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Reviews: July 30

30 Jul, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Wild

The Wild
Prebook 8/1; Street 9/12
BV/Disney, Animated, B.O. $36.1 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘G.'
Voice talent from Kiefer Sutherland, Jim Belushi, Janeane Garofalo.

The Wild suffered heavily from Disney-DreamWorks comparison syndrome, as DreamWorks was able to get the similarly themed Madagascar into theaters first. That said, it reminded me more of Finding Nemo. Child (this time a lion cub) lost in the wild? Check. Not-so-brave dad on the hunt? Check. Quirky sidekicks assisting dad? Check.

The film begins strongly with a fantasy sequence, as if the animators were going to veer from the every-strand-of-hair-is-perfectly-realized school of CG for a stylized approach. Alas, that only lasts for five minutes.

The rendering of the animals is text-book impressive, but the realism lacks the goofiness that brings joy to children's animation. The voice acting is certainly good, and the adventure is swift. But this is a film that is more a capable, kid-friendly way to waste 95 minutes than a classic in the making.

For those Disneyphiles who must have every DVD, the extras will disappoint. The five deleted scenes are most appealing, as they're partially unfinished and give a peek into the different stages of the animation process. The two featurettes are random: One splits the screen between Eddie Izzard voice-acting in the studio and his animated character, while the other introduces Colin Cunningham, a production employee who received a voice role on the basis of his goofy personality. A music video for the theme (a cover, naturally, of “Real Wild Child”) is hardly worth a mention. — Laura Tiffany

Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby Is a Friend of Mine
Street 8/22
Monterey, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Fred Gwynne.

Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby Is a Friend of Mine is a 1982 TV movie about a young boy named Ralph who, while daily sweeping up in a small-town barber shop, dreams of one day achieving literary greatness. His ambition gets a boost when an oddball boarder checks into his grandparents' rooming house claiming to be none other than Charles Dickens. Beside himself with admiration — and too young to recognize a fraud — Ralph volunteers as the great author's secretary. Together they work on a “new” novel of monumental importance.

It seems strange that Ralph is so familiar with Dickens, yet unfamiliar with A Tale of Two Cities. But then, he is almost as eager to believe in his new friend's identity as the imposter is. As with all childhood fantasies, however, the delusion can only last so long. The other adults in Ralph's life are kindly indulgent up to a point, but when his attachment to the so-called Dickens starts to take over his life, they intervene with a necessary dose of reality.

Based on a Ray Bradbury story, Any Friend is charming children's fare. Fred Gwynne (of “The Munsters”) is enjoyable enough as the would-be Dickens, but the rest of the cast's performances are fairly stilted and awkward — not that most young viewers will notice. The story is told ably and amiably with a bright, whimsical charm most family audiences will appreciate.

Selling Points: Gwynne and Bradbury fans will want to check it out. Also available Aug. 22 are adaptations of works by Kurt Vonnegut, Shirley Jackson, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Emily Dickinson. — Eddie Mullins

Rome: The Complete First Season
Street 8/15
HBO, Drama, $99.98 six-DVD set, NR.
Stars Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson.

This epic BBC/HBO miniseries chronicles the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire through the eyes of two foot solders, Lucius Vorenus (McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Stevenson).

It starts when Gaius Julius Caesar heads home after eight years of war to face his old friend and mentor, Pompey Magnus, now his political rival for control of Rome. Lucius and Titus help thwart Pompey's plans and find themselves involved with Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra and the boy Gaius Octavian, who will become the first emperor of Rome. All the while, powerful women like Caesar's niece Atia and Caesar's lover Servilia manipulate and murder to protect their families and interests.

The extras are just as detailed as the show's elaborate set in Rome:

  • Audio commentaries are on eight of the 12 episodes.
  • “All Roads Lead to Rome” is an interactive onscreen guide with historical footnotes on all episodes.
  • The featurette “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” gives historical background and serves as an introduction to the major characters.
  • “Shot X Shot: Caesar's Triumph” and “Gladiator” detail the re-creations of Caesar's triumphant return to Rome and the bloodily accurate arena scenes.
  • The “Rise of Rome” featurette looks at the making of the series.
  • The “When in Rome” featurette focuses on the production's efforts to maintain historical and cultural accuracy.
  • A photo gallery contains more than 50 images.

