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Reviews: July 9

9 Jul, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Lost City

The Lost City
Prebook 7/11; Street 8/8
Magnolia, Drama, B.O. $1.8 million, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence.
Stars Andy Garcia, Ines Sastre, Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman.

Garcia — whose family fled Cuba after Fidel Castro overthrew Batista — wrote, directed, starred in and even scored this sweeping epic about the days leading up to the Cuban revolution and the aftermath of Fidel Castro's power grab.

The story of the revolution is told through one family. Garcia is Fico Fellove, a successful nightclub owner who favors a return to the democratically elected government that preceded Batista. His younger brother, Ricardo (Enrique Murciano, TV's “Without a Trace”), is seduced by Castro's revolutionary rhetoric and becomes one of Che Guevara's most trusted lieutenants.

As 1958 draws to a close, the political climate becomes more and more unstable, until, on New Year's Eve, 1959, Batista climbs onto a plane and flees the country. But for the Fellove family, split between followers of Castro and Cuban loyalists, the end of the Batista government is only the beginning of the anguish.

Garcia has created a lovely, lyrical and atmospheric drama that mixes the mystical with the brutal. Although it was filmed in the Dominican Republic, it's a love letter to the tropical land his family left. He also pays homage to the visual richness of the “Godfather” films, and there are several moments where the stories intersect.

In a smaller role, Murray is an enigmatic hanger-on whose wry comments on the events taking place around him serve as a Greek chorus both explaining and judging the actions of others. Hoffman is both quirky and menacing as the notorious gangster, Meyer Lansky.

Selling Points: Garcia smolders, guaranteeing this politically charged epic about a family will appeal to guys and gals. — Anne Sherber

Prebook 7/11; Street 8/8
Magnolia, Drama, B.O. $0.04 million, $26.98 DVD, NR. In Tagalog and English with English subtitles.
Stars Ian Gamazon.

Watching Cavite takes you back to Robert Rodriguez's debut, El Mariachi, and the wonder that such a barebones production could be so effective in the right hands.

Neill Dela Llana (director, writer, producer, editor and cinematographer) and Gamazon (those same duties, except he was in front of the camera) shot Cavite gonzo, no-permit-style on location in the Philippines, and the result is a taut thriller that mixes elements of Phone Booth with an even-handed look at Islamic terrorism in the island country.

Gamazon plays Adam, a U.S. security guard whose girlfriend tells him she wants an abortion. Despondent, he returns to the Philippines for his father's funeral to find his mother and sister kidnapped and a cell phone with a terrorist on the other end. So begins Adam's nightmare journey through the streets, markets and shantytowns of Manila, as he follows the instructions of the faceless terrorist, while receiving unwanted lessons on the Philippines, its poverty, Islam, the reasons behind the terrorist's acts, and Adam's family's involvement.

Cavite is not quite shot in real time, but it's close enough to keep viewers tense as the sparse soundtrack ticks down Adam's chances to save his family. The only weaknesses are Gamazon's acting skills (he never truly expresses the horror of what's happening) and the terrorist's implausible omniscience regarding Adam's every single action. Regardless, it is heart-rending and believable when Adam must make a decision that rivals the infamous Sophie's choice in its cruelty.

Selling Points: Cavite has made the rounds at arthouses and festivals, and the directors were given the “Someone to Watch” award at the Independent Spirit Awards. — Laura Tiffany

Damon Wayans: The Last Stand?
Prebook 7/12; Street 8/8
Fox, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Damon Wayans.

Not to be confused with the most recent installment of the “X-Men” franchise, this 1990 concert film captures Wayans' final performance before retiring from stand-up comedy.

The nature of stand-up tends to be so topical and of-the-moment that the prospect of time traveling back to 1990 might be daunting for some audiences. Happily, if The Last Stand doesn't score a 100 on the test of time, it definitely gets a solid 90.

Despite some jokes about such long worn-out subjects as M.C. Hammer, Whitney Houston, gangsta rap and Mike Tyson, the show is remarkably fresh, almost timeless, and, at times, very funny.

Wayans is in fine form, presenting a well-paced, cohesive routine made up of some predictable “white people are different from black people” material, jokes about his large family, and some surprisingly sensitive ruminations on married life and parenthood.

Wayans has had a solid enough career in movies and sitcoms that his days on the mid-1980s hit “In Living Color” might be a distant memory for many. Even blurrier are memories of Wayan's career in stand-up.

The release of this concert is a welcome reminder of how talented Wayans can be with no plot, no props and no co-stars. The show also is fascinating because it captures the comic at a critical stage in his career, stepping off of the stage that launched him and into the world where he became a star.

Selling Points: Damon Wayans: Still Standing was released recently, and there are a ton of his film comedies that retailers can dig out for display again. He's hot right now on the now-syndicated sitcom “My Wife and Kids.” — David Greenberg

Heart Like a Wheel
Street 8/15
Anchor Bay, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Bonnie Bedelia, Beau Bridges.

Heart Like a Wheel is the inspirational, true story of Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney (Bedelia), who broke drag-racing's glass ceiling during the 1960s and '70s. As the film shows, trying to prove herself on the all-male racing circuit — where the consensus was that a woman would be dangerous behind the wheel — is not as easy as she thinks. She even loses the support of her unambitious husband, who wants his wife home raising their son.

It's only a matter of time before Muldowney leaves her family to pursue her dream of being a top driver, which is a bumpy road of highs — with her many victories leading up to the National Hot Rod Association World Finals — and lows — the accidents that almost end her career.

The film also details her rocky relationship with fellow racer Connie “The Bounty Hunter” Kalitta (Bridges), who becomes her partner and eventually her lover (though he never divorces his wife).

Heart Like a Wheel accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to tell the story of this remarkable, imperfect woman fighting to fulfill a dream. Originally released in 1983, it's admirable that none of the film's action or themes seem dated.

Selling Points: With NHRA racing and NASCAR bigger than ever and sporting several well-known female drivers, it's a perfect time to release this on DVD. — Matthew Miller

What's on DVD?

  • 60-minute NHRA featurette
  • Interviews with NHRA drivers, including Shirley Muldowney

  • Kisses & Caroms
    Prebook 7/18; Street 8/22
    Polychrome, Comedy, $19.97 DVD, ‘R' for sexual content including dialogue, nudity and language.
    Stars Nikki Stanzione, Drew Wicks, Nicole Rayburn.

    Call it a man's law, but many women appreciate it too. Thou shalt not kiss and tell. Under any circumstances. Still, as many women know, some men can't help putting their business in the street. This is just one of the laws broken in Kisses and Caroms.

    Wicks plays the self-absorbed and thoughtless Zack, who can't see his good fortune in girlfriend Jennifer. She will do practically anything to please him, including participating in a threesome with female co-worker Tara (Rayburn). But, again, as women know well, guys like Zack, for whatever reason, rarely see the light.

    Zack shares secrets about Jennifer with David, another co-worker in the billiards supply business where the four work, and that is the center of the film's attention. Meanwhile, Jennifer gives new meaning to the clich? “good things come to those who wait.” But she ends up waiting and waiting and waiting and ...

    Unfortunately, viewers are left in a holding pattern, too. After an attention-grabbing opening, Kisses and Caroms is slowed by juvenile humor and an uneven storyline that is all over the map.

    Selling Points: Good-looking people with some funny lines. Rayburn (The Terminal