era, which unfortunately creates some crossover repetition.

The series ends with an extended profile of Tina Fey, up to the point where she signed a contract for the show that would become “30 Rock,” which itself is like a reunion of Second City players. John Latchem

Wondrous Oblivion
Prebook 2/20; Street 3/20
Vivendi Visual/Palm, Drama, B.O. $0.09 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic material, some violence, sensuality, language including racial remarks, and brief smoking by minors.
Stars Delroy Lindo, Emily Woof, Stanley Townsend, Sam Smith, Yasmin Paige.

Outstanding performances by cast members and strong storylines make this film recommended viewing.

The versatile Lindo, a frequent and superb performer in several Spike Lee films — Clockers, Crooklyn and Malcolm X — adds to his impressive volume of work with Wondrous Oblivion. Lindo plays Dennis, a cricket enthusiast who moves his Jamaican family into a neighborhood of narrow-minded residents in 1960s South London, where segregation remains a desired amenity.

Shortly after arriving, Dennis builds a cricket net in his backyard under the watchful eye of a 11-year-old Jewish kid named David (Smith), who lives next door.

David is shy. He is terrible at cricket and suffers a barrage of verbal abuse from his trash-talking teammates at school. But David's passion for the game contributes to his desire to be a hit at it. So he quickly overcomes his bashfulness and approaches Dennis about teaching him cricket, which Dennis does with zest. It's one of several feel-good stories of the film.

But, David and his family's neighbors don't share in that zeal. Their friendship with Dennis and his family creates plenty of animosity with their prejudiced neighbors. As the hostility intensifies, David's family is pressured to make some tough decisions.

In addition to Lindo and Smith, Paige delivers an excellent performance as Lilian, David's mother. Woof and Townsend also turn in terrific performances, adding to the film's success.

The special features include commentary by writer-director Paul Morrison and a making-of featurette. — Benny Lopez

3 Needles
Prebook 2/20; Street 4/3
Wolfe, Drama, $24.95 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Lucy Liu, Chlo? Sevigny, Shawn Ashmore, Sandra Oh, Stockard Channing, Olympia Dukakis.

This fascinating (if occasionally confusing) film tells three stories about how people in different parts of the world, in wildly different situations, are affected by the AIDS pandemic.

First, “The Fortitude of the Buddha” follows Ping (Liu), an illegal blood-runner in China. She tells villagers their blood is desperately needed, which it likely is, but takes off upon realizing the villagers have been giving blood infected with HIV.

In “The Passion of the Christ,” Denys (Ashmore) is a French-Canadian porn star supporting his mother (Channing), who is oblivious to how he earns a living, and his sick father. Also oblivious are other adult actors whom he's infecting with the virus. Particularly affecting is Channing: Tired of being desperate when her son can no longer work, she wants the disease so she can cash in her life-insurance policy.

Sevigny, in “The Innocence of the Pagans,” offers a glimmer of hope as one of three nuns in Africa who fights for the sick and poor and gives solace to the dying. The settings register as authentic, both serene and heartbreaking when we are shown the beauty of Africa and the plight of its inhabitants.

The stories share a theme of desperation, blinding people into continuing drastic actions that have awful consequences. Denys uses his father's blood in tests so he can continue helping his family, while Ping continues her trade to deal with her pregnancy, other children and her sick lover. Sevigny's Sister Clara bargains with her body to get new supplies.

The film offers no solutions and casts no judgments. Problems arise when unclear motives — or lack of ample screen time (Oh's nun has maybe five lines) never let us figure these characters out before their time is up and a new story presents itself. A voiceover gives some introduction to each story, but many times the proceedings feel a little skimmed over.

Each of the stories is interesting enough to have made its own film and leaves one wanting more. As a whole, the film is greater than the sum of its parts.

The DVD also includes behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and two short documentaries. Billy Gil

Journey to the End of the Night
Street 2/27
First Look, Thriller, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug use.
Stars Brendan Fraser, Mos Def, Scott Glenn, Catalina Sandino Moreno.

Loyalty, betrayal and father-son themes play out on the rough streets of Sao Paulo in Journey to the End of the Night, an ambitious film that ranges from fast action to quieter character growth.

Glenn plays Rosso, an American nightclub owner in Brazil who sees a chance for a big score when he comes into possession of a large cache of drugs he can sell. Rosso enlists his son Paul (Fraser) to join in the deal, but the son has an agenda of his own. The hot-tempered Paul has designs on his father's young and beautiful wife and hopes to use the drug deal as a means of running away with her.

Problems arise when their assigned middle-man in the drug deal dies, leaving Rosso and Paul to rely on one of the kitchen workers, Nigerian immigrant Wemba (Mos Def), to make the transaction on their behalf. When Wemba is assaulted after making the deal, it sets in motion a frantic chase, mistaken blame and the further revealing of secrets. Also in the mix are several women looking to better their lives in an otherwise inhospitable atmosphere.

Journey to the End of the Night uses tough-guy violence and hints of Brazilian mysticism to move the story, becoming a sort of magic-realism tale at times. The film allows Fraser to play a cruel, bombastic nut job unlike any of his previous roles, and once again shows the talented Mos Def as a sensitive, intelligent actor capable of extending his reach.

Not a concise or perfect drama, Journey to the End of the Night is a well-made thriller that allows entry into an exotic world of crime and vice while also remaining mostly a character piece. The DVD includes a making-of featurette. —Dan Bennett

Killer Drag Queens on Dope
Street 2/27
Laguna, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Alexis Arquette, Omar Alexis. Mario Diaz.

About the best thing Killer Drag Queens on Dope has going for it is its title. Puffed up like a fun exploitation flick in the vein of John Waters or Pedro Almod?var, Killer Drag Queens spends too much effort pretending to be fun and forgets to actually have any. While those directors effortlessly blend camp and content, there isn't enough of either here.

Alexis Arquette (brother of Patricia, Rosanna and David) plays Ginger, a deadly drag queen who will do anything for her loser boyfriend Bobby (Diaz), whether it's knocking off a few thugs to please his gang-lord boss or having a sex change to satisfy his tender male ego. Bobby butts heads with Coco (Alexis), Ginger's airheaded partner in crime.

Most of the movie is spent on making Ginger and Coco seem fabulous, instead of coked-up murderers guided by little else than whim. A few scenes where Ginger and Coco do hits while dressed as nuns or in roller skates have the kind of draggy panache people will likely seek in this film, but most scenes focus on the duo sitting on their couch, bored (or stoned) out of their minds. More flash and fewer attempts at witty dialogue or plot could have lifted this into guilty-pleasure territory.

Fans of Arquette, a scene-stealer in The Wedding Singer and TV's “The Surreal Life,” will revel in the screen time devoted to him (which makes sense, as he produced the film). It's also good for anyone whose only prerequisite is a film having a gay or transgendered character and a sense of humor about itself.

Killer Drag Queens on Dope desperately wants to be like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, full of bad lines and worse production values, but you can't force “cult classic” status on a film. That usually happens to films with less self-awareness. All Ginger and Coco kill end up killing is a good time. Billy Gil

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