Saturday, October 25, 2008
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Blu-ray Spotlight: Doomsday
Universal, Action, B.O. $11 million, $39.98 Blu-ray, $29.98 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Alexander Siddig, Adrian Lester, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Emma Cleasby, Chris Robson, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Leslie Simpson, Craig Conway, Malcolm McDowell.
It's obvious from the get-go that writer-director Neil Marshall (The Descent) has been given free reign with this unrated cut of Doomsday, as blood and chunks of brain flow freely throughout the movie.
The story borrows elements from such films as The Road Warrior, 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, Escape From New York and Lord of the Rings, and in some ways works better than some of the films that inspired it.
The government of the United Kingdom walls off Scotland to trap a killer virus, which returns 30 years later. The only chance for a cure is to return to Scotland to seek survivors.
Doomsday looks and sounds fantastic and is definitely a movie to catch in high-definition. Rather than relying on special effects, Marshall has created lavish set pieces filled with details that come through in 1080p. The sound mix also is top notch. This isn't a dialogue-driven movie, but what is said is very clear on this transfer.
Universal once again centers its exclusive BD features around its U-Control experience. “The Reaper Files” explores the mythology behind the film. “Tech Specs” pops up to delve further into the technology behind the film's very cool hardware, weapons and gadgets. A picture-in-picture mode appears at certain points to allow viewers to watch the DVD's featurettes simultaneously with the on-screen action.
There also is commentary with Marshall and a few of the supporting cast members, who spend a lot of time complimenting one another. — John Gaudiosi
The Chosen One
Prebook 7/31; Street 9/2
Indican, Comedy, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Voices of Chad Fifer, Tim Curry, Laura Prepon, Lance Henrikson, Danielle Fishel, Traci Lords, Chris Sarandon, Debra Wilson.
Lou Hanske (voiced by Fifer) is having a rough week. He's lost his job and his girl, a Russian satellite crushed his car, and a bear attacked him in the middle of the street. As if all of that isn't enough pressure, he was just informed that he is the so-called Chosen One — hence the title.
However, could God be nothing more than a slacker? Perish the thought!
While the satellite, bear and too-lazy-to-be-a-vengeful-God thing may be out of the ordinary, The Chosen One falls in line with a typical semi-lovable-loser comedy. Being animated, this one takes a few liberties with the formula.
The vocal talents of Curry, Henriksen, Sarandon, Prepon and Lords, combined with the hipster animation style, offer the main points of interest for viewers. It's like something that could be featured in Adult Swim's animation lineup.
One must give props to director and animator Chris Lackey. Apparently, with the help of writer-star Fifer, the two used Flash to put together the entire film inside a Santa Monica, Calif., apartment.
There wasn't a whole lot of extra footage left on the cutting room (or apartment) floor. Lackey is the only one supplying commentary for his labor of love, and the only other extras are stills and deleted scenes. — Rachel Cericola
Prebook 7/30; Street 8/26
Lionsgate, Thriller, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for language and some violent/disturbing content.
Stars Mary Stockley, Felix Scott, Max Digby, Jason Morrell, Peter Warnock, Martin George Swabey, V?ronique Van De Vin, C?cile Boland.
Artifacts is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller about a group of friends being eliminated by their own doppelgangers as part of a deadly experiment.
Unknowingly at the center of this covert, experimental research operation is Kate Warner (Stockley), a self-admitted workaholic who recently dumped her boyfriend to focus on her startup consulting business. Following the mysterious deaths of several of her friends, who were all found with strange metallic artifacts in their chests, Kate begins receiving cryptic phone calls that lead to a violent run-in with her double.
The encounter sends Kate back into the arms of her ex, Mike (Scott), and together they set out to uncover who has made them part of this ruthless game. As they fight to stay alive, not really able to trust each other or themselves anymore with their clones on the loose, their main concern is finding a way to remove the artifact inside of them that seems to be a tracking device, leading their killer duplicates right to them.
