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Reviews: July 15

15 Jul, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Street 7/31
Fox, Action, B.O. $10.2 million, $29.98 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Karl Urban, Moon Bloodgood, Russell Means, Clancy Brown.

According to director Marcus Nispel, Americans don't like movies to preach to them, and they don't care about history. So here we have an action-adventure film disguised as a faux history lesson, chronicling a Viking attack on a Native American society 600 years before Columbus set foot on the New World.

Nispel admits that accuracy wasn't the primary goal of this movie, which depicts the Vikings as brutal, hulking monsters who slaughter the natives indiscriminately. Rather, he hopes it feels authentic, and focused on creating images he hadn't seen before.

One producer described the pitch for this film as First Blood with Vikings and Indians. It could also be described as Apocalypto meets Last of the Mohicans, crossed with Tarzan and Black Robe.

It stars “Lord of the Rings” veteran Urban as Ghost, a man hovering between the warring factions. The son of a Viking warrior, he was abandoned as a boy in the new world and reared by natives. They still don't quite accept him, but he attracts the lustful eye of the chiefly Pathfinder's hottie daughter, Starfire (Bloodgood).

When the Vikings return 15 years later and slaughter his entire village, Ghost vows revenge and hunts the marauders one by one, while still finding time to hook up with Starfire. A final confrontation between Ghost and Viking leader Gunnar (Brown) is a forgone conclusion.

The cast is attractive, and the film features some nice visual sequences — all of which are elaborated upon in the extra features.

It's interesting to note that Nispel wanted to craft the film entirely without dialogue. Instead, the natives are heard in English, while the Vikings speak Icelandic. Relying on the power of the visuals may have been difficult to pull off, but likely would have elevated the final product beyond the conventions of the genre. John Latchem

Nomad: the Warrior
Street 7/24
Genius/Weinstein, Action, B.O. $0.08 million, $19.95 DVD, ‘R' for violence.
Stars Jason Scott Lee, Jay Hernandez, Kuno Becker, Mark Dacascos.

It would have been amusing, if nonsensical, to have the character Borat play one of the soldier extras in the bloody Kazakhstan war drama Nomad.

It's doubtful the clueless fellow could have survived this onslaught, though.

The first major film venture from Kazakhstan, submitted as best foreign-language film last year, is the story of the country's historical past, loosely told.

The boy warrior Ablai Khan answers the call to fate and becomes a man warrior, desperately seeking to unite the many factions of his country so that they may wage battle against oncoming enemies.

The result is a story of honor, friendship and old-school patriotism, with a load of battle scenes, as the horse-and-sword soldiers face off in a series of cutthroat confrontations.

Pride for country and self is the overriding theme, though some things are lost in ungraceful translation — even though the dialogue is dubbed.

Still, as an epic actioner that recalls gladiator films of days gone by, this one is sure to at least capture the attention, if not fully engage, the 300 crowd. Both English and Kazakh-language versions can be heard, and there also is the choice of subtitles in English or Spanish. — Dan Bennett

Slow Burn
Street 7/24
Lionsgate, Thriller, B.O. $1.2 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexuality, violence and language.
Stars Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, Mekhi Phifer, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taye Diggs, Jolene Blalock.

A big-city urban drama built on intrigue, foul play and no small amount of candlelit sex, Slow Burn avoids a lot of action and goes for a more talky approach.

The result is a reasonably suspenseful thriller, with shades of The Usual Suspects fully intact.

Ray Liotta plays an up-and-coming district attorney who finds himself with a dilemma. An assistant D.A. claims she has been raped and begins telling her boss the story, beginning weeks earlier when she met a man in a music store who subsequently began following her.

Sounds true for awhile, but at the same time, the D.A. begins hearing different things, and starts to piece together a puzzle linking the alleged crime with drug lords, land deals and other sticky sidebars. Is it possible the beautiful assistant is up to something sinister?

