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Reviews: July 1

1 Jul, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

The Last Mimzy

The Last Mimzy
Street 7/10
New Line, Family, B.O. $21.5 million, $28.98 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic elements, mild peril and language.
Stars Rhiannon Leigh Wryn, Chris O'Neil, Timothy Hutton, Joely Richardson, Rainn Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan.

The Last Mimzy is one doozy of a kid flick — a Donnie Darko-esque head trip for the elementary-school set, full of futuristic toys, a talking bunny, time travel, mandalas, brain scans and wormholes.

The pieces of the puzzle don't always mesh, but the gee-whiz special effects work, and the cast smartly stands back and lets the 6-year-old Wryn take center stage. Her charming, preternaturally confident screen presence is the real magic in the film, while first-time actor O'Neil plays well with her as the older brother.

The DVD is exhaustingly jam-packed with extras. Infinifilm technology allows you to view context-related snippets of the featurettes, deleted scenes and trivia as you cruise through the film. Extras also are available in the traditional menu format.

There are the typical behind-the-scenes featurettes on story adaptation, casting, production design, visual effects, editing and music (notably scored by Howard Shore). More fun, however, are the “Beyond the Movie” features that focus on the strange mix of hippie mysticism and science that fuel the film — from Alice in Wonderland to nanotechnology. Director Bob Shaye, who is also the founder and co-CEO of New Line, offers an adequate director's commentary for those still hungry for insider info. Three clunky interactive games, a video of the theme song by Roger Waters and a theatrical trailer round out the regular DVD extras.

Think you're done? Not yet. Pop The Last Mimzy into your computer and you get IVEX — the Interactive Viewing Experience. Aside from an extremely slow loading time, this feature is rather nifty.

While the film plays in a small window, you can read trivia about the film, seamlessly flip between normal audio and the commentary track, read a transcript of the lines as they occur, view production videos, and even search for specific lines and bookmark favorite scenes.

This is a lot more interactive than the Infinifilm features and cooler than the DVD games. Kids who have the patience to let it finish loading will surely get a big kick out of the interactivity. — Laura Tiffany

Sweet Land
Street 7/10
Fox, Drama, B.O. $1.7 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG' for brief partial nudity and mild language.
Stars Elizabeth Reaser, Tim Guinee, Alan Cumming, John Heard, Alex Kingston, Ned Beatty.

In the early days of World War I, Inga Ottenberg is sent, by arrangement with the groom's parents, from Germany to Minnesota to marry a man she has never met before. As if that weren't trial enough, the local minister refuses to marry them, owing to a provincial ethnocentrism made worse by wartime paranoia.

Thus Inga, and her retiring fianc? Olaf, begin their protracted, troubled engagement in small-town America. At first Inga lives with a local couple for the sake of preserving community decorum, but when that arrangement turns sour, she is obliged to move in with Olaf — who duly relocates to the barn. The scandal that ensues is nearly sufficient to ensure their permanent ostracism from the local community.

Because the story is told in flashback, there is never any question that Inga and Olaf's love and tenacity will win out against endemic prejudice, but the journey is no less engaging for it. Theirs is a story of conflicting American values — protestant conservatism at odds with the philosophy of the melting pot.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the same forces that most trenchantly condemn Inga and Olaf at first are also the first to embrace them in the end, but what makes the film work is this very irony.

Sweet Land does not endorse America's consoling myth of “come one, come all” heterogeneity, nor does it debunk it, but rather concedes that all communities — whatever their constituents — are forever a work in progress. — Eddie Mullins

TCM Spotlight: Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection
Prebook 7/3; Street 8/7
Warner, Drama, $49.92 five-DVD set, NR.
Stars Myrna Loy, William Powell.

If you want to see a time in Hollywood history when movie stars were also excellent actors and stories rather than special effects drove the action on the screen, look no further. This collection reflects why people love movies.

With 14 non-cameo features in which they appeared together, the popular team of debonair Powell and sultry Loy had a unique combination of wit, sophistication and sex appeal between them. Call it chemistry or class, the duo had what defines a movie-star team, and this impressive collection showcases their enduring talents.

Best known from six “Thin Man” detective movies, which Warner Bros. is now releasing individually, Loy and Powell first appeared together in 1934's Manhattan Melodrama, the centerpiece of this five-film set that also includes 1934's Evelyn Prentice, 1937's Double Wedding, 1940's I Love You Again and the delightful 1941 screwball comedy Love Crazy.

Each disc contains vintage shorts, trailers and classic cartoons, but the highlight special feature is an audio-only broadcast of the Screen Directors Guild Playhouse Radio Broadcast of Love Crazy.