  • Retail tie-ins include Empire, the ABC miniseries about Octavian after Caesar's assassination; the BBC production of I, Claudius, starring Derek Jacobi; and, for documentary fans, The History Channel Presents Julius Caesar's Rome streets July 26. — Andrew Melomet

    Street July 25
    SideShow Productions, Comedy, $15.99 DVD (available from www.buygamers.com), NR.
    Stars John Heard, Beverly D'Angelo, William Katt, Kelly LeBrock, Michael Bell.

    This independent film was created and is being self-distributed by first-time producer-writer-director Chris Folino, a die-hard gamer who works at video game company THQ. Using a mockumentary approach with Bell as the narrator, this comedy follows the crowning achievement in the lives of four Los Angeles gamers and one annoying wannabe. Having played the fictitious pen-and-paper role-playing game Demons, Nymphs and Dragons for 23 years, the four players are about to break the world record for gaming.

    Set over the course of one day, the film uses numerous 1980s flashbacks (and a few '80s songs) to show the obsessive nature of the four gamers, several of whom, in their 30s, still live with their parents.

    Newcomer Dave Hanson provides the most laughter as the pathetic Reese, a loser who can't game to save his life. It's his annoying interactions with the quartet of friends that set up the biggest laughs. Gordon, Kevin, Paul and Fernando play the story's central gamers, and each holds his own in the story and flashback sequences.

    There are lots of cameos throughout the comedy. Icons of the '80s like Kelly LeBrock (Weird Science) and William Katt (“The Greatest American Hero”) have memorable scenes. John Heard (“Prison Break”) and Beverly D'Angelo (National Lampoon's Vacation) play Gordon's parents, who happen to be swingers.

    While pen-and-paper gaming is the central focus, the film's humor is mainstream. Anyone who grew up in the 1980s will get many of the references, and video game and gaming fans will find this film especially funny.

    Selling Points: With a recognizable cast and a largely untouched topic, Gamers could appeal to a wide range of consumers. It's a blend of Napoleon Dynamite and This Is Spinal Tap. — John Gaudiosi

    Street 8/15
    Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence, sexual content/nudity and language.
    Stars David Hayes, Jose Rosete.

    Garage mechanic Motor Man Dan (Hayes) — a fat, hairy sadist with a violent neck twitch — fetishizes serial killers, collecting their weapons and the body parts of their victims. Returning to his compound in the Arizona desert, Dan accidentally runs down a stranded motorist, Ryan (Rosete), giving him the chance to add the ultimate piece to his collection.

    Dan rebuilds Ryan's body and (somehow) his soul into a mechanized, armored killer, then trains him on the luckless people who stop by his compound: a trio of twentysomethings, a blind woman and her husband, and a detective looking for Ryan.

    Dan meets his match when Ryan's sister, Angela (Patti Tindall), who has been searching for her missing brother, shows up (beginning some incredibly slow film time). Dan's conditioning apparently hasn't eradicated Ryan's affection for his sister. Although to save her brother and herself (and her husband, who shows up looking for her), Angela may have to destroy him and Dan.

    Selling Points: Even though most of the victims are adults, Machined falls into the teen slasher genre, with its dark, grimy, disheveled surroundings, and its likenesses to Hostel, the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the “Saw” and “Friday the 13th” series. — Mark Lowe

    QUICK TAKE: Brilliant City
    Based on just a screener of the first two episodes, just about anybody would pronounce the Brazilian TV show “City of Men” funny, heartwarming, exciting and thoughtful. Inspired by the filmmakers' movie City of God, the show follows two 13-year-old friends, Laranjinha (confident, suave, courageous) and Acerola (sensitive, moody, troubled), as they try to survive poverty, love, gangs and guns in one of the worst neighborhoods in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. Seeing the other 17 episodes from the $32.98 three-DVD set (Palm Pictures; prebook Aug. 28, street Sept. 26) is top of my list. Brendan Howard

    Rest Stop
    Prebook 9/12; Street 10/17
    Raw Feed/Warner, Horror, $24.98 DVD, NR.
    Stars Jaimie Alexander, Joseph Lawrence, Joey Mendicino.

    When twentysomethings couple Nicole and Jess are nearly run off the road by a truck on a twisty mountain road, it looks like Rest Stop is just the latest in a long line of road-killer flicks: Duel, Joy Ride, etc. Especially boding ill for the couple is their choice to fornicate just off the road.