On the run, Kate and Mike follow clues while struggling to piece together their pasts with memories that have been erased.
Artifacts is an impressive independent film, especially considering it was shot in only 12 days, under the direction of Belgian filmmakers Giles Daoust (adding to his list of thrillers such as A Broken Life and The Room) and Emmanuel Jespers.
The film has been critically acclaimed at film festivals worldwide, including being the official selection of the Hollywood Film Festival and winning the Platinum Award at the WorldFest-Houston Independent Film Festival.
Stars Stockley (V for Vendetta) and Scott, an emerging young British actor, both deliver commanding performances that add to the film's intensity and originality. Artifacts also has a very “X-Files” look and feel, which means it's hitting at just the right time to get a bump from The X-Files: I Want to Believe, hitting theaters July 25. – Matt Miller
Adventures of Johnny Tao
MTI, Action, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for violence and martial arts action.
Stars Matthew Twining, Matt Mullins, Chris Yen, Kelly Perine, Lindsay Parker, Marianne Muellerleile, Michael Gregory, James Hong, Jason London.
Adventures of Johnny Tao is a throwback to family-friendly martial arts films of the 1980s such as The Karate Kid and The Last Dragon.
The adventure follows Johnny Dow (Twining), an altruistic gas station owner/mechanic whose best friend, Eddie (Mullins), unleashes a demonic spirit that takes over his body.
Eddie becomes a superhuman fighting machine who uses his powers to transform the townspeople into an army of doughnut-craving kung fu warriors. Now the fate of the small town, and the world, lies in Johnny's ability to use the martial arts skills he's acquired from watching old movies.
Luckily, Johnny gets some much-needed help from a mysterious Chinese warrior named Mika (Yen), who has been training all her life to fight the demon spirit. They work to prevent the spirit from completing an artifact that would give the demon the power to take over the world. Their best weapon turns out to be a guitar of Johnny's musician father.
Adventures of Johnny Tao is a highly entertaining film that combines fast-paced kung fu action with toe-tapping rockabilly music. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and the violence is mild, which makes it a film that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.
The film is filled with young actors such as Twining (“One Life to Live”), but its real draw is world-champion martial artist Mullins (a rising action star who appeared on “America's Got Talent” last year and is in the upcoming “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight” series). The film also won Best Feature at the 2007 Backlot Film Festival. – Matt Miller
Love For Sale
Prebook 7/31; Street 8/26
Strand, Drama, $27.99 DVD, Unrated.
In Portuguese with English subtitles.
A homecoming for a prodigal son or daughter can be bittersweet — or just plain bitter when they come back less than triumphant.
Hermila (Hermila Guedes) returns to her small town from a stint in Sao Paulo, where she got married and had a baby, but she doesn't land softly back at her grandmother's house. She returns with only baby, not husband.
Unable to find work and inspired by her prostitute friend, Hermila alights on the idea of raffling herself off for “one night in paradise” to earn money for a house. After learning what it's like for half the town to think she's a whore, her plans change.
Love for Sale is a movie made of the small, often silent moments that can lead to a life-changing event. While beautifully shot in a dusty, ramshackle town in Brazil, director and writer Karim Ainouz (Madame Sata) seems even more inspired by the unconventional beauty of Guedes. With a winning smile, badly bleached hair and tiny outfits that both ward off the Brazilian heat and attract the local men, she veers precariously from being a young woman who rightfully should be dancing and drinking with friends, to one who believes her body is the only way out of her situation.
It's a slow, melancholy piece that touches on the tragedies of being a young, poor mother who cannot find her place in the world. Wife, mother, worker, friend, whore — none seem to fit right, perhaps because she cannot allow them to fit.
The Love for Sale moniker is a most unfortunate change. The original title, Suely in the Sky, is a much more apt name for this dreamy slice-of-life film. While only 90 minutes long, the molasses pacing may put some impatient viewers off, but for those who want to soak in the scenery and a moving story, this will be a good choice. – Laura Tiffany
Start, Documentary, $29.99 DVD, NR.