Evelyn Prentice offers the screen debut of a future film star Rosalind Russell. Manhattan Melodrama also co-stars Clark Gable and has a famed footnote in American history: Legendary gangster John Dillinger, an alleged dedicated fan of Loy, was gunned down after exiting a theater showing the picture. — Craig Modderno

Everything's Gone Green
Prebook 7/3; Street 7/31
Vivendi Visual, Comedy, B.O. $0.02 million, $26.99 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Paulo Constanzo, Steph Song, JR Bourne, Aidan Devine, Susan Hogan, Tom Butler.

A lot of the marketing makes this movie out to be the next Half Baked, but marijuana plays only an ancillary role in the story. This Canadian film written by Douglas Coupland is actually a charming tale of slacker angst in the vein of Office Space and The Big Lebowski.

Ryan (Costanzo) is a loafer who finds himself kicked out of his girlfriend's apartment and fired from his job on the same day. His fortunes appear to reverse when his parents (Hogan and Butler) claim to have won the lottery, but his father was looking at the wrong numbers. All is not completely lost for Ryan, who scores a job with the official lottery magazine.

He also meets Ming (Song), a set designer who specializes in making Vancouver look like American cities for film crews. Her unscrupulous boyfriend, Bryce (Bourne), offers Ryan a side deal: Tell him the lottery winners before the public announcement and earn a 10% finder's fee on the full amount. Bryce wants to use the lottery to launder money for the Japanese mafia.

In the meantime, Ryan's parents also are out for a quick buck and begin growing high-quality pot in their basement. When they're arrested, they don't understand why anything they did could harm society.

Everything's Gone Green deftly meshes several simple observations about everyday life into its narrative as Ryan begins to realize the value of honest work.

The DVD includes deleted scenes, commentaries, a drinking game and a recipe for “special” brownies. John Latchem

Bam Bam & Celeste
Prebook 7/3; Street 8/14
Wolfe, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Margaret Cho, Bruce Daniels, Elaine Hendrix, Alan Cumming, Kathy Najimy, John Cho, Jane Lynch.

Bam Bam & Celeste is another chapter in Cho's continuing observations about what it's like to be Asian in America, female in America, overweight in America, and just about anything other than blonde, blue-eyed and slender in America.

Celeste and Bam Bam are high-school outcasts. He is an effeminate hairdresser who is regularly beat up in the boys' bathroom. She is an Asian-American princess whose wardrobe and make-up choices are a cross between a goth and a geisha.

High school ends, and the pair are paralyzed until they participate in “Trading Faces,” a new reality show that they see as a way out of their small-minded little hometown.

Cho, who wrote the screenplay, visits themes that will be familiar to her fans, including the petty and irrational prejudices of middle America and the difficulty of finding and traveling one's own path.

Although the film feels almost like a series of blackout sketches, rather than a cohesive narrative, some of those sketches are exceedingly funny and feature a surprising lineup of indie royalty. Najimy is hilarious as a slightly off-kilter fortune teller. Cumming is charming as a television producer who is afraid of his own shadow. Lynch is entertaining as a pickup-driving lone ranger who rescues the pair of misfits just when things are starting to look grim.

But none of the cameo appearances are funnier than Cho herself as her Korean mother. Cho's take on mommy steals every scene in which she appears … even those in which she appears opposite herself. — Anne Sherber

Prebook 7/5; Street 7/31
ThinkFilm, Horror, $27.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Grace Johnston, Jason Padgett, Tracy Kay Wolfe.

In Bloodlines, Stephen Durham's relentlessly unpleasant horror-gore fest, even the good guys are some pretty rough customers.

The film was originally titled Stickville, presumably because it is set out in the sticks both literally and figuratively. The new title, however, is just as appropriate because a large element of the plot revolves around a backwoods Kentucky family trying to conceive a new generation without resorting to more inbreeding than they already have done — with predictably “relative” success.

The plot to propagate the family name involves kidnapping as many beautiful women as they can happen upon — apparently pretty easy in the neck of the woods where the film is set. Captives are then pitted against each other in a cat-fight to the death, much to the appreciation of the slobbering crowds of cousins, distant cousins and/or brother/fathers gleefully cheering the terrified young ladies.

Whoever is “lucky” enough to emerge from the battle alive then gets the honor of siring the progeny of clan leader Billy Bob Hackford (Padgett) — a fate arguably worse than getting killed by another girl.

Things change when the Hackfords kidnap college student Amber Strickland (Johnston), a young woman with her own serious backwoods roots and a talent for not only using her wits but for kicking major butt whenever necessary.

She also has a pair of devoted brothers who soon discover that she is missing and track her down to save her, well-equipped with an arsenal of hunting knives, bows and arrows.

