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Reviews: January 6, 2008

6 Jan, 2008 By: Home Media Reviews


Sunshine


Sunshine
Street 1/8
Fox, Sci-Fi, B.O. $3.7 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, ‘R' for violent content and language.
Stars Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh.

According to the movies, in the future we will travel through space in large, complex vessels that have little real function other than to get its crew killed.

Sunshine unveils what may be the ultimate form of such a spacecraft, so large and impractical we are left to wonder why a human crew is needed at all.

It's 2057, and the sun is inexplicably dying. As the Earth chills, the last hope for humanity rests with eight astronauts guiding a massive nuclear bomb designed to reignite the fading star.

That the sun is likely to last another five billion years is of little concern to this film, which makes no attempt to explain why it burns out in 50. A commentary by the scientific advisor certainly lends some credibility to the plot, as far-fetched as it is, and should prove most fascinating to science and space buffs.

At first glance, this seems to be The Core in space, but Sunshine quickly sets itself apart with the unique visual interpretations of its director, Danny Boyle.

Early scenes treat the audience to intriguing sequences of speculative fiction, interrupted briefly for an ethics lesson that presents the audience with an intriguing notion: Is killing one man justified if it means saving humanity as a whole?

Unfortunately, the screenplay cheats us out of any meaningful exploration of the topic, sinking into the realm of a slasher film before a brief discussion of theology that descends into a massive light show.

In trying to be all things to all people, Sunshine loses its voice, devolving into a bizarre mix of 2001, 2010, Event Horizon and Mission to Mars.

The DVD includes the requisite deleted scenes, which don't add much, and a series of behind-the-scenes webcasts. But leave it to an eccentric mind such as the director of Trainspotting to include, on a whim, two of his favorite short films, which have nothing to do with the main film, simply because the capacity of the disc allows for it.

If not for anything else, Boyle should be applauded for expanding the horizons of the format to give such exposure to projects that otherwise would remain anonymous. John Latchem


The War Bride
Street 1/15
Questar, Drama, $14.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Anna Friel, Brenda Fricker, Molly Parker, Aden Young.

The gaps that often exist between expectation and reality serve as the foundation for The War Bride, the gripping story of a woman struggling to build a new life for herself after fleeing the horrors of World War II.

A radiant Friel stars as Lily, a British girl who sets off with her friends to win the heart of a soldier boy. She eventually meets and marries a Canadian named Charlie, who paints a rosy picture of life on the farm back home. When Charlie returns to the front lines, she is sent with their young daughter to live in Canada and await his return.

Lily expects to live at a sprawling ranch like in a John Wayne movie, but instead arrives at a dreary little farm with his dreary family, who take an immediate dislike to her and resent the disruption to their routine she represents. But Lily is tougher than she looks, and bears the scars of war to prove it.

This simple theme of overcoming adversity plays out effectively in a bittersweet family drama, casting an emotional toil that emanates from the screen. Just as Lily comes to the realization her fleeting marriage is slipping away, Charlie returns, emotionally drained by his experiences.

With the war over, Lily must once again find the inner strength to redefine her existence.

This DVD is well timed to take advantage of Friel's starring turn on the new TV series “Pushing Daisies.” Parker (“Deadwood”) and Fricker (Oscar winner for My Left Foot) cast just the right notes as her husband's family, not fully supportive of her marriage, but not so cold as to throw her out, either. John Latchem


Niagara Motel
Prebook 1/8; Street 2/5
Allumination, Comedy, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Craig Ferguson, Anna Friel, Kevin Pollak, Caroline Dhavernas, Wendy Crewson.

Can there be such a thing as a depressing comedy? Niagara Motel, based on the “Suburban Motel” series of plays by George F. Walker, certainly fits that description.

Here's a dark comedy snuggling the border between the twisted and the absurd, populated with a breed of hard luck losers typically relegated to enjoying a cigarette in a dank shadow. The screenplay provides so little joy that the filmmakers resort to an annoying musical score to try to lighten the tone.