    But after Nicole has to make a potty pit stop at a rest-stop restroom in the woods, she emerges to find Jess and the car gone. Thus, begins the real meat of this movie. Nicole's claustrophobic nightmare of a night will immerse the audience in her paranoia, fear and hysterical courage, with a twist ending that is predictable but delicious. Strange sights, short-lived strangers, sadistic torture and an insanely religious family add to the mayhem.

    Rest Stop is the Jaimie Alexander show as Nicole, and she largely pulls it off. Alexander's longest co-star is “Blossom's” Joseph “Joey” Lawrence, who plays a cop caught in the truck killer's sights. At first, his sweet face and usually comic roles make suspension of disbelief difficult, but wait for the gruesome fates that await the leads and watch Lawrence pull it off.

    Both entertaining and enlightening, “home movies” from the crazy family and an alternate ending are must-see DVD extras after watching the film.

    Selling Points: This is the first in the much-ballyhooed direct-to-DVD “Raw Feed” series, featuring up-and-coming horror directors. This film's writer-director John Shiban (writer for “Enterprise,””Supernatural,” “The X-Files”) fits the bill nicely. Brendan Howard

    Gloomy Sunday
    Prebook 8/8; Street 9/12
    Warner, Romance, B.O. $0.1 million, $19.97 DVD, NR. In German with English and Spanish subtitles.
    Stars Joachim Krol, Erika Maroszan, Ben Becker.

    Hungarian passion under a German veneer, Gloomy Sunday is a mix of gypsy magic and cinematic polish. Sometimes the polish is a little too bright, its shine revealing gaudy trinkets best left obscured by dust, but always the melancholy witchcraft of pre-WWII Budapest sweeps in, shrouding the exposed secrets.

    The film's palpable sorcery owes as much to its cast and lavish sets as it does to its haunting centerpiece: the Hungarian composition “Gloomy Sunday,” an actual song that inspired a string of suicides in the wake of its release. Opening with the strange death of an old German man to the song, Gloomy Sunday quickly flashes back 50 or 60 years to the goings-on at Restaurant Szabo, a sumptuous, but still homey, establishment flourishing in 1930s Budapest. There, owner Szabo (deftly played by Krol) and waitress Ilona (an electric Maroszan) audition pianists for the restaurant as they revel in mutual love. Enter Andras, a brooding, handsome and talented pianist with an instant flame for Ilona.

    A surprisingly modern relationship springs from the trio, and somehow they reach a communal harmony. Such bliss is not meant to last, however, as the Third Reich soon crushes their peace beneath its iron heel.

    The primary antagonist to their happy state is a former customer of Szabo, once smitten by Ilona, now Hitler's main enforcer in Budapest.

    As the tearjerker plays out toward its conclusion, the characters deepen in emotional complexity, and the film metamorphoses from a slightly humdrum love story into a gripping drama.

    Selling Points: Adapted from a Nick Barkow novel and featuring a legendary song, Gloomy Sunday has a deep well from which to draw. It's also a weeper in a dry season — one which may find a nice audience despite being from foreign soil. It's also available in the International Cinema Collection ($79.92) along with The Damned, Death in Venice, Day for Night and A Very Long Engagement. — J.R. Wick

    Lower City
    Prebook 8/14; Street 9/12
    Palm, Drama, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for mature language, drugs and violence. In Portuguese with English subtitles.
    Stars Lazaro Ramos, Wagner Moura, Alice Braga.

    The latest in a recent wave of strong titles from Brazil, Lower City explores a fiery love triangle between a prostitute and two best friends.

    Deco (Ramos) and Naldinho (Moura) give Karinna (Braga) a ride on their cargo boat in exchange for sex. But later, a bar fight leaves Naldinho seriously wounded, and she becomes emotionally entangled with the pair. She begins playing Deco and Naldinho off one another as a sexual game, but their jealousy drives them dangerously apart.

    Lower City has a tremendous sense of place, and a sensuality and violence that are nearly indistinguishable in these characters. They have sex, they fight, and their poverty often leads them to activities that straddle the law. But director and writer Sergio Machado neither judges nor excuses the trio. He expertly performs the not-always-easy task of showing, not telling, how these characters' personalities drive their actions. The dialogue is sparse, but viewers come away understanding each person and their contradictions: Naldinho's macho swagger and childlike pleasure in caring for Karinna; Deco's shyness, fierce loyalty and bubbling-under violence; and Karinna's ability to use sex to get what she wants — if only she knew what she wanted.

