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Reviews: January 21

21 Jan, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

The Guardian

The Guardian
Street 1/23
BV/Touchstone, Action, B.O. $55 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13' for intense sequences of action/peril, brief strong language and some sensuality.
Stars Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown.

Although soaked in new-millennium grit and grandeur, The Guardian can't hide that it is basically Top Gun — at least if you took out the 1980s and the planes and added Costner and water.

Still, there are far-worse fates than being a clich?-packed, proud-to-be-an-American-serviceman-fest done right. The Guardian is mostly on-target with its goals, despite the occasional slipup (dig that horrible training montage) and excessive length (by maybe 20 minutes) that make it a perfect candidate for the wait-for-DVD strategy.

The DVD, too, provides its share of extras to keep things interesting: A handful of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, commentary and two short documentaries are a nice package on a single disc.

Like the movie itself, the concepts of these features are practical rather than imaginative, with the documentaries following the predictable real-life heroes/behind-the-scenes route, and the deleted scenes being exactly what a viewer would have left on the cutting-room floor.

One small, unexpectedly classy touch was the short introduction to the “alternate ending,” which describes why it was filmed, as well as why it wasn't used. As should be expected, however, the success of the DVD rides on the power of the film, which in turn rests in the capable hands of Kutcher and Costner, both of whom lend depth and subtlety to an otherwise paint-by-numbers story. — J.R. Wick

Open Water 2: Adrift
Prebook 1/24; Street 2/20
Lionsgate, Thriller, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for language, some violence and nudity.
Stars Susan May Pratt, Ali Hillis, Cameron Richardson, Eric Dane, Richard Speight Jr.

While this straight-to-video sequel to the low-budget theatrical thriller Open Water shares the same name, there are no sharks to be found here.

Without the sharks, which were the most terrifying aspect of the original film, also inspired by a true story, this sequel doesn't pack the same amount of scares, but it is a worthy thriller with a major catch.

In another film, such as Into the Blue, scenes of tanned, half-naked hotties in the sparkling water would be the ultimate dream vacation. Adrift turns this scenario inside out and manages to keep things interesting until the end.

Six high school friends who have reunited on a yacht to take a cruise with their rich friend, Dan (Dane of “Grey's Anatomy”), literally end up jumping into the water with no ladder. The majority of the film is spent in the water next to a million-dollar boat with no way to climb aboard.

While the thought of being sans boat as in the original film is certainly scarier, the fact that this luxury yacht is there the whole time makes this sequel even more tragic.

In addition to Dane, who now has drawing power thanks to movie roles in Feast and X-Men: The Last Stand, the collection of friends also includes Hillis of Must Love Dogs and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Richardson from Supercross: The Movie and National Lampoon's Dorm Daze.

German director Hans Horn does a good job of keeping the conflicts coming, as well as offing the cast of friends one by one. Without sharks to do the dirty work, there are some original “accidents” that make this cruise a nightmare. Also adding to the drama is a baby that was left alone on the boat.

The original film did well theatrically and has had a long life on home video, which should bring plenty of fans over for this follow-up. One thing both films have going for them is that there's nothing else out there like them. — John Gaudiosi

Keeping Mum
Prebook 1/25; Street 2/20
ThinkFilm, Comedy, B.O. $1.6 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Patrick Swayze.

One of the great things about watching English-language films from other countries is the study in contrasts. On the surface, our cultures share so many similarities, but under the microscopic view of these movies, the differences really emerge.

British culture is, in many ways, almost synonymous with class and sophistication, and even the raunchiest, goriest stuff often looks highbrow when compared to the output from filmmakers here in the former colonies.

When discussing the new British film Keeping Mum as a subtle, understated, but very black comedy, it must be distinguished from the type of American fare that falls into the same genre. The story is set in a small English village where the local Vicar (an uncharacteristically restrained Atkinson in a very satisfying performance) struggles with both family life and the pressures of keeping his congregation engaged.

His wife (Thomas) is straying, his daughter is horny and his son is the target of bullies. All of these issues and more are soon resolved after the arrival of their new housekeeper, Gracie (Smith), but the solution to their problems comes with a surprising side effect — a mysteriously rising body count.