The movie interweaves the stories of disparate residents at a run-down motel near Niagara Falls. That they gravitated toward this black hole of the downtrodden says enough about them. Most seek a change in their lives, or the beginning of something bigger. But this certainly isn't where they want to be. One look at the spaced-out, drunkard manager, played by the understated Ferguson, is more than enough of an incentive to maintain a transitory acquaintance with the place.

Individual performances stand out. Crewson is quite good as a woman who dabbles in prostitution when her husband struggles to find a new job. Dhavernas shines as a young waitress at the local caf? whose affections are torn between a Mormon interloper, her ex-lover and her agent (Pollak), who casually pushes her toward filming pornography.

Most notable is Friel as a drug addict hoping to reclaim her daughter from a foster home. Her performance, filled with rage, despair and bitterness, is nearly 180 degrees from her turn as the quiet optimist in The War Bride.

The bizarre mix of characters sets up various plot threads of situational humor. None of them really pay off, except to remind us to take stock of what we have in our lives, and not what we're missing. John Latchem


When a Man Falls
Prebook 1/8; Street 2/5
Universal/Screen Media, Drama, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for some violent content.
Stars Sharon Stone, Timothy Hutton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dylan Baker.

Sharon Stone sheds her customary femme fatale persona for a decidedly unglamorous turn as a depressed woman whose marriage is disintegrating in When a Man Falls (also known as Desires of a Housewife), a smart, dreamy, multilayered film in which the stories of three men who went to high school together dovetail tragically.

Gary (Hutton) is a disillusioned architect, tired of his job and his marriage and dallying with booze and pills. Bill (Baker) is the night janitor at the office, an old classmate who is just this side of catatonic. And Travis (Vince) is the third classmate, rendered despondent as the result of a mysterious, years-ago accident.

Travis and Gary try to renew their friendship in the face of the creeping depression that threatens to overtake both of them. At the same time, Bill finds an instructional tape about lucid dreaming and sets about imagining the life he is incapable of living.

Stone, sans makeup and hair, is circling the drain as a woman who finds herself living a life without love or meaning.

When a Man Falls is a small picture that packs a bit of a punch. The cast finds the painful and awkward humor in recognizable moments, but the film is much more Greek tragedy than comedy. Those interested in films with intertwined stories, such as Crash and Babel, will find much to like here. — Anne Sherber


Gangsta Rap: The Glockumentary
Prebook 1/10; Street 2/5
ThinkFilm, Comedy, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for non-stop language, crude sexual content and drug use.
Stars Slink Capone, Howie Bell, Schuyler Harvey.

While the shadows of the heavy metal rockumentary spoof This Is Spinal Tap are indeed long, this new film comes as close as any other to emerging from the legacy of Rob Reiner's classic and standing on its own.

Sure, musically, heavy metal and gangsta rap are as different as night and day. But on further analysis, the differences end there. Practitioners of both forms are known for their wildly hedonistic, misogynistic lifestyle and gargantuan egos. If there ever was a style of music and musician as ripe for parody as heavy metal, it is surely gangsta rap because, on a good day, both varieties border on unintentional self-parody.

Much like Spinal Tap, the film is about a trio of veteran hardcore rappers attempting to mount a comeback album and tour after 20 years of being off of the cultural radar.

The trials and tribulations of this endeavor are captured by documentary filmmaker and hip-hop enthusiast Carlton Bentley (real life writer-director Damon “Coke” Daniels). The ups and downs include trying to find a record label that will take a chance on an over-the-hill act and retaining a variety of clueless or incompetent managers and executives — not to mention finding a recording studio that will accommodate the band and its legendary bad reputation.

Like heavy metal, rap has its own legacy, icons and, of course, catalog of music that is familiar only to fans of the style. Therefore, only so many viewers are going to recognize the band Gangsta Rap's new single “My House Shoes” as a loving send up of Run-D.M.C.'s classic “My Adidas.”

So, maybe the audience for the film will be limited to serious hip-hop aficionados, but given the massive popularity of the music over the past 30 years, that audience should be pretty happy. — David Greenberg


Shiloh Falls
Street 1/8
Vivendi Visual, Western, $24.99 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some violence and a brief sexual situation.
Stars Art LaFleur, Steve Bannos, Esteban Powell, Brad Greenquist, J. Marvin Campbell.

When a pair of outlaw brothers, Dalton (Greenquist) and Wyatt (Campbell), attempt to rob a payroll coach loaded with mysterious artifacts, they inadvertently unleash a deadly curse that takes the life of Wyatt and consumes the outpost town of Shiloh Falls.

The botched heist lands Dalton in prison, where he awaits the day he can return to avenge his brother's inexplicable death. This is the set up for the fast-paced, supernatural western Shiloh Falls, which puts a fresh, malevolent spin on the typical western film.

After 20 years in prison, Dalton finally convinces two fugitives to help him escape under the pretense that he's leading them to gold, unaware of the evil they are all about to face. The only ones standing in their way are the two Texas rangers, Deputy John Gaffney (Gregory Littman) and his son Sam (Jack Littman), who are hot on their trail and looking to bring the escapees back to justice.

Unfortunately, the lawmen can't stop them before they reach Shiloh Falls, where the two groups will be forced to fight together in a good versus evil showdown to survive.

With acclaimed films such as 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford having hit theaters in 2007, the market is still hot for westerns such as Shiloh Falls.

Filmmaker Adrian Fulle, who wrote, directed and produced, deserves much credit for giving the film an edge that makes it unique. The movie also features a combination of talented character actors such as LaFleur, as well as passionate newcomers such asLittman, who together add depth and humor to this supernatural Wild West tale. — Matt Miller


All In
Prebook 1/8; Street 2/5
MTI, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13.'
Stars Dominique Swain, Louis Gossett Jr., James Russo, Michael Madsen.

With the recent rise in the popularity of poker, it would have been a really safe bet to make a film about the game that focused on all of the drama inherent in it, especially when the game is a high stakes championship match being televised around the country.

The producers of All In, however, do not take the easy way out. They instead choose to gamble on presenting a complex, layered film about people, relationships and issues, where poker is definitely an integral element of the plot but takes a backseat to the conflicts of the main characters.

Alicia “Ace” Anderson (Swain) is heading off to medical school, partially to pursue a career as a doctor and partially to get away from the bitter Bible-thumping mother who raised her after the mysterious death of her former Navy SEAL turned professional card shark father (Madsen).

Now out on her own, living with a couple of sexy classmates, befriending hunky guys from school and getting a crash course in the realities of the medical world, Ace finds herself faced with the prospect of monumental outstanding student loans. Her similarly hard-up classmates convince her to gain financial freedom for all of them by joining their scheme to win big at an upcoming poker tournament.

There, she comes face to face with not only her father's former partner (Oscar-winner Gossett Jr.), but also the corrupt doctor (Russo) in charge of the hospital where she is interning.

The handsomely produced comedy-drama (shot on shimmering HD) combines elements of “big score” films such as The Italian Job and the “Ocean's” trilogy with conventions of the medical school drama. But at the heart of it, this is a story about a young woman coming to terms with her upbringing and her own emerging adulthood. — David Greenberg


Stone & Ed
Street 1/8
Maverick, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Ian Reed Kesler, Travis Wester, Mircea Monroe, Jullian Dulce Vida, Steven Brad, Ken Davitian.

Dumb and Dumber meets Dude, Where's My Car? in this tale of two loser brothers who take an impromptu road trip to Mexico.

Preston, aka Stone (Kesler), finds a photo of his younger brother, Ed (Wester), as a baby, with an inscription that leads him to believe they have different mothers. Stone's birth certificate lists his mother as “Jane Doe,” and since they are too addle-minded to get the joke, the pair sets off on a trip to track her down.

Conveniently, Ed brings along his favorite bong in a shiny silver briefcase, which comes into play later when the brothers' journey intercepts a scheme to exchange cocaine and money in identical silver briefcases. Additional extraneous characters are thrown in for further confusion.

Targeted squarely at fans of stoner comedies, this movie isn't trying to win an Oscar or reinvent the wheel. It's so low-brow and low-budget it almost comes across as a sly parody of the hair-brained films it tries to emulate. Stone and Ed exist in a world just as absurd as they are, loaded with characters wearing horrible fake moustaches. The filmmakers throw in an homage to Curious George, and even porn king Ron Jeremy finds time for a cameo.

The marketing plays up a role by Davitian, who was so memorable as the sidekick in Borat, but here he appears on screen for a total of about five minutes as a Mexican drug lord. John Latchem


Angels in the Dust
Prebook 1/8; Street 2/19
Cinema Libre, Documentary, B.O. $0.01 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

Films such as Angels in the Dust can make almost any viewer feel lucky. They bring us into a world of poverty and brutality that most can't imagine, and somehow find hope in the ashes.

South African doctor Marion Cloete packed up her family, left their ostentatious Johannesburg suburb and moved an hour north to work with children left orphaned by AIDS. Early on we learn the harshest tragedy here: Many of the children are raped, and many are infected because of a widely held rumor that sleeping with a virgin will cure HIV. Some parents pimp their children out. Children in rural areas are left orphaned by the thousands as their parents succumb to the disease.

Botshabelo, the 37-acre compound the Cloetes built, is more than just a school. It's a refuge where children can leave the realities of their world behind and try to build futures. It's estimated that half the population of their three villages is HIV-positive.

Marion Cloete's compassion is immediately apparent, and as the film progresses we see its transformative power. She goes into the countryside and beats the bushes for children who need safety, then does all she can to free them from their home lives by taking them to the school. There they get food, shelter, clothing, treatment and the safest environment many have ever known.

The residents help each other deal with the ravages of disease and poverty. Children make friends and raise each other because there's a desperate shortage of adults to do it.

The agonizing truth makes it much richer when we see these shattered children come to life, learning to sing and dance and find joy where it seems impossible. Angels in the Dust is informational, but also uplifting as it demonstrates the power of determination and hope. — Holly J. Wagner


The Swingset Mamas: Swing, Dance and Sing
Street 1/8
Timeless, Childrens, $12.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Marlowe Bechmann, Lizzie Swan.

The Swingset Mamas — Lizzie Swan and Marlowe Bechmann — met each other at a beach bonfire and guitar sing-along. This happenstance meeting set the pace for their future collaboration as creators of sweet, laid-back children's music.

This first DVD collection features songs mostly from their second album, Dance Around the House, which targets the 3-8 age set. Fifteen songs clock in at 49 minutes, and it's doubtful that toddlers and younger elementary-age children will rest for a moment while watching, dancing to and singing along with the DVD.

The DVD is full of simple and clever animations, as well as scenery and wardrobe changes as the Swingset Mamas switch it up for each song. A talented group of photogenic kids accompany the videos, but appropriately, aren't perfect dancers — if one of these kids needs to break away from the choreography and get their dance on, they do.

As for the music itself, the Swingset Mamas have clear voices that harmonize beautifully. This is the type of kids' music that will inspire parents to hum along, rather than cringe, hoping for the day their tot turns to another musical obsession.

The tunes, which are both instructional and silly, are lightly flavored by everything from calypso, hip-hop and 1960s pop to zydeco, blues and hula, and often feature call-and-response words and simple choreography that'll keep kids busy while watching the DVD.

The DVD allows children to navigate easily to their favorite songs, and extras include a making-of, a live video and a free five-song CD sampler. For parents who want simple music that'll provide easy fun lessons for their kids and a beat to dance along with, Swing, Dance and Sing would be a good choice. — Laura Tiffany


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