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Reviews: January 7

7 Jan, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning
Street 1/16
New Line, Horror, B.O. $39.5 million, $28.98 DVD, Available in ‘R'-rated and unrated versions.
Stars Jordana Brewster, R. Lee Ermey, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matthew Bomer.

After the success of the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, New Line has crafted this original horror tale as a prequel. Set in 1969, this origin story shows how Thomas Hewitt emerged from unwanted, deformed baby into a troubled teen, and eventually a psychotic killer called Leatherface, who uses a chainsaw to kill his victims before cutting off their faces to make a human mask.

As far as slasher monsters go, Thomas/ Leatherface beats out other New Line baddies like Freddy Krueger because the original movie is inspired by the life of real-life murderer Ed Gein.

The unrated version allows for much more blood than the theatrical — and the filmmakers take full advantage of that. The one thing this movie doesn't have is a survivor. And since we know that going in, it takes a little of the edge off. We know the Hewitts aren't going to die, so the film is really about the fate of the victims. Trust me, none of them go nicely.

The film does an excellent job of introducing an intriguing backstory for Leatherface, and director Jonathan Liebesman keeps the action moving. Much of the horror takes place in the full sunlight of the empty Texas land, which makes for a nice contrast to the bloody, water-drenched basement where Leatherface skins one of his victims alive.

The single disc comes with commentary from Liebesman and producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form, plus a handful of extended and deleted scenes with commentary from the three.

Considering the gap that still exists between this prequel and the original film, Leatherface will surely be returning to the big screen at least one more time to raise some hell. — John Gaudiosi

Street 1/9
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $0.4 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language and sex-related humor.
Stars Luke Wilson, Dax Shepard, Maya Rudolph.

There's a rich premise at the heart of Idiocracy, a polemic against the dumbing-down of society. Either that, or it's an ingenious excuse to make another movie about dumbasses.

Writer-director Mike Judge, who scored cult hits with Office Space and “Beavis and Butt-Head,” targets a number of pop culture trends he sees as intellectually unhealthy in the long-term, such as excessive advertising and lowbrow humor.

In an opening sketch, Judge cleverly illustrates how rednecks will breed with anything to rapidly outnumber smart people, who overanalyze their plans to have at most one or two kids, and usually end up with none.

From this, the film extrapolates a future world populated by Beavises and Butt-Heads, where mountains are made of garbage, everyone shops at giant Costcos and energy drinks are pumped through the pipes instead of water.

As the result of an Army experiment, Joe (Wilson) and Rita (Rudolph) find themselves waking up in 500 years, when the gene pool is so diluted by excessive idiot-breeding that everyone acts like a stoned fratboy on spring break.

It's the kind of literary environment where a man constantly hit in his crotch is the top-rated show, while a film called Ass, consisting of a 90-minute close-up of a man's butt, can win eight Oscars.

Joe, with a perfectly average IQ of 100, is considered a genius, but no one wants to listen to him because his normal speaking voice is considered pompous by all the Forrest Gump wannabes he encounters. However, Joe's just dumb enough to assume, since he is in the future, that someone must have invented a time machine by now, and he embarks on a quest to find it.

The hyperreality of the future world offers a plethora of smart visual gags. As satire, the movie hits its marks early, but it runs out of steam about halfway through, which isn't a good thing when the running time is only 80 minutes.

Still, Wilson's everyman persona grounds the film well, and fans of Judge's work should be curious enough to check this out. John Latchem

National Lampoon's TV: The Movie
Prebook 1/9; Street 2/6
Vivendi Visual/Xenon, Comedy, $24.99 DVD, unrated.
Stars Steven “Steve-O” Glover, Preston Lacy, Jason “Wee Man” Acuña, Chris Pontius, Clifton Collins Jr., Jacob Vargas, Dian Bachar.

Any casual viewer of Comedy Central or MTV will be familiar with the style of humor at play here.

Following a lengthy opening credits sequence set to some John Williams-esque theme music, the movie is structured like an hour-and-a-half of channel surfing. Don't expect a plot, or even a framing device to connect disparate vignettes.

It's the ultimate in short-attention-span theater. Most sketches lampoon reality television, with some commercial parodies and a few fake news items. In fact, the credits probably have the best production values of anything else in the movie.

Since the sketches are largely random and self-contained, the humor is hit-and-miss. Some drag on longer than they have any right to, but most make their point and move on.Most of the topline cast are veterans of “Jackass,” including Steve-O, Pontius, Lacy and Wee Man. Several of the fake commercials even plug a line of interactive “Jackass” dolls — basically just miniaturized versions of the real performers acting like they do on their show.

As could be expected from a quasi-spinoff of “Jackass,” the main themes seem to be drug abuse, sex, stupid stunts and scatological humor. Several sketches present American shows with a Hispanic twist.