Co-written by Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Richard Russo and based on his story, the film could have easily gone over the top with gore and menace in less-refined hands. Director Niall Johnson assembles a superb cast of English actors, including Atkinson, Thomas and the eternally enjoyable Smith — all of whom get the chance to stretch certain acting muscles not commonly associated with them. Rounding out the cast is Yankee Swayze, who sinks his teeth into deliciously cartoonish role.

The words “subtle” and “understated” are rarely seen together with “American,” and it is in the case of this film that the contrast is made clearly apparent. — David Greenberg

Zoey 101: The Complete First Season
Street 2/13
Paramount/Nickelodeon, Comedy, $22.99 two- DVD set, NR.
Stars Jamie Lynn Spears, Sean Flynn, Christopher Massey, Erin Sanders, Victoria Justice.

In this popular Nickelodeon series starring blond and perky Jamie Lynn Spears, little sister of Britney, students at Pacific Coast Academy have it all over their spiritual forebears in “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Because the action takes place at a boarding school, there are no parents around to get in the way of everyone's good time.

Fortunately, everyone's good time is all about good clean fun. Zoey and friends take the Academy, which has only just become co-ed, by storm, showing the formerly cloistered boys that girls can play basketball and be scientists and use skateboards while still wearing very short skirts and midriff-baring tops.

Each episode revolves around conflicts that arise between the students close to Zoey — her surly, loner roommate versus her flirty and overly dramatic roommate, or the Neanderthal boys who are resistant to the admission of girls versus the boys who welcome the change. Each conflict requires that Zoey run interference to keep the peace, which she does ably, while still managing to keep her 7 o'clock date for the movies and maintaining her hairdo.

Spears and company take on the fluff good-naturedly and with humor; the cast is engaging and appealing.

Extras include a blooper real that is good for a couple of giggles. Most of the “bloopers” are of cast members unable to keep straight faces. In “Before They Were Castmates” viewers can watch the screen tests of the cast as they are tested alone and with each other. Also included is “Quarantine,” an as-of-yet unaired bonus episode from the current season (the show's third) in which Zoey's mad-scientist girlfriend may or may not have infected Zoey and company with a new germ she invented.

“Zoey 101” successfully plays on every preteen's fantasy of finding themselves parent-free but still well cared for, and has a large fan-base that will be anxious to own these episodes. — Anne Sherber

We Are the Future
Street 1/23
Image, Music, $24.99 DVD, NR.

Featuring a diverse range of acts from South Africa to Pakistan, We Are the Future goes onstage for the premier performances of the “We Are the Future” concert, held in Rome in 2006.

In some ways a follow-up to the 1985 “We Are the World” concert, the recent event was designed to help impoverished youth in war zones such as Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia.

With a host of ‘A'-list introducers, such as Oprah Winfrey, Angelina Jolie and Naomi Campbell, as well as another trademark song written and produced by Quincy Jones (titled “We Are the Future”) to follow up his 1985 hit, the concert played to the same crowd as the previous philanthropic mega-event, although perhaps to less fanfare and a less-optimistic world.

Considering the growing resentment toward the United States in foreign countries and the country's current global status, it is not surprising that U.S. press coverage of the event was light. However, the lineup's eclectic but light-FM-friendly nature and Italian launch also may have accounted for the lack of coverage.

The We Are the Future DVD, though, delivers high-quality concert footage and CD-quality sound. From the comfort of your own home, it's always a pleasure to view a concert that was designed to be screened; there's much less guesswork in the camera angles and recording.

It helps, too, that quite a number of the performers have had years to polish their acts for the camera — songs by Stomp!, for example, were designed as much for their visuals as they were for their sounds. If the music is to your liking, We Are the Future won't disappoint. — J.R. Wick

Street 1/23
Vivendi Visual/Voy, Drama, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Fernando Carillo, Shalim Ortiz.

This film has achieved some recent attention for being the first feature film to center around reggaeton music. It tells the story of two friends, Inez and Dolores, who work as waitresses at a little restaurant in Miami but dream to rise to the top of the music business.

Smart and savvy Inez wants to break into the industry as an executive, and the spunky, talented Dolores wants to make it as a singer.

But success doesn't come all that easily. Theo, an executive at the small-time Latin-music label Spin, marries Dolores. His jealousy and his ego at times get in the way of the two women's ambitions. But that doesn't stop them, especially once Carlos (played real-life musician Ortiz) is brought in to produce Dolores' record for a big music label.

