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Reviews: Jan. 13, 2008

13 Jan, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews



Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown: Deluxe Edition
Street 1/15
Warner, Animated, $19.98 DVD, NR.

It's easy to see why Charles M. Schulz's indelible “Peanuts” characters have been a pop culture mainstay for nearly 60 years. Schulz's unique gift was finding universality in the foibles of everyday life, and entertaining us with simple stories to which we all can relate.

This new DVD collection, the first in Warner Home Video's “Peanuts” distribution agreement, contains three love-themed television specials based on Schulz's timeless comic strip.

These episodes are filled with wonderful moments fans will want to re-live, and parents who grew up with them will want to share them with their children.

The centerpiece of the DVD is the 1975 special Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, in which poor Charlie spends the whole episode waiting for a special Valentine that never comes.

Typical schmaltzy animation would give Charlie the poignant ending with the last-second Valentine, but it takes the “Peanuts” to kick it up a notch and have Schroeder call out the girls for giving Charlie a used greeting card out of pity.

The humor at play here has had an obvious influence on modern fare such as “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Family Guy.”

The DVD may be celebrating Be My Valentine, but that special is actually trumped by the two other episodes included on the disc; 1967's You're in Love, Charlie Brown and 1977's It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown.

Taken together, the three parts tell a nearly complete story arc about Charlie Brown's infatuation with the little red-haired girl.

You're in Love recalls every boy's worst fears about talking to girls, topped by Charlie Brown misplacing his geography report and mistakenly reading a love letter aloud in class. First Kiss actually caused a bit of a controversy with the first on-screen appearance of the little red-haired girl, breaking tradition from the comic strip; the special even named her Heather.

Qualifying the DVD for “deluxe edition” status is the 15-minute featurette “Unlucky in Love: An Unrequited Love Story,” in which several people associated with Schulz and the animated specials discuss the making of Be My Valentine and relate why “Peanuts” has stood the test of time. John Latchem

Suburban Girl
Street 1/15
Image, Comedy, $27.98 DVD, $32.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13' for sexual material and language.
Stars Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alec Baldwin.

A coming-of-age tale on its surface, Suburban Girl is at its core a story about fathers and daughters. Writer-director Marc Klein has crafted a simple yet charming romantic comedy based on short stories from Melissa Bank's book The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

Gellar is smart and sexy as Brett, an indecisive and naive associate book editor from the suburbs of New York trying to make it in the big city. She embarks on a May-December romance with Archie Knox (Baldwin), an erudite book editor who knows everyone and will sleep with anything younger than 25.

It feels weird, and a little creepy, to watch the early stages of their love affair, not only because of the age difference but also due to their perceived ulterior motives.

Archie resents his estrangement from his own daughter, and it's clear he has cast Brett in the role of a surrogate daughter whom he can mold in his own image. Scenes involving Archie's parenting skills take on an unintended subtext in light of Baldwin's real-life troubles involving that notorious phone message to his actual offspring. That's just bad timing, as Baldwin gives a suave and otherwise effective performance.

Brett accepts Archie as something of a mentor, although she isn't too fond of the hint that she's using the relationship to further her own career. Contrasted with Archie's situation, Brett is quite close to her father, but sees Archie as able to fill a need her daddy can't.

Suburban Girl is loaded with literary references, which bibliophiles will love, and throws in some nods to Woody Allen movies for good measure. Klein's enlightening commentary unlocks a number of such details.

The movie generally keeps extraneous characters to a minimum of screen time but finds room for a few actors previously known for their television work, including Nate Corddry (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”), Peter Scolari (“Bosom Buddies”), Jill Eikenberry (“L.A. Law”) and Maggie Grace (“Lost”). John Latchem

Love or Money
Prebook 1/15; Street 2/12
BFS, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Emma Cunniffe, Steven Duffy.

A pair of strangers is chosen by a reality show audience to marry and make it through six months of wedded bliss to claim a large cash prize. But they actually fall in love.

Daniel and Samantha, both refugees from bad relationships, are the winning contestants on “You're the One,” a matchmaking game show. The first time they lay eyes on each other is at the altar, where they are about to be married. If they can stay together for six months, they will split $2 million.

Even though Samantha is completely focused on the prize, Daniel approaches the contest with an open mind and an open heart. Slowly, the pair become entangled, making it through a number of emotional trials, and arrive at the show finale sure of who they are, how they feel about each other, and what they want. Or are they?

This British, made-for-television film boasts a pair of winning performances by Duffy and Cunniffe. Duffy, who has a young Colin Farrell quality, complete with a charming Scottish brogue, is vulnerable and searching as a young man who longs for love. And Cunniffe's ambivalence as she slouches toward the contest finish line while trying to keep a whole host of secrets is palpable.

Although Love or Money doesn't forge any new territory, either in plot or characterization, it is an appealing romantic comedy with a bit of an edge. — Anne Sherber

Cielo
Street 1/22
Laguna, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Stars Paulina Gaitan, Alan Chávez, Arcelia Ram?rez, Giovanna Zacar?as.

Films about runaway teens usually follow a familiar arc — a threat or upset at home, the first taste of freedom, and the falling in with some bad characters.

Cielo runs along the same track, but features characters refreshingly different than the typically shallow depiction of teens. These characters' innocent streak is stronger than their wild streak, and their adolescent foibles are reactions to adult-sized problems, not bratty explosions of hormones.