The story is told through flashbacks, each with differing perspectives, so we're never quite sure what is true, if anything. It all culminates in a third act with a rush of surprises that arrive like whiplash. Slow Burn does better than many at making those surprises seem believable, and not at all expected.

The film is a modern potboiler that isn't expert at building tension, but provides enough heat to intrigue. — Dan Bennett

The Method
Prebook 7/17; Street 8/14
Palm, Drama, $24.99 DVD, NR.

The Method, based on Jordi Galcerán Ferrer's popular play El M?todo, is a fast-paced Spanish office drama set in Madrid against the backdrop of violent anti-globalization protests that have overtaken the city.

However, the real battle is brewing above the chaos in the streets, inside an office building where a mysterious firm, only known as Dekia, has brought together seven people (five men and two women) for an unorthodox group interview that makes “The Apprentice” look like a cakewalk.

After all the applicants enter the boardroom, the doors lock and they are left to the mercy of the seven computers that are feeding them instructions and revealing vital information about each candidate. Are they being recorded or watched from the outside? No one knows, as the only company representative around is a vivacious secretary who seems to enjoy watching the people fight it out for this mysterious, yet lucrative, corporate job.

Making the situation more intense is the revelation that one of the applicants is actually a mole for the firm. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of time to waste worrying about who's the spy when you're faced with a series of grueling psychological tests — such as defending your survival skills in the event of a nuclear war — aimed at whittling down the interviewees one by one.

With the energy of a Spanish soap opera and the cunningness you'd expect from a foreign drama, it's no surprise that The Method has captured several international awards for both its acting and its filmmaking. The filmmakers succeed in creating a dramatic foreign gem, comparable to Glengarry Glen Ross, by keeping things simple and letting the charismatic cast run with a well-crafted script. — Matt Miller

Star Trek: Fan Collective — Captain's Log
Street 7/24
Paramount, Sci-Fi, $42.99 five-DVD set, NR.
Stars William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula.

This is Paramount's fifth trip to the well with these “Fan Collective” sets, and they almost have it figured out. The concept this time centers on each of the actors who played the captains from the five series picking their favorite episode, then sitting down for a series of retrospective interviews about their time on “Star Trek.” Each disc is devoted to one of the shows and adds two episodes selected by a fan vote.

The primary reason “Star Trek” fans will gobble up this new DVD set is to see the reunion of William Shatner and Joan Collins, who discuss their landmark episode “City on the Edge of Forever” 40 years after it first aired. Shatner chose the episode as his personal favorite, and who can blame him? It still ranks among the all-time best episodes in the franchise.

The Shatner/Collins interview doesn't last more than 10 minutes or so, but it's great to see them slip back into that old chemistry after all these years. He also lets loose some good insights about the Kirk character many fans will want to see. It's good to hear all the actors involved, but it's too bad the studio couldn't arrange a panel discussion featuring all five.

Overall, the episode selection represents a good mix, with a few exceptions.

Patrick Stewart (Capt. Picard on “The Next Generation”) chose an episode because he directed it, even though it wasn't really about his character.

But that doesn't compare to the most baffling inclusion. Somehow, the much-maligned and all-around misguided “Enterprise” finale, “These Are the Voyages,” managed to sneak into the set as a fan pick. The episode is widely regarded as sapping whatever enthusiasm for the franchise remained after “Enterprise” was canceled, and raises some serious questions about the effectiveness of letting fans pick episodes for these sets. John Latchem

Benson: The Complete First Season
Street 7/24
Sony Pictures, Comedy, $29.95 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Robert Guillaume, James Noble, Inga Swenson, Missy Gold, Caroline McWilliams, Lewis J. Stadlen.

This spinoff of “Soap” begins with Jessica Tate sending her butler Benson (Guillaume) to take over the household staff at the governor's mansion for an unnamed state. The dim-witted Gov. Gatling (Noble) is Tate's recently widowed cousin who is faced with raising his daughter (Gold) while attempting to run the state.

