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Reviews: July 16

16 Jul, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Tick: The Belated 10th Anniversary Edition

The Tick: The Belated 10th Anniversary Edition
Prebook 7/18; Street 8/29
Buena Vista, Animated, $34.99 two-DVD set, NR.

Sporting 12 of 13 first-season episodes — Disney cites “creative considerations” as the reason for the absence of “The Tick vs. The Mole Men.” — The Tick starts off with the 7-foot-tall, blue-suited hero's inadvertent assignment by the National Super Institute to protect The City.

The City, however, already has a bevy of superheroes, including American Maid, Die Fledermaus, Caped Chameleon and Sewer Urchin, most of whom are more bumbling and incompetent than the bombastic, yet sincerely enthusiastic Tick. Even as they compete for attention, they must sometimes work together, if only because they have about one crimefighting brain among them.

What makes “The Tick” funny is that it plays with all the credibility-defying aspects of superhero comics. Thus, no one can understand The Idea Men (who all wear gray flannel suits) because their masks muffle their voices. The Tick is so massive that as he runs from rooftop to rooftop and leaps to street level, he causes immense amounts of structural damage. Tick, sidekick Arthur and American Maid stop Chairface Chippendale from carving his name on the moon, but only after he's engraved the first three letters, leaving the moon scarred with “CHA.” And so on.

Each episode is about 19 minutes. The first disc includes a prologue in which The Tick recounts how he crashed the Super Institute's convention in Reno and got assigned to The City.

Selling Points: Although originally shown as a Saturday morning TV cartoon, “The Tick” is such an irony-laced satire of superhero pantheons like the Justice League of America that it's really meant for grown-up comic book fans, who are the ones who will get the jokes. There is also something of a Tick cult that will be eagerly awaiting the DVD release. — David Greenberg

Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle
Street 7/25
Kultur, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.

What might have become of the Beatles had Stuart Sutcliffe remained in the lineup? Would they have conquered the world? Would they have been as vital? Watching this short BBC documentary on Sutcliffe, one can't help but wonder what music he might have contributed, and what music his looming specter helped shape within Lennon and McCartney. Despite its occasional lack of material, The Lost Beatle makes one point very clear: Sutcliffe was no less a prodigy than his two famous bandmates.

Unfortunately for both Sutcliffe and this doc, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 21 after leaving the Beatles to pursue painting and an intense love affair. Even given the considerable amount of living he managed to squeeze into his allotted time, this leaves relatively little ground to cover.

We get a look at his early art-school days, his close friendship with Lennon, and the birth of the Beatles — first in Liverpool and then Hamburg. Also featured prominently in interviews is Astrid Kirchherr, the German photographer who stole Sutcliffe's heart. These topics are enough to engage any Beatles fan, and, therefore, most of the Western world. But most have already been covered with more depth.

A remarkable collection of pictures serves as an enthralling backdrop to Sutcliffe's tale, but the interviews and uninspired narrative add to the lackluster nature of the proceedings.

Selling Points: Catering to Beatles fans, The Lost Beatle delivers a host of thrilling images and a memorable story. Retailers can file it next to Backbeat, the motion picture about Sutcliffe's life. — J.R. Wick

Electric Shadows
Street 7/25
First Run, Drama, B.O. $0.01 million, $29.95 DVD, NR. In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Stars Yu Xia, Zhongyang Qi.

Electric Shadows, a film in love with the idea of film, is a coming-of-age story set in 1970s China that is sentimental, joyous, harrowing and heartbreaking.

Mao Dabing, a young delivery man, crashes his bike and is beat up by a young woman nearby. Through unlikely circumstances, he ends up at her apartment, a shrine to classic film, and reads her diary. From there, the movie shifts to Ling-Ling's life story.

First-time director and co-writer Jiang Xiao has created both an homage and a critical examination of the era of her own coming-of-age. Electric Shadows is set during the Cultural Revolution in a rural town where outdoor films (the few that are allowed by government censors) are the biggest event of the week. Ling-Ling's mother is persecuted for having a child out of wedlock, but she instills in Ling-Ling a love of film and a dream to become a movie star. Ling-Ling meets her only friend as a child, who also escapes through movies, but soon he is gone. When Ling-Ling's mother remarries and has a son, Ling-Ling's life takes a turn for the worse.

The loveliness of Electric Shadows is found in the wonderful cast (especially the children) and Xiao's love for the landscape in which she's filming. The beauty is overshadowed only by that gnawing anticipation that something bad will happen to Ling-Ling (and it does), the unlikely coincidence that brings her and Mao Dabing into contact, and the “happy” ending that doesn't quite make up for the tragedy that came before.

Selling Points: This is a wonderful film that deserves to find an audience on DVD. Film aficionados will appreciate Xiao's technical artistry and the film's similarity to the Italian classic Cinema Paradiso. — Laura Tiffany

Prebook 8/8; Street 9/5
Lifesize, Drama, $24.98 DVD, NR. In Romanian and French with English subtitles.
Stars Doroteea Petre.

Ryna is a teenage girl in a small town in Romania who tries to discover what she wants while she's surrounded by a jungle of male desire. The tomboy's father always hoped she'd be a boy, so Ryna is forced to keep her hair short, dress in baggy overalls and help Dad with the family gas station. Lusting after the young beauty are a simple mailboy, a visiting French anthropologist and the town's mayor, a friend of her dad who ultimately goes to terrible ends to try to secure a night of sexual satisfaction.

Ryna herself is rather quiet through her trials and conversations with these men in her life, but she expresses her strength in the occasional sharp remark, her confident disobedience and her love of photography. She takes pictures of the people of the town and the surrounding grassy plains and water to assert control over her understanding of beauty when her beauty is expressed only in lust from men and in a forced-tomboy look.

The tension of Ryna is realistic and less bombastic than many other dramas that deal with such intense feelings. That understated tension ultimately makes the film's climax powerful, with an event moviegoers have seen a thousand times before. But viewers can rest assured Ryna's strength will emerge from the dark moments after the town's fair.

Selling Points: Ryna will impress foreign-film fans, and fans of films about women and their struggles should give it a try. Brendan Howard

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Prebook 8/1; Street 9/12
Tartan, Comedy, B.O. $0.06 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘R.' In Romanian with English and Spanish subtitles.
Stars Ion Fiscuteanu, Luminita Gheorghiu, Gabriel Spahiu.

Partly inspired by true events, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is an American baby boomer's nightmare: a health care system so mired in bureaucracy that ambulances never seem to come, doctors can't agree on diagnoses, and life drains away while the patient is shuffled around like so much meat.

But it's clear that this is a treatise on ravaged post-Nicolae Ceausescu Romania. If the film wasn't such a close portrait of reported facts, it would be satire.

Instead, it's a window into a fearful prospect. Old and alone except for his three cats, Lazarescu is suddenly dependent on others for help that is not on the way. And while that may seem surreal to affluent Americans, those of lesser means will understand all too well.

To make matters worse, Lazarescu's daughter has moved to Canada in search of a better future, and health workers dismiss Lazarescu's call for medical help as the result of drinking while he waited.

The drama here comes from Lazarescu's urgency contrasted with his caregivers' indifference. His ability to keep his sense of humor in the face of obstacles sometimes brings this to the edge of black comedy, but it's more black than comedy.

The film has a point, but American audiences may struggle with it. They probably won't want to sit through endless subtitled discussions of bloody vomit and stool consistency in anything but a National Lampoon film.

Selling Points: The topic is depressing, and there is no happy ending. But foreign-film fans will appreciate the fresh eyes of a Romanian film industry that's still finding its voice after a dictator's fall. — Holly J. Wagner

HD DVD vs. DVD — A Road Test

In journalism, there are two schools of thought regarding S.W.A.G. (stuff we all get). One is “Return to Sender,” because journalistic integrity can't be bought. The other is to indulge, secure in the knowledge that you are objective, your ethics are beyond reproach, and your wallet is perennially on empty.

I chose the latter. And a Toshiba HD-A1 player was delivered to my office, thanks in part to my prescient girlfriend having sprung for a wall-mounted HDTV several months before.

After paying an electrician to wirelessly connect the HD-A1 from the closet to the AQUOS in the master bedroom, I began hearing scuttlebutt that the HD-A1 had disc-loading delays and crashing problems significant enough to warrant Toshiba issuing a firmware upgrade.

I got the upgrade, but haven't installed it because my HD-A1 works as well as my standard DVD player, so far . The only drawback: the remote control, which looks almost retro in its elongated 9.5-inch black-and-silver design, with buttons and lettering that are difficult to see and use, especially in the dark.

Finally, the improved digital picture quality is apparent compared to DVD, but not as appreciable as when viewed on a screen larger than 50 inches.

HD DVD player: Toshiba HD-A1
TV set: Sharp 45-inch HDTV AQUOS Liquid Crystal,
1920 x 1080 resolution, 800:1 contrast-ratio

Now for the road tests:

HD DVD/DVD combo
(Warner Home Video)

Load time:
Standard DVD: 34 seconds
HD DVD side of combo: 47 seconds
DVD side of combo: 36 seconds

Harrison Ford, who turned 64 this past week, looked every bit the burgeoning senior citizen in the thriller Firewall. Hollywood's perennial favorite dad/president under siege looked oh-so-human on HD DVD, the enhanced 1080i clarity of Han Solo's moles, sagging jowls and facial lines never more clear.

When compared to the DVD release, the Firewall HD DVD incorporates similar pause/play; settings; scene selection and special features.

Unique about HD DVD is the video zoom/pan option that lets viewers focus on peripheral scenes and enhance the picture eight times the original size. It should be noted that as the picture is enhanced, the clarity diminishes, which in effect reduces the advantage of HD.

You can also set the buttons on the remote to make a sound when you press them. While amusing, I quickly got over this gimmick and wondered why DVD bonus material — including “Firewall Decoded: A Conversation With Ford and director Richard Loncraine” and “Firewall: Writing a Thriller” — didn't make it onto HD DVD. Space problems?

16 Blocks
HD DVD/DVD combo
(Warner Home Video)

Load time:
Standard DVD: 32 seconds
HD DVD side of combo: 47 seconds
DVD side of combo: 33 seconds

Bruce Willis stars as a broken-down New York City cop whose apparent mundane transfer of a petty criminal 16 blocks from the police station to the courthouse becomes a test of character for both.

Gritty police work is great viewed in HD, but the disc had no bonus material (deleted scenes and commentary from director Richard Donner) except for an alternate ending on the flipside.

Lethal Weapon
(Warner Home Video)

Load time:
DVD: 34 seconds
HD DVD: 58 seconds

Again, having the ability to enlarge upon the opening scenes of the scantily clad female suicide jumper was diffused by a dearth of bonus material found on the DVD, including cast and crew commentary and a featurette about the stunts and action. Erik Gruenwedel

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