Bachar, a mainstay of the works of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, has a running role as a female newscaster who interviews Jesus and Satan. Also be on the lookout for several cameos by the likes of Judd Nelson, Tony Cox, Ian Somerhalder of “Lost,” Jason Mewes of the “Clerks” movies, and Lee Majors, who pokes fun at himself in “The Six-Million-Year-Old Man.”

In the best gag, a pair of Tijuana policemen patrol the streets in a parody of “COPS,” spending more time enjoying the contraband than worrying about the criminals they took it from.

In another cop-show parody, Crockett and Tubbs become midgets in “Miami Mice.” Actually, several sketches use midgets in ridiculously inappropriate ways, leading to an all-out fight between the Minjas — midget ninjas — and an overweight secret agent known as XXXL (get it?), in a seemingly out-of-place movie parody. John Latchem

Giuliani Time
Street 1/30
Cinema Libre, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

Here is a film that views with bewilderment Giuliani's anointment as a hero in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Filmmaker Kevin Keating, through an assemblage of interviews with various Giuliani critics, argues that 9/11 helped mask a number of issues during Giuliani's two terms as mayor of New York that could be interpreted as problematic.

The title stems from a New York Post editorial about Giuliani's crime-prevention methods, which involved expanding the police force to focus on smaller nuisances so as not to encourage a wider array of criminal behavior.

Although crime did drop in the city, critics of Giuliani's methods argue that his control over the NYPD encouraged brutality, and the undesirable elements were not eliminated, but shifted to less-visible locales.

The film takes Giuliani to task for focusing too much on crime, giving other issues less of a priority, and addressing these lesser issues with the same hard-edged mentality.

While Keating does interview some supporters of Giuliani, and uses clips of Giuliani justifying his actions, these statements are quickly countered by more talking heads in Keating's arsenal.

If that weren't enough, the film turns to the criminal history of Giuliani's father and cousin, as if to imply that somewhere down deep, despite his years as a warrior against crime, Giuliani harbors some deep-seeded criminal agenda.

Most of the editorial focus is shaped by reporter Wayne Barrett, who authored a biography on Giuliani and walks viewers through his history, including his father's criminal past. At one point, Barrett ridicules Giuliani for receiving only 20% of the black vote during his re-election bid, rather than pointing out such a number is extraordinarily high for a Republican candidate in the modern era.

The film seems timed to coincide with Giuliani's potential 2008 presidential bid, and remind his opponents of their talking points. It makes some interesting arguments, but Giuliani supporters will likely roll their eyes, rather than weep at the violins playing for the downtrodden he seemingly oppressed. John Latchem

After Innocence
Prebook 1/10; Street 2/6
New Yorker, Documentary, B.O. $0.1 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.

A Nov. 30 report from the United States Department of Justice reveals that one in 37 American adults is incarcerated or on parole or probation.

Showtime's documentary After Innocence tells the story of some of those freed after DNA evidence and the attorneys of The Innocence Project proved they were not guilty of crimes that had put them in prison, sometimes for decades, often on Death Row.

What emerges here is a picture of an Orwellian system gone wild, a system where police and prosecutors, once convinced of their theories, hang onto them like bulldogs, even in the face of contrary evidence; a system in which the accused get only the justice they can afford.

These stories are a stark contrast to high-profile individuals like O.J. Simpson, who walk among us acquitted and even get lucrative book and autograph deals despite widespread belief of their guilt.

There are organizations to help crime victims and survivors, but few exist to help the wrongly accused. Some states even require that the freed innocents pay thousands of dollars to have their records expunged after they are proved innocent. They suffer the effects of incarceration, disconnection from ordinary society, separation from families, and then face difficulty getting jobs or accessing services most of us take for granted.

The film succeeds in raising questions about whether the ever-stiffer penalty laws and mandatory sentences that Americans often endorse at the polls really do anything to make us safer. For these men and unquantified others, they've made the world more dangerous. It's frightening to realize that it could happen to anyone.

The truly chilling thought we're left with is that, if these people are innocent, how many guilty people are left free to continue robbing, raping and murdering? — Holly J. Wagner

What's on DVD?

  • Interviews with the filmmakers
  • Deleted scenes and bonus footage
  • Updates on the exonerees
  • Pearl Jam performing with exonerees
  • Press coverage and premiere footage
  • Web site and contact info

  • Street Fight
    Street 1/9
    Genius, Documentary, B.O. $0.005 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

    Filmmaker Marshall Curry scored a major coup in this outstanding debut effort. Nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 for best documentary, Street Fight was the top pick of the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival and garnered international praise. But the accolades, as worthy as they are, provide only a small picture of how mesmerizing a production this is.

