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Reviews: July 2

2 Jul, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Benchwarmers

The Benchwarmers
Street 7/25
Sony Pictures, Comedy, B.O. $57.7 million, $28.95 DVD ($28.95 UMD, $38.95 Blu-ray Disc also available), ‘PG-13' for crude and suggestive humor, and for language.
Stars Rob Schneider, David Spade, Jon Heder.

The Benchwarmers is a passable farts 'n' baseball comedy that has some cred (Adam Sandler produced; director Dennis Dugan also did Happy Gilmore) and an OK nerds vs. jocks storyline, but not as many laughs as you'd like. As a trio of mostly bad baseball players batting off against local kids, Spade offers his trademark sarcasm, plus an inexplicably weird haircut and moustache combo; Heder acts like Napoleon Dynamite; and Schneider is the most likeable while playing it straight.

The supporting cast are the real stars. Craig Kilborn is smarmy as a jock jerk, Jon Lovitz is a rich tech-geek with a penchant for movie props, Tim Meadows is the baseball coach, and, most notably, Nick Swardson is Spade's hilariously agoraphobic brother.

It's too bad The Benchwarmers has a ‘PG-13' rating. Kids could enjoy and be inspired by this nerd-power film, and the ‘PG-13' jokes and themes aren't worth locking out younger viewers.

The extras are lackluster. On the commentary track, director Dugan likes to state the obvious and compliment the cast. The Spade and Heder track is a little more entertaining, but Spade seems overly bored by both the commentary and the film — not a good endorsement. Four featurettes include a discussion on whether the cast members were bullies or bullied, a cameo by baseball great Reggie Jackson, a look at the pastime of baseball, and an out-of-place but entertaining clip reel of Swardson's performance. Rounding out the bonus features are deleted scenes to be watched only if in the throes of boredom. — Laura Tiffany

Broken Saints
Street 8/1
Fox, Animated, $49.98 four-DVD set, NR.

Originally a Web-based animated 24-chapter graphic novel, Broken Saints became a favorite of millions of online readers. Running nearly 12 hours, the basic story follows four characters who receive warning messages with apocalyptic overtones: a paranoid computer programmer in California, a mysterious orphan girl in Fiji who awakens from a coma with unusual powers, an aging priest reclaiming a sacred treasure in Japan and a troubled Arabic mercenary losing his sanity as he battles imagined demons.

The four tortured souls are desperate to understand their visions and their mission. Their fate and the fate of the world involves a global satellite communication network, a military project and a terrifying global conspiracy.

The series starts off slow and a bit confusing, as it introduces main characters and themes. However, once the characters start interacting with each other, I was hooked.

The creative team of Brooke Burgess (writer-director), Andrew West (art direction) and Ian Kirby (technical direction) worked wonders despite a limited budget. The animation is more of an artistic tool rather than a drawback, and the unique voice work done for the DVD is exceptional.

The episodes are full screen, but, unfortunately, are presented here in nonanamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen format. Still, it looks good, with rich colors and fine detail. Audio options include the original stereo soundtrack and a superb Dolby Digital 5.1 mix with voice narration.

Selling Points: This is the first U.S. DVD release of the hugely popular Web-based series. Anime fans will appreciate the quality presentation and the treasure chest of extras. Due to language and content, this series is definitely not for children. — Andrew Melomet

What's on DVD?

  • Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Fund-raising concert footage
  • Panel discussions and lectures
  • TV coverage
  • Interviews
  • Documentaries
  • Fan films
  • DVD-ROM Webcast chapters, MP3s and wallpapers

  • Nobelity
    Prebook 7/25; Street 8/26
    Monterey, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

    You won't find more effort, better execution or more heartfelt reasoning in a world-affairs documentary than in Nobelity. Filmmaker Turk Pipkin has only the noblest aims — making the world a better place for his two daughters. His subjects are the greatest minds the world has to offer: Nobel Prize winners from scientific, economic and social fields. And he has enough sense to let them talk. It helps that Pipkin does more research on them than any TV interviewer in recent (and distant) memory. Even the cinematography is alive with the project's spirit, invoking the living soul of each new setting. It is strange, therefore, that it still feels like something is missing.

    Perhaps it's the obvious care and finances that went into Nobelity that makes one wonder whether that time and money could have been better spent actually helping make the world a better place. The film's exceptional quality is defense enough from such statements, but it also is enough to raise the question: Is the movie's true focus the state of world affairs, or art? That is to say, given global concerns, why would an activist concern himself with the beauty of his documentary and seek to profit, and profit from, commercial endeavors?