After his father leaves, his mother dies and his end-of-her-rope sister considers sending him to boarding school, Gabriel (Chávez) takes to the street. A baby-faced 15-year-old, Gabriel finds refuge among the kind-hearted stall owners in the local market. One woman's daughter, Cielo (Gaitan of Trade), takes a particular liking to him. Cielo's cruel older brother, Gato, turns Gabriel into a petty crime slave, forcing Gabriel to steal to earn back his mother's necklace that Gato stole from him.

Eventually, petty crime turns into serious crime, and Gabriel is on the run.

Though sometimes heavy on the melodrama and sentiment, Cielo wins you over with its realistic cast of characters (outside of Gato and his ridiculous band of pierced and dreadlocked alterna-criminals). Gabriel and Cielo react to their new love with kid-like wonder that thankfully still exists even at 15. Their first peck on the cheek leads to a day frolicking in a park fountain, not American Pie sexcapades. Their later professions of love are surprisingly believable.

Gabriel's sister is just as authentic; her worries and love come out as scolding and nagging. She's just too young to know another way to deal with her troubled brother, especially when she too has lost her parents.Cielo is an excellent choice for audiences interested in both Mexican cinema and coming-of-age stories. It's a realistic vision of teenagers that doesn't pander to stereotypes, cheap laughs or exploitation. — Laura Tiffany

Surveillance 24/7
Prebook 1/15; Street 3/4
Wolfe, Thriller, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dawn Steele, Tom Harper, Sean Brenden Brosnan, Nicholas Jones, Simon Callow.

Surveillance 24/7 is an earnest, well-meaning thriller that takes on far too many issues to be either exciting or comprehensible. The thrills and the plot are so diluted by all the important points trying to be made that none of the messages have any impact.

Adam (Harper) has the worst one-night stand ever; his lover ends up dead the next morning, and he's being pursued by the man's murderers. Quicker than you can say “walk of shame,” Adam is embroiled in a cover-up that extends to the upper echelons of British government. His friends and family are in danger, his career is ruined by false allegations and he's being followed at all times.

Director Paul Oremland and writer Kevin Sampson had the makings of a decent thriller if only they'd focused on one issue. They're making statements about the overabundance of surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom, the obscene power of the establishment and the Royal family, media circuses and homophobia. By the time they're through and have delivered the big conspiracy, everything is so jumbled it feels as if there was no reveal at all.

Harper gives a good performance — he ought to be in line for the next Hollywood heartthrob position — as does the rest of the cast. And Oremland's use of actual surveillance footage is an interesting visual technique, but with a plot this muddled, it only leads to confusion rather than clarity or a meaningful statement on civil liberties.

The real controversy of the plot — a Royal homosexual — feels like a non-issue, and perhaps that's a cultural difference. Would it really be worth murder and cover-ups were a British prince gay? Controversy, media browbeating, harsh words — yes. Murder? We know the Brits take their monarchy seriously, but this seems ludicrous.

Surveillance 24/7 is a small notch above many gay-themed, low-budget indies. As such, it may hold interest for gay cinema fans. — Laura Tiffany

History's Heroes: Paul Revere — Midnight Ride
Prebook 1/15; Street 2/12
Victory Multimedia/American Animation, Animated, $19.95 DVD, NR.

This is the second in the “History's Heroes” series of the 3D-animated short films intended for children 8 and older and designed to provide a bird's eye view of history … literally. Each episode is hosted by a talking eagle.

In Midnight Ride, Ellie the Eagle takes viewers back in time to see the American Revolution unfold. She is joined on the trip by an avatar of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who fills in the actual details to the over-enthusiastic Ellie.

It's an abridged history and doesn't tell the whole story, but hopefully it will inspire younger viewers to learn more when they are older.

The computer animation is crude, akin to some video game graphics from a few years ago, but it gets the job done. It helps that sometimes Ellie takes a time out to show the locations on a map.

The script is filled with a number of hip and humorous references. For example, Ellie confuses “The Shot Heard 'Round the World” of the Revolution with Bobby Thompson's famous home run in 1951.

Midnight Ride makes for a good educational companion with the previously released Patrick Henry: Quest for Freedom, which also chronicles the early days of the Revolution. A companion Web site, historysheroes.com, contains some supplemental material. John Latchem

Early America Video Art Gallery
Street 1/22
Victory Multimedia, Special Interest, $19.95 DVD, NR.

There may be a great deal of history buffs with an interest in Early American art, and this DVD is right up their alley.

But be warned; It's not a documentary about the history behind some of America's earliest art. Rather, it's a 75-minute slideshow of pictures taken by folk art photographer Carole Holt (www.carolescountry.com), accompanied by a variety of music. Thrown in for good measure are some nature sound effects and an audio clip of Jeff Daniels reading The Gettysburg Address from the film Gettysburg.

Interspersed between the portraits and paintings are photos of buildings and a variety of household objects from the period, plus a number of displays of fruit baskets.

On its surface, the DVD's seeming appeal is limited to a selection of art history majors. But anyone interested in using his or her television as living art should consider it too; the pieces should look great on a big-screen TV with a high-def upconverter.

The DVD is designed with computer displays in mind as well and includes a link to the online Carole's Country Store. John Latchem


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