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Reviews: January 14

14 Jan, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Gridiron Gang

Gridiron Gang
Street 1/16
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $38.4 million, $28.95 DVD and UMD, $38.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13' for some startling scenes of violence, mature thematic material and language.
Stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Xzibit.

This isn't your average inspirational sports movie. While it covers all the feel-good moments of an underdog story, it also deals with grittier details of gang violence and inner-city life. It isn't so much about winning or losing as it is staying alive.

According to statistics at the beginning of the film, 75% of offenders end up back in jail or dead. That fact distresses probation officer Sean Porter (Johnson), who hits on the idea to form a football team as a way to force discipline into their lives.

The film is based on a documentary from 1993 that chronicles the true story of the Kilpatrick Mustangs, a high-school age football team for a juvenile detention center in Southern California.

This is a perfect role for wrestler-turned-actor The Rock, who gets to relive his glory days as a college football player. The football sequences are hard-hitting and authentic — the soundtrack turns up the bone-crunching sound effects to amplify the impact of the hits.

The DVD covers the whole field, with a number of good behind-the-scenes featurettes. One focuses on the football combine used to train the actors. Many of the kids were actual products of the correctional system, so for them the real-life film served much the same role as the football team for the fictionalized version.

The deleted scenes add depth, but their exclusion doesn't detract from the final product. The unused footage has commentary by director Phil Joanou and writer Jeff Maguire, which is practically a lecture on filmmaking theory. Anyone interested in the process will enjoy these insights. Joanou and Maguire also provide the standard commentary for the movie as a whole.

About the only thing missing are more details about the actual story. The original documentary isn't included, although some of its footage is shown during the end credits, which illustrates just how closely some of the fictionalized scenes mirror the real story. Anyone interested in seeing the whole documentary shouldn't have trouble locating it on the Internet. John Latchem

Prebook 1/18; Street 2/13
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $19.98 DVD, Unrated.

Less a documentary than a stage for talking heads, it's more entertaining than it is informative — but what does a person hope for with a film called F**K?

The film features all kinds of celebs sounding off on their usage (or distaste) for the word, from comedians such as Janeane Garofalo and Bill Maher, and legends such as Pat Boone and Hunter S. Thompson, to politician Alan Keyes. Alanis Morrissette, who famously spat the word in a huge pop song, and Tera Patrick, whose employment as a porn star depends on the action implied by the word, also chime in.

F**K first seeks to dispel the rumor that the word stands for “fornication under consent of the king,” or any such variation. Secondly, it aims to trace the history of the word and its ties to censorship over the years, from banned novels to comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, who helped bring the word to the forefront of national debate in the 20th century.

Which brings us to the present-day discussion over censorship, covering such topics as the Janet Jackson debacle. The discussion about the word is more compelling when the commentators make personal observations, rather than when the film overreaches to make culture-war commentary, and falls short of an in-depth discussion.

After a short while, the cursing seems to lose its impact — perhaps proving we're desensitized — but the film forces a second look at one's own feelings on profanity and censorship. At one point, I accidentally skipped forward on the DVD and said the word in question, realizing how easily it slips out.

If F**K doesn't sufficiently probe censorship, it hopefully starts a conversation regarding free speech. As one commentator puts it, “Without the First Amendment, society's really f**ked.” Billy Gil

Relative Strangers
Street 1/23
First Look, Comedy, $26.99 DVD, ‘PG-13' for sex-related humor and language.
Stars Danny DeVito, Kathy Bates, Ron Livingston, Neve Campbell, Christine Baranski, Edward Hermann, Ed Begley Jr.

Though not technically a horror film, Relative Strangers shows how scary family can be when your birth parents show up after 34 years and turn out to be yokels from hell.

The badly adjusted rug on top of DeVito's head is only one of the clues for Richard Clayton (Livingston), a famed psychiatrist who recently wrote a book on anger management.

DeVito plays Frank Manure, who shows up on Clayton's doorstep and announces himself the proud parent who gave Clayton up for adoption all those years ago. He is accompanied by his wife Agnes (Kathy Bates), and Clayton can see immediately this is not going to be good.