Katherine Helmond even guest stars as Tate in one of the episodes.

The 24 episodes of the inaugural 1979-80 season provide an entertaining diversion and aren't as tedious and corny as many sitcoms now seem.

The genteel setting covers up the show's rather subversive nature, loaded with insult humor and its share of macabre jokes, beginning with the first episode, when Gov. Gatling describes his wife's tragicomic death from being eaten by horses.

Casual fans of the series should note these episodes were produced before Rene Auberjonois joined the cast in the second year and really gave the show its spark.

The DVD includes a nice introduction by Guillaume, and a retrospective featuring Guillaume, Noble and some of the producers, who discuss the show's origin, humor style and message. Guillaume was especially proud of the show's positive presentation of a black role model.

These bonus features represent a significant step up from a lot of catalog TV DVD product. John Latchem

Street 7/24
Magnolia, Comedy, B.O. $0.03 million, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox.

It's artistic. Or at least that is what I repeatedly told myself while watching the British comedy Cashback, which felt strangely like watching an arthouse character narrate a frat-boy laugh fest.

Ben (Biggerstaff) is an art student suffering from insomnia after a devastating breakup with his girlfriend. To kill time, he takes a late-shift job at a local store, where he devises a way to alleviate the boredom of an eight-hour shift and meets a host of characters with their own devices for doing so.

Sounds pretty funny; and it is for the most part. Ben's co-workers' antics are particularly amusing in a boys-will-be-boys way as they minimize their boredom with “anything but work,” including races through the store. And the aging store manager is good for a few laughs — he gives Ben money to buy a “surprise” stripper for his own birthday party.

I also enjoyed Ben's (now clich?) best friend who has no skill with women, but is always giving romantic advice — he has a beverage thrown in his face in every one of his scenes.

But the film is a bit disturbing, as Ben's cure for boredom is freezing time. He freezes time and then wanders about while everyone else is frozen. The idea is that he is artistically appreciating the fleeting beauty of a moment in time.

This would be fine, if he did not spend so much of this time undressing unsuspecting women in the store. He strips them down, draws them, re-dresses them and unfreezes time. It is not really offensive, so much as it is a freaky confirmation that the clerk at the 24-hour convenience store is likely undressing you in his mind, just as you have always suspected.

Cashback is an interesting and amusing film, worth watching if you have no issues with gratuitous female nudity. Not recommended for those with a particularly prudish personality. Kyra Kudick

Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating
Street 7/24
Blue Underground, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

Anyone who might get queasy watching people gorge themselves on massive plates of food is hereby warned. This winning documentary gives us a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of the world of competitive eating through the eyes of one of the sport's rising stars, Crazy Legs Conti.

Conti himself was a huge fan of competitive eating, watching in amazement each July 4 the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. On a whim in New Orleans during the 2002 Super Bowl, Conti set out to break the world record for Oyster consumption and ate 34 dozen in one five-hour sitting. Thus, he began a glorious career.

He had been making ends meet by taking odd jobs such as window washing, posing nude for art classes and making trips to the sperm bank. His stint in New Orleans earned him a trip to the world oyster eating championships.

Conti hones his eating skills with the temerity of a prizefighter, and like any great athlete learns as much from defeat as from victory.

Viewers are exposed to all of Conti's eccentricities, from his collection of bad 1980s movies on VHS, to his various training techniques, including an ill-advised decision to chomp on sticks of butter to test his resolve.

This may be the definitive film of the burgeoning competitive eating craze. The DVD is well timed to take advantage of the rising popularity of Nathan's and other professional eating competitions. If there's one constant to watching all these contests, it's the amazement that anyone could eat so much food like that.

Crazy Legs finished 13th in Nathan's latest July 4 contest, eating 23.5 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. To put things in perspective, winner Joey Chestnut ate 66, and six-time defending champ Takeru Kobayashi ate 63.

Maybe next year, Crazy Legs. John Latchem

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