    Street Fight profiles the campaign waged between Cory Booker and incumbent Sharpe James, two African-American Democrats, in the 2002 Newark, N.J. mayor's race, which became so bitter and nasty, federal monitors were called in.

    Street Fight superbly captures much of the anger and animosity on display in this knockdown, drag-out exhibition of politics. It's a poisoned atmosphere with racial charges, alleged corruption, a prostitution arrest, intimidation, retaliation and phone taps.

    The 32-year-old Booker, a rising star on the Newark City Council was a football star at Stanford, a Rhodes Scholar and has a law degree from Yale. James, a crusty politician in his 60s, provided a stark contrast, trotting out overexposed relics such as Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton to endorse his cause.

    Booker's candidacy earned support from different ethnic groups, as well as Spike Lee and former senator Bill Bradley. The New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger endorsed Booker's candidacy, too.

    Curry isn't spared from the fray. On several occasions, the filmmaker is confronted by members of James'security detail, who object to his filming of several of the mayor's public appearances. These confrontations produce some of the rawest moments of the film. And the raw feelings between the two candidates also sink to familiar depths — African-American skin tone becomes a major issue.

    “It's just stupid … just stupid,” says a Booker campaigner.

    It is, but this is the dirt that sometimes gets tossed around in African-American communities. As disgusting as that is, it doesn't dull the quality of the film. In some ways it enhances Street Fight, making it a must-see.

    While James would win the 2002 contest, he did not run again, and Booker won the 2006 mayoral election in a landslide. —Benny Lopez

    Voy Baby: Discovering Colors (Colores)
    Prebook 1/9; Street 2/6
    Voy, Children, $12.99 DVD, NR.

    This one's for the babies in the audience. Discovering Colors is an hour-long DVD specially designed for infants and young toddlers. Six colors are the stars of the show, with each having its own chapter.

    The name of the color is shown on the screen and spoken in a soothing voice. Following these chapter intros are pleasant images of toys, objects, babies and toddlers playing, and stuffed animals turned into puppets. Traditional Latin-style instrumentals accompany the visuals.

    The DVD is bilingual, so parents can choose for the colors to be read and shown on screen in English or Spanish. This bilingual option is also explored in the extras. A set of on-screen vocabulary cards presents both versions of each of the six colors.

    Another more-confusing extra is a toy gallery that features blurry shots of the toys used in the video, but rather than providing the toy's name in both English and Spanish, it's randomly one or the other. Showing the title in both languages would've added a clearer educational benefit. A third extra plays a looping track of the music accompanied by pulsating globes of light, which could be useful as a lullaby for infants who enjoy the tunes.

    It's an innocuous way for parents to introduce the young ones to colors and Spanish, which should prove popular with multicultural families and those with older children already well-versed in the bilingual ways of Dora the Explorer. —Laura Tiffany

    Apartment Zero
    Prebook 1/10; Street 2/20
    Anchor Bay/Union Station, Thriller, B.O. $1.3 million, $19.98 DVD, ‘R.'
    Stars Colin Firth, Hart Bochner.

    A bizarre and dated, but interesting, psychological thriller, Apartment Zero features a young Colin Firth at his most prim, proper and idiosyncratic — as well as a full supporting cast of equally strange characters.

    Obviously indebted to Hitchcock, the film features a host of the master's tricks (crazy family members, a tightly wound caretaker, intense homoerotic overtones), done with an eerie foreign flair.

    In part, Apartment Zero owes its otherworldly feel to the locale: Buenos Aires, almost 20 years ago. Largely, though, the weirdness is supplied by Firth, who gives his own disturbing English version of Anthony Perkins and infuses the already macabre film with the very soul of cultness. His interactions with the new dark and macho American tenant, Jack (whose first appearance stands him in profile next to a picture of James Dean), bristle with such queasy and greasy wrongness that they would be worth watching even were they not tied to the rest of the film.

    Inside the movie's strange plot, which concerns an increasing number of gruesome deaths outside Firth's character's establishment, his actions disturb even more.

    The film was released originally in 1989, but this is the first DVD to include the original theatrical cut. Special features include commentary from director Martin Donovan, as well as a commentary by writer-producer David Koepp and filmmaker Steven Soderberg.Although the film's release seems to come at an odd juncture, and its slow, dark pacing is not for all audiences, it has a timeless feel that may find a new and welcoming following. — J.R. Wick

    Glow Ropes: The Rise and Fall of a Bar Mitzvah Emcee
    Prebook 1/9; Street 1/30
    Echo Bridge, Comedy, $26.99 DVD, NR.
    Stars Judy Reyes, Tim Peper, George Valencia, Marlene Forte, Candice Coke.

    Anyone wondering what it would be like to take the formula of a nobody getting his big break and combine it with the world of bar mitzvah party planning has their answer in Glow Ropes. The rest of us will just have to go along for the ride.