The couple, obviously just sprung from the backwoods, are intellectually challenged folks who shout a constant stream of insults at each other, and whose bad taste threatens to rewrite the rules on bad taste.

This unexpected nightmare causes big trouble for Clayton, first with his kind-hearted fianc?e, Ellen (Campbell), who can't understand why Clayton doesn't simply accept his birth parents for who they are, flaws and all. Also aghast are Clayton's adoptive parents, played by Hermann and Baranski, snooty socialites who leave their adopted boy to fend for himself.

After a few days with his newfound parents, Clayton becomes totally unglued, losing his cool and attacking his folks on a televised talk show hosted by Star Jones. This show of anger irreparably harms the anger-management expert's career.

After he loses it all, though, Clayton slowly realizes that family is what it is, and maybe idiocy can be overlooked if best intentions are present.

Made by some of the people behind Meet the Parents, the vaguely similar Relative Strangers is an everything-goes comedy that bypasses subtlety. Although it's a bumpy ride with only a handful of really good laughs, it's a pleasure to watch the two old pros DeVito and Bates have their way with these bumpkins, and refusing to let good taste get in the way of their outlandish performances. — Dan Bennett

Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon
Street 1/23
Westlake/Rigel, Action, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Mickey Hardt, Joanna Krupa, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, Tawny Sablan.

This movie was financed by the government of Guam, which is probably the only way to locate a movie there. It's a beautiful setting, but if a script came along that for some reason just had to be set in Guam, most studios would probably just film it in Hawaii.

Jean-Claude Van Damme clone Hardt stars as Max Havoc, an extreme-sports photographer who just wants to stay out of trouble. But with an action-hero name like that, how can he?

It turns out Max used to be a champion kickboxer, but retired after he killed an opponent in the ring. Now he mostly sits in bars letting women hit on him, and uses his martial arts skills when their hulky boyfriends attack.

Feeling burned out, Max heads to Guam to relax, which is, of course, the last thing he will get to do. He quickly finds himself in a fight with some local outriggers for helping out bikini-clad sisters Jane and Christy Goody.

Meanwhile, a rare jade dragon sculpture has been stolen from an international kingpin (Carradine), and sold in Guam to an antiques dealer, Tahsi (Roundtree), who just happens to be Max's old kickboxing trainer. Agents of the Grand Master trace the statuette to Tahsi and kill him when they learn he already sold it.

The buyer? Jane (Krupa), who wants to sell the dragon to save her business and put her sister through medical school. The coincidence is almost too much for the script to even acknowledge.

With both his friend and love interest tied to the dragon, Max finds himself in the middle of the plot. Surprisingly, the movie downplays a potential revenge angle and takes the low-key approach of having Max help Jane because he is attracted to her.

Plenty of slow-motion martial arts fights ensue. The DVD might appeal to fans of kickboxing — or the movie Kickboxer.

The acting is uniformly bad, but at least the girls are hot. The movie features some big names in minor roles, such as Carradine of “Kung Fu” and the “Kill Bill” movies, Roundtree of “Shaft” fame, and a cameo by Carmen Electra.

A sequel, Max Havoc: Ring of Fire, is due later this year. John Latchem

Shadow of the Sword
Street 1/16
MTI, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘R.'
Stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter McDonald, Eddie Marsan, Julie Cox, Steven Berkoff.

As solemn as the darkest night, Shadow of the Sword works to equate 16th-century intolerance with similar injustices today.

The comparisons struggle, and Shadow of the Sword emerges mostly as an old-school action film, flashing steel, sweat, dirt and gore.

In the Tyrol region of 16th-century Europe, two young orphan boys are separated by the ruling church government. Martin (Coster-Waldau) becomes a military warrior, and after returning from a battle enjoys an unexpected reunion with his childhood pal Georg (McDonald), who has joined the church and become a Prior.

The bold and brave soldier Martin would seem to be on track for a glorious military career, but is sidetracked by his love — and healthy dose of lust — for the daughter of the local executioner. This is a social no-no, given the woman's low station in life, but their love will not be held back.