    While the love triangle tale is so classic it could be clich?, it's still riveting to watch these characters fall apart because of their obsession with each other.

    Selling Points: Independent film fans who loved City of God will love this passionate and sexy drama, which won the “Award of Youth” at the 2005 Cannes Festival. — Laura Tiffany

    Prebook 9/5; Street 9/25
    Screen Media, Thriller, B.O. $0.03 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexuality.
    Stars Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei, Campbell Scott, Oliver Platt, Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock.

    Kevin Bacon has developed a solid reputation as an actor who's not afraid to take chances and look bad. A killer in Murder in the First, a homosexual convict in J.F.K. and a pedophile in The Woodsman, Bacon is willing to take tough roles.

    So, it's no surprise he chose to deal with troubled, complicated characters and situations in Loverboy, acting as director and co-star.

    In the films where Bacon has played challenging characters, it's usually in the service of a strong story. Here, however, the protagonist, Emily (played by Bacon's wife, Sedgwick), is one of those characters, but her story is not especially compelling nor is she particularly sympathetic.

    Emily (played in flashbacks by Bacon and Sedgwick's daughter Sosie) is raised by barely competent parents (Bacon and Tomei) and grows into a woman who wants to be a mother but not a wife. When she gets her wish, she becomes dangerously overprotective, threatening to isolate her son while trying to raise him by her rules in a defiantly offbeat lifestyle.

    Fault the material more than Bacon's direction, although he does focus more on the characters' quirks than moving the thin narrative along.

    The performances by the Bacon-Sedgwick family members are good, as are Tomei and the other big names — Platt, Scott, Dillon and Bullock — who show up in brief appearances.

    There's nothing wrong with presenting difficult characters if the audience can feel a degree of sympathy for them. Otherwise, the movies in which they appear can easily become uninvolving, difficult and unpleasant to watch.

    Selling Points: The cast and packaging should attract viewers. Fans of Bacon will want to see his directorial debut and another opportunity to watch him work with his wife — although they have no scenes together. — David Greenberg

    Don't Come Knocking
    Street 8/8
    Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $0.4 million, $24.96 DVD, ‘R' for language and brief nudity.
    Stars Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, Gabriel Mann, Sarah Polley, Fairuza Balk, Eva Marie Saint.

    Entertainingly eccentric characters are a dime a dozen in this riveting two-hour drama, but that's just one reason this film is such a jewel.

    The brilliant Shepard, who wrote Don't Come Knocking, delivers a monumental performance as Howard Spence, a once-hot Western movie star whose bad-boy behavior caught up with him. He also has left a checkered past in his wake. Some of it, he's yet to discover.

    His life suddenly changes when he bolts from a movie set and is determined not to be found anytime soon. A quest for answers about his past leads him on an entertaining road trip — to Elko, Nev., where his mother (Eva Marie Saint), whom he hasn't seen in 30 years, lives, and then to the big-sky country of Butte, Mont., where most of the movie's best action occurs.

    Oscar-winning actress Lange, Shepard's real-life companion, also is strong as Spence's former lover Doreen. Mann, Roth and Polley also are outstanding. George Kennedy appears in a cameo role as a director.

    Selling Points: Don't Come Knocking was nominated last year for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival. It also received international critical claim in Europe, earning the best film honors at the European Film Awards. The soundtrack is wonderful, too. The title song — “Don't Come Knocking” — is written and performed by Bono and Andrea Corr. — Benny Lopez

    What's on DVD?

  • Commentary with director Wim Wenders
  • Deleted scenes with optional commentary
  • Two featurettes
  • Interviews with Wenders and Saint

  • QUICK TAKE: Israel & Its Neighbors
    Here are a few excellent documentaries, dramas and comedies that shed some light on the history and everyday lives of Israelis, Arabs and others living in the Middle East. The birth of Israel is captured — with comments from Arabs and Israelis — in SISU Entertainment's seven-hour epic doc The Pillar of Fire (three-DVD set $99.95). LifeSize Entertainment's documentary Wall (DVD $29.95) looks at a Moroccan Jew who straddles both the Arab and the Jewish worlds, while Koch Lorber's drama-comedy The Syrian Bride (DVD $26.99) looks at those forced to straddle the border between Gaza and Syria. Brendan Howard

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