    Taylor James (Peper), who smiles like Tom Cruise and acts like Patrick Swayze, is a small-time party host until he gets noticed by big-time party planner Vanessa Dupree (Reyes of “Scrubs”) and is offered a chance at the high life, which in the party-planning world means bigger and better bar mitzvahs.

    He teams with the most famous of emcees, Sebastian (Valencia, who co-directs and wrote the screenplay). Their job is to lead the proceedings and set the tone with their dance moves.

    Jealousy soon reigns supreme — just another day in the life of the cutthroat world of party hosting, where party dancers are apparently such a big deal in bar mitzvah circles that their exploits are reported on the radio, and they use celebrity choreographers to prepare their moves and big-time publicists to craft their image.

    That's all part of the fun, and it's almost believable, considering how elaborate bar mitzvah parties can get (some real stories are included as special features). But the characters act with such earnestness that sometimes you have to wonder if they're in on the joke.

    Fortunately there are just enough conceptual gags — such as a press conference to announce a party by some rich New York Jewish Cubans — to stay under the radar. It seems the movie wants it both ways: a farcical plot with an emotional core. It mostly comes off as inconsistent.

    Anyone amused by the proceedings in the recent Keeping Up With the Steins will probably want to check this one out. John Latchem

    Prebook 1/9; Street 1/30
    Universal/Screen Media, Thriller, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for drug content, language, some violence and nudity.
    Stars Eric Balfour, Colin Hanks, Lauren German, Ori Pfeffer, Daniel Pino, Alan Tudyk.

    Part road-movie, part thriller, Rx is a well-done, fast-paced film with a recognizable cast of young actors.

    College buddies Andrew (Balfour of “24” and “Six Feet Under”), Johnny (Hanks) and Melissa (German of the upcoming Hostel II) head to Mexico to score prescription drugs and hit a rave. Johnny makes a pit stop at his flamboyant drug dealer's house. Andrew whips out a wad of cash, telling drug dealer Pepe (Tudyk of “Firefly”) that he wants to smuggle drugs back to the United States. Andrew sees the drug sale as an opportunity to pay off his student loans.

    The only catch is that Andrew and Johnny must swallow the pills to sneak them across the border.

    On the way home, Johnny starts to feel sick, and since they are a few minutes from crossing, nobody knows what to do. As Johnny gets seemingly worse, Andrew makes the wrong decision, heading back into Mexico with dire consequences for all involved.

    Road movies have been done time and time again, but Rx is a slick, low-budget entry into the genre. Director Ariel Vroman shows great promise with his style, and his recently released Danika, starring Marisa Tomei, is getting great reviews.

    The cast is first rate, especially Balfour, who is given his chance to shine playing a morally good person who makes a bad decision.

    The movie moves along at a brisk 90 minutes, and also has a great soundtrack. College kids as well as club-goers should enjoy watching this tale of youth gone wild. — Jonathan Rosenbloom

    Stan Lee Presents: Mosaic
    Street 1/9
    Starz, Animated, $14.98 DVD, NR.
    Voices of Anna Paquin, Kirby Morrow.

    After an enthusiastic introduction by Stan Lee, we are thrown into the story of Maggie Nelson (Paquin), a drama student in New York whose father is an investigator endangered by a centuries-old conflict.

    Unbeknownst to Maggie, he hides a magical stone in his apartment, where a lightning strike empowers her with the traits of her pet chameleon. It's quite a coincidence, considering her struggle comes against a race of humanoid chameleons, an ancient offshoot of human evolution from a lost continent called Chimera.

    The Chimerans would rather live in isolation, but a rebellious few have set into motion a master plan to dominate humanity.

    The story goes through all the motions of a superhero's origin story, from experimenting with new powers to learning the duty of a higher calling. The plot, however, owes more to the mystery genre than superhero tales.

    With her new powers, and her acting skills, Maggie investigates her father's disappearance, aided by Mosaic, a Chimeran agent. The ending leaves the door open for a sequel.

    Mosaic has a harder edge than most animated fare, and ramps up the sex appeal. The animators must have been having too much fun drawing Maggie, accentuating all the curves on her lithesome frame.

    The film contains a lot of speeches about duty and the nature of things, and a fair amount of teenage angst that should appeal to the intended demographic, especially teen girls who happen to enjoy superhero stories. Paquin is no stranger to Lee's work, having played Rogue in the “X-Men” movies.

    The animation is filled with bright colors and vivid lines, sufficient for a direct-to-video release. This DVD would look good on a shelf next to other animated fare based on comic books, especially the Marvel “Ultimate Avenger” movies, or even the “Batman,” “Superman” and “Justice League” titles from the DC animated universe. John Latchem

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