As Dolores' star begins to shine, her marriage starts to crumble. Inez success also grows, but her career ambitions get in the way of her moral judgment as she hurts people on the way to the top.

With its hot, infectious reggaeton and hip-hop soundtrack — which includes music from Ortiz and other artists such as Rigo Luna and Angel & Khriz — Spin takes the viewer through the Latin music world in Miami.

Sexy Latin women and men give the requisite eye candy. And there's even a little bit of social commentary on the value and popularity of Latino crossover artists. Angelique Flores

Viva Pedro: The Almod?var Collection
Street 1/30
Sony Pictures, Drama, $117.95 nine-DVD set, NR.

A collection of eight films by one of the best directors in the world is cause for celebration, and it's hard to find fault with a set that corrals his best in one place.

Viva Pedro does good by Pedro Almod?var by highlighting some films from his early career, including 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which vaulted him to worldwide fame and still is arguably his best. Also included are Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), The Flower of My Secret (1995), Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002) and Bad Education (2004).

Viva Pedro errs on the side of notoriety and quality, making it a great place to start for Almod?var neophytes and a perfect buy for fans of the recent theatrical Volver unfamiliar with his previous films. It also succeeds in painting a picture of Almod?var as a dynamic director capable of different shades and tones, despite using similar themes, styles and actors throughout.

Carmen Maura, his favorite performer, appears in the lighthearted and endlessly replayable Women on the Verge, as well as in the twisted kink of Matador, which you watch once but never forget.

Perhaps the best thing about Viva Pedro is that it brings some of the director's hard-to-find early films to DVD. Watching Law of Desire, in which Maura plays a transsexual who was sexually abused by her father, helps one understand how he got to Bad Education and Volver, which explore similar themes of abuse and sexual identity.

Unfortunately, those already versed in the realm of Almod?var, where a nun becoming pregnant by a transvestite with AIDS seems as natural as anything, won't find his formative films in Viva Pedro. Those hoping for such films as Dark Habits or Pepi, Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Mont?n will have to continue to wait.

A bonus disc includes the featurettes “Deconstructing Almod?var,” “Directed by Almod?var” and “Viva Pedro,” which focus on components such as style, music and editing. There's also some enlightening information on “La movida,” an art movement interviewees say Almod?var helped lead in 1970s Spain after the fall of dictator Francisco Franco.

The real-life characters who populate Almod?var's life interviewed on the bonus features are mostly amiable people with the same Spanish spice for life as his fictional characters. It's thoroughly enjoyable to hear them recount their own enjoyment in working with a man they easily, and affectionately, refer to as a “genius.” Billy Gil

La Moustache
Street 1/23
Koch Lorber, Thriller, B.O. $0.2 million, $29.98 DVD, NR. In French with English subtitles.
Stars Emmanuelle Devos, Vincent Lindon.

Part mystery, part psychological thriller, La Moustache tells the story of a man who, after indulging a seemingly whimsical notion to shave off his moustache, watches helplessly as the very fabric of his identity comes unraveled.

Lindon plays Marc, a Parisian architect living in bourgeois comfort with his wife, Agnes (Devos). One morning, apropos of nothing, he shaves his upper lip, but is stunned to find that no one — his wife, co-workers or his friends — seems to notice. At first he is mildly put off, feeling unfairly ignored, but soon his discomfiture turns to rage when he cannot find a soul to acknowledge that he ever even had a moustache.

His only logical explanation is that he has been made the subject of an elaborate practical joke, but then other aspects of his life begin to seem amiss as well.

Inexplicably, his wife insists that his father is dead, although Marc maintains this is patently untrue. He searches in vain for his parents' house, but doesn't find it where he remembers. Verging on a nervous breakdown, Marc impulsively travels to Hong Kong, hoping to put some distance between himself and the life he is becoming increasingly unfamiliar with, but the strange inconsistencies continue uninterrupted.

Much like Michael Haneke's recent Cach?, La Moustache nightmarishly magnifies the fissures in the otherwise slick veneer of contemporary bourgeois life. Marc's blithe illusion of stability is not only destroyed, but tauntingly mocked as he descends deeper and deeper into insanity.

In this way, the film also calls to mind Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing, without that picture's revelatory and comforting denouement. On the contrary, La Moustache is far bleaker and more elliptical — which might be another way of saying that it's European. — Eddie Mullins

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