The film reverently worships the gospels of Wrong Turn, Hostel and that holiest of holy icons of the genre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and on a clearly low-budget, aims for similar territory. — David Greenberg

Afghan Knights
Prebook 7/3; Street 7/31
MTI, Action, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for violence including a rape, language and some sexuality.
Stars Michael Madsen, Francesco Quinn, Steve Bacic, Gary Stretch, Chris Kramer.

A modern war story with some horror twists, Afghan Knights employs the strange aura of the Afghanistan and Pakistani border region to create a moody story of rescue and revenge.

Several former military comrades, still haunted by past battles, agree to go to Afghanistan as mercenaries to sneak a warlord out of the country for a tidy sum.

This is no easy feat, as several people want this mission stopped, and the boys — a tough, unshaven lot, talented with their weapons but also scarred by past bad experiences — must fight off those who seek to stop them. Naturally, there is also some dissension in the ranks.

Mixed into the story are some weapons supposedly carrying the spirit of Genghis Kahn, weapons that can stop anyone, and lend some ghost-like elements to the story.

Madsen plays the operative who brokers the mission, while Bacic plays the company leader most tortured by his previous war experience.

Afghan Knights is an everything-goes story of men as mercenaries, a battle-filled exercise in special ops, with some spooky twists adding a dose of magical realism to the equation. It's hardly a smart war thriller, but ably serves its purpose as a guns-and-blood hero movie. — Dan Bennett

A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash
Prebook 7/3; Street 7/31
Docurama, Documentary, $26.95 DVD, NR.

There's no question this is a political film. From the first frames, it's clear the filmmakers are out to educate viewers about the role of oil in world politics going back generations.

A Crude Awakening succeeds in tracing the history and the sometimes surprising reach of oil's tentacles. It effectively makes the case that modern society is too dependent on petroleum, a finite resource.

But it stops there, offering nothing in the way of constructive suggestions for change. It doesn't offer any potential solutions for ending our oil dependency.

It's a global movie, looking at the effects of oil on large and small economies, advanced and primitive countries, powerful and exploited peoples. It takes the measure of nations such as China and India ratcheting up demand and competing for supply. But it's also a criticism of American consumerism and denial.

The movie's construction moves along with the lesson, using old advertisements built around conspicuous consumption (for the 1960 Fords, for example) to lighten the material while still giving a sense of the veneer Americans have bought for years, seldom questioning the structure underneath.

Film clips of battles, oil fields, scholars and political speeches from bygone eras remind us that we have ignored the potential dangers of oil dependency at our own peril.

But anyone who hasn't figured out the consequences of the world quest for oil has been living under a rock. So the background is interesting and some statistics are startling, but it all leads to what we already know. The film essentially shoots down alternatives such as hydrogen, wind, solar, nuclear and ethanol power, without offering another champion. The ultimate message is to reduce demand.

If the goal is to make people think about how they consume petroleum, A Crude Awakening does a fairly good job. On the other hand, will another doom-and-gloom prediction change consumer behavior — even if it turns out to be true? Based on history, probably not. — Holly J. Wagner

51 Birch Street
Prebook 7/3; Street 8/14
Image, Documentary, B.O. $0.08 million, $19.99 DVD, NR.

Cut from the same cloth as Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, the heart-wrenching 2003 documentary initially made for $218.32 on Macintosh's iMovie, 51 Birch Street compiles footage from over the years to paint a slightly askew family portrait.

These films occupy a similar space as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube — the idea is that everyone has a story to tell. The evidence presented by the masterful 51 Birch Street is that quiet, ordinary-yet-tragic truths are all-the-more affecting for their universality over big-budget fantasies.

Director Doug Block is shaken when, following his mother's death, his father, Mike, marries Kitty, Mike's former secretary, just a few months later. Although the Blocks were opposites — Mike a reserved “1950s father,” the mother vivacious and outspoken — theirs seemed a happy marriage.

What Block discovers, through subsequent interviews with his father, his sisters and his mother's best friend, and by reading his mother's diaries, is a troubling past he's not quite prepared for. How could you be? No one wants to know their parents' marriage isn't sound, much less about their sex lives.

It doesn't matter if the secrets revealed aren't all that earth-shattering. It's better that they're not. Unlike a film such as Capturing the Friedmans, which packed a wallop with hidden pedophilia, these are just people with regular problems. You can't help but be fascinated to discover the Blocks' secrets right along with them, and then look at your own situation, and wonder what you might not know.

For those who might want to see how the Blocks reacted to seeing themselves portrayed onscreen, Block filmed a special feature interviewing each member of his family after the film's first screening. And, because we can't get enough of the likeable Block clan, he's also filming a sequel of sorts, on his life as a parent. Billy Gil

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