When the executioner dies, the job falls to Martin, and now he's in the same lower social class. While this is happening, the ruling church government increases its intolerance to those who oppose, and Martin is the man who must do the dirty work to rid the culture of the so-called troublemakers.

Things get out of hand, tensions between the government and the people mount, and Martin must ultimately make decisions that will save his family. The ensuing conflict is bloody.

Shadow of the Sword attempts to balance social commentary with all-out physical confrontations. That balance is shaky, but despite the lack of story depth, Shadow of the Sword plays out as reasonably exciting, with at least a hint of an important message or two. — Dan Bennett

Mr. Stinky Feet's Road Trip Live
Prebook 1/16; Street 2/13
Warner/Jack Records, Children, $12.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Jim Cosgrove.

Cosgrove, aka Mr. Stinky Feet, is a laid-back performer who dresses in Hawaiian shirts and plays children's music that's equally influenced by folk and 1960s pop rock.

In this DVD concert, Cosgrove is accompanied by his band, The Hiccups. They play eight songs for an audience full of giggling, dancing and singing kids, from the tiniest tots to those pushing double digits. And yes, even the parents seem to be having a rockin' good time.

Cosgrove sings about subjects that are both compelling to the young ones — giving up their pacifier and the love of a favorite toy — and outright silly, like his namesake tune “Stinky Feet.”

Like any good kids performer, he stresses that the song isn't mocking those with odiferous extremities; rather, it celebrates the joy of stinky feet.

He brings a great deal of interactivity to the concert, which should translate well for the kids at home. He invites kids on stage to play instruments — something that easily could be followed by viewers with a well-stocked toy box — and has special dances and audience participation in the songs, such as screaming “P-U!” every time he says “stinky feet.”

Kids will especially enjoy seeing parents busting a move during “Fancy Pants Dance.” A music video for “Slug Bug” is also included, but frankly, watching the live show with the kid-filled audience is more enjoyable.

Cosgrove has released several CDs, including a Christmas album, and has won numerous awards from Parenting magazine and Parent's Choice. It's understandable why parents like him. His music isn't too goofy or cloying for the older folks, and he doesn't talk down to the kids.

Even if parents and kids are new to Cosgrove, they'll enjoy this DVD. It's brief, clocking in at only 33 minutes, but that's likely just enough time to tire out a dancing toddler. — Laura Tiffany

My Bedbugs Vol. 1
Prebook 1/16; Street 2/13
Koch Entertainment, Children, $14.98 DVD, NR.

“My Bedbugs” is a cute series for the pre-K set that, with its animated household inhabitants, offers a bit of the goofiness that made “Pee-Wee's Playhouse” a classic.

Siblings Woozy, Toofy and Gooby are big-headed bedbugs with human bodies that dance and wiggle, and animatronic faces that match the rest of the puppets — including Ruffy the fish and Snoozy the pillow — who reside in their bedroom. The parental figure in the house is J. Edgar, a stern vacuum cleaner reminiscent of Mr. Belvedere.

Their first DVD release contains three episodes, three songs, a slideshow and a free poster. The episodes are imaginative and full of fun lessons for the little ones. “Lost Sock Adventure” introduces us to Bobby Sock, who is seriously morose after losing his mate. This leads the Bedbugs to an important lesson about cleaning up your room; it might also cause an existential crisis should viewers ever lose a sock in the wash again. In “Pirates of the BugaBean,” the siblings must learn to get along after Gooby and Toofy tell their sister Woozy she can't play pirates because she's a girl. And finally, in “Rainy Day,” J. Edgar teaches the kids important safety lessons about storms. Each episode is peppered with short, catchy tunes.

The music videos are enjoyable, but the extras are weak, consisting of a blatant commercial for the stage show. The slide show is equally disappointing, unless your kids want to pretend the TV has a screensaver. However, the episodes are strong enough to make up for any disappointment over the extras.

Parents as well as kids will enjoy the mix of clever puppetry and live action that feels old school in a good way. The lessons are solid without being preachy, and the show has a good sense of humor that might even coax a few giggles from adults. My Bedbugs is a good entry in the preschool DVD market, and it will hopefully find an audience among families who don't receive it on their local TV stations. — Laura Tiffany

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