There's a lot to love in Love Story, a scrappy documentary about one of the great transcendent psychedelic rock groups.
Love found local fame in the mid-1960s by crafting sinister, baroque tunes that owed as much to classical music as The Beatles. One of the first rock bands to incorporate strings into their compositions, Love's trailblazing ways ensured they would forever remain a musicians' and critics' band.
But Love's 1968 album, Forever Changes, changed everything. No longer an L.A. treasure, Love is now widely considered to have crafted one of the greatest albums of all time. Neophytes should start with Forever Changes, not this documentary, which is mostly for fans.
What Love Story gets right, that so many music docs get wrong, is it focuses on the music and not the “Behind the Music” clich?s of Love's backstory, of which there are plenty — drug abuse, in-fighting and the arrest of Love main man Arthur Lee after he fired a gun into the air in 1996.
Love Story touches on all of these things, as well as Lee's status as one of the first black musicians to front a well-known rock band, but it gives ample time to the musicians and their admirers.
The best moments of Love Story come when the musicians talk about the music itself. Band members Bryan Mac-Lean, John Echols, Michael Stuart and Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer; John Densmore of the Doors; and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream give their takes on the music, and the times that spawned it. As the film rolls through the band's history and rise to semi-fame in the L.A. music scene, punctuated by their first taste of success with a mean 1966 cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's “My Little Red Book,” we get some sense of what it was like to be there.
But in the end, it's the attention to each of the band's studio albums and live performances that make the biggest impression. It's the music that makes Love Story essential viewing. – Billy Gil
Monarch, Drama, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic material, smoking and brief mild language.
Stars Christine Ghawi, Enrico Colantoni, Peter MacNeill, Jodelle Ferland.
Celine, billed as “The Unauthorized Life Story of Celine Dion,” attempts to chronicle Dion's rise to fame. It begins with her youth in Quebec, where her working-class family struggled to make ends meet.
Celine's talent is clear from early on, and with a headstrong and supportive father guiding her, the young girl's vocals find their way to famed producer Rene Angelil, who begins his plan to make Celine a superstar when she is only 12.
Through family tragedies, numerous obstacles and a tough business atmosphere, the singular-minded Celine begins to attract fans, and by the time she records one of the major songs for the film Beauty and the Beast, Celine enjoys an extremely devoted following.
Soon after, of course, she will become tabloid fodder and marry Angelil. And despite the associated controversy, she ultimately becomes a fabled superstar.
This is a workable, mildly entertaining biopic that Dion and her people had nothing to do with — one of those unauthorized projects that feeds off its potential for controversy. It has caused some, especially for intense Dion fans, who pepper online film message boards with objections to bad facts and mistaken chronology. Those fans know when Dion began singing in English (instead of French), when she married Angelil, etc.
For the less informed, even those who aren't big fans of Dion's ultra-powerful voice and sometimes sappy and overwrought lyrics, the story told here still engages. Maybe some intense followers will forgive the alleged factual lapses in deference to its overall tributary tone. – Dan Bennett
Kids View: Wizards of Waverly Place: Wizard School
Disney, Family, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Selena Gomez, David Henrie, Jake T. Austin, Maria Canals-Barrera, David DeLuise.
I don't enjoy most kid-friendly sitcoms, but I found myself liking “Wizards of Waverly Place.” The concept of a family of everyday wizards appealed to me, and the humor is interesting.
The show is about a family of wizards living in New York City as if they are regular people, with slightly irregular problems, like how to keep secret the fact that the new family pet is a dog-dragon hybrid.
The bonus features on this first DVD, which collects four episodes, were nothing much to speak of; I was pretty bored by fashion tips, skateboarding tricks and boxing techniques (in short, what the actors do in their spare time), but other teens and pre-teens might enjoy them. – Maxine Donnelly, age 14