    Selling Points: Philosophical questions aside, Nobelity is an outstanding documentary. Its quality and insights will guarantee it a lengthy life on shelves. — J.R. Wick

    The Shaggy Dog
    Street 8/1
    BV/Disney, Comedy, B.O. $60.2 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘PG' for some mild rude humor.
    Stars Tim Allen, Kristin Davis., Danny Glover, Robert Downey Jr.

    Disney continues to update its catalog with remakes like these — for better or worse. This family-friendly film focuses on a family in crisis. The domestic unit is saved through magic intervention, with appropriate lessons learned and family values restored.

    The surprise here is that Allen's performance is a wild physical comedy tour de force. In the 1959 original, Fred MacMurray took the role of the put-upon dad who must contend with the fact that his son is turning into a dog. Here, it's Allen as Dave Douglas — a workaholic Deputy DA dad with no time for the wife and kids — who gets to do the hot-dogging, a plot more akin to 1976's The Shaggy D.A.

    Prosecuting a case against animal rights activists protesting the animal testing in a genetic engineering project, Douglas — not a fan of four-legged creatures — has his world turned upside town when a specimen (in the form of a 300-year-old Buddhist sheepdog) kidnapped by his daughter comes home and sinks his teeth into him, causing a gradual physical and ideological transformation that would impress even “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney.

    Of course, an intellectually challenging story takes a back seat here to cat-chasing, fur-shaking and tail-wagging fun. And Allen rises to the occasion.

    Solid turns by Davis, Glover and a scenery-chewing performance from Downey Jr. serve as support for the parade of doggy tricks. The Shaggy Dog is perfect for families who just want to sit back and have a good laugh together.

    Selling Points: Allen really has found a niche for himself in family-friendly fare, and this film is a welcome addition to his catalog. — David Greenberg

    What's on DVD?

  • Deleted scenes
  • Bloopers and outtakes
  • Director/producer commentary
  • Music video

  • Choose Your Own Adventure: The Abominable Snowman
    Prebook 7/15; Street 7/25
    Goldhil, Children's, $19.98 DVD, NR.
    Voice talent from William H. Macy, Frankie Muniz, Felicity Huffman, Lacey Chabert.

    In the clever and engaging The Abominable Snowman, the enormously popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series morphs into an interactive DVD that lets kids have a huge impact on the story.

    Three children whose adventurer parents were killed under mysterious circumstances are summoned by their uncle to Nepal, where he arranges to meet them at the foot of the Himalayas.

    Setting out for the other side of the world are Crista, the oldest and most fearless; Benjamin, a gifted inventor and habitual worrier; and youngest Marco, wise beyond his years. During their journey, viewers decide if the kids should parachute from a plane, which is losing fuel, or stay with the aircraft to see if it will land safely — and that's just the first choice.

    The children finally arrive in Nepal only to discover their uncle has gone missing (careful listeners will hear an uncredited turn by “Desperate Housewives’ Huffman as Uncle Rudy's worried helicopter pilot). The children manage to catch up with their relative in the middle of a avalanche. At every turn, viewers must choose the next path.

    The voice talent is uniformly good, with Macy striking just the right note of gruff warmth as the children's doting uncle and Muniz surprisingly emotive as a boy with a grown-up intellect and a child's perspective.

    The DVD is packaged with an Adventure Journal that gives readers facts about Nepal, a packing checklist and notes about the terrain, the indigenous animals and vegetation.

    Selling Points: The old books are coming back to stores, so expect nostalgic parents and excited kids to snap this up. — Anne Sherber

    What's on DVD?

  • Making-of featurette
  • Music video
  • Documentary about Nepal

  • The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.: The Complete Series
    Street 7/18
    Warner, Western, $99.98 eight-DVD set, NR.
    Stars Bruce Campbell.

    Never given time to reach its full potential, “Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” was yet another inventive series canceled just as it began to hit its stride. Hailing from the sci-fi-meets-Western genre, it had all the ingredients to outdo the most successful of its ilk, “The Wild Wild West.” Key among these was its star, Campbell, who seemed poised for ultra-cult status once “Brisco” hit the airwaves. Alas, the series only survived a single season, and Campbell's mix of machismo, dry wit and clueless wisdom never received the exposure it deserved.

    The first — and only — season boxed set tries to make up for this, giving the helm of many of its extras to the series' star. Campbell voices opinions and inside jokes over the pilot episode, reads from his autobiography and narrates interesting “inventions” peculiar to the show in “Brisco's Book of Coming Things.” He also gets his share of screen time in a feature called “Tools of the Trade,” which goes behind the scenes to look at horse-riding, women and other such cowboy things.

    Perhaps the best extra, however, is the boisterous and revealing roundtable talk with “Brisco” writers and creative staff. The special-features disc is rounded out by a more traditional behind-the-scenes documentary that details the origins of the show and the selection of its cast. — J.R. Wick

    The Iris Effect
    Prebook 7/5; Street 7/25
    MTI, Thriller, $24.95 DVD, ‘R.'
    Stars Anne Archer, Mia Kirshner, Agnes Bruckner.

    Spooky goings-on combined with a mother's obsession and the beauty of St. Petersburg, Russia, make The Iris Effect an involving supernatural thriller that doubles as a travelogue.

    Archer plays Sarah, a mother whose artist son disappeared years earlier. Plagued by nightmares and the feeling that her son is still alive — despite others' doubts — Sarah won't give up.

    The nonstop quest caused the loss of her marriage and perhaps her sanity. But when Sarah sees photographs of artwork on display at a gallery in St. Petersburg, she's convinced they're her son's work.

    After Sarah meets the artist and realizes it's not her son, she remains convinced the art is his. Treated as deranged, Sarah presses on, uncovering a supernatural mystery. In the mix are two beautiful women, played by Kirshner and Bruckner, who know more than they're saying.

    The Iris Effect is visually splendid, wallowing in the architectural joys of St. Petersburg. The film balances a moody and sometimes disturbing story with the softer side of Archer's character. Though a little confusing by the end, The Iris Effect elicits both empathy and chills.

    Selling Points: Archer is a likable actress whose presence and intelligence make her popular among mid-age viewers, while young actresses Kirshner and Bruckner (both from “24” and feature films) have fans. — Dan Bennett

    Masters of Horror: Homecoming
    Street 7/11
    Anchor Bay, Horror, $16.98 DVD, NR.
    Stars Jon Tenney, Thea Gill, Robert Picardo.

    Homecoming is every conservative's nightmare and every liberal's fantasy come true. Director Joe Dante's politically driven film, part of Showtime's “Masters of Horror” series, is the provocative story of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraqi war rising from the dead as zombies to vote against the incumbent Republican presidential candidate (who is never shown but sounds a lot like Pres. Bush). The zombies' sole mission is to vote out those who started the unjust war and got them killed so they can finally die in peace.

    Dante successfully mixes satire and horror to create this timely, highly entertaining masterpiece. The film is extremely sharp and well written, and does a great job of lampooning ultraconservative pundits through its two main characters: unethical political consultant David Murch (Tenney) and the sinister Jane Cleaver (Gill), who looks and talks like Ann Coulter. They work together to downplay the negative press from the soldier zombies in order to win the election by any means necessary.

    No matter how you stand politically, you have to give Dante and screenwriter Sam Hamm (Batman) credit for tackling such a sensitive subject with humor, while still getting the message across. The filmmakers went out of their way to not only deliver grotesque-looking zombies, but also to include such powerful images as newly deceased soldiers busting out of their flag-draped coffins.

    Selling Points: Mixing zombies and dark comedy has proved successful, as seen with Shaun of the Dead and releases as far back as the “Return of the Living Dead” series. — Matthew Miller

    What's on DVD?

  • Interviews
  • Three featurettes
  • Writer's commentary
  • “Fantasy Film Festival: Mick Garris Interviews Joe Dante”
  • DVD-ROM screenplay and screensaver

  • Richard Pryor: Live in Concert
    Street 8/1
    HBO, Comedy, $19.97 DVD, NR.

    It was Pryor's special genius to make the horrors of life funny. From heart attacks to parental beatings, Pryor could draw humor from the most dangerous subjects, giving them new life with his inexhaustible imagination. With an endless wealth of gestures and impressions and a crude but evocative vocabulary, he could paint full worlds on stage in only an instant.

    Richard Pryor: Live in Concert captures his manic brilliance. Simple and direct, it gives us front row seats to his one-man show. He is near the height of his powers; already ravaged and almost killed by his own cocaine addiction, he adds new tragedies into an act already packed with sorrow. And damn is it funny.

    Unlike other comedians, however, he never relinquishes the pain at the heart of his funniest bits. Instead, he seems to relive it, exorcising demons by converting them to something positive. When, midway through his act, a woman in the audience yells, “Preach it!,” you can't help but feel you've entered Pryor's church, where comedy is the path to salvation.

    Selling Points: Pryor is a legend with a long list of movies to his credit. This latest addition to his stand-up catalog will meet with similar success. — J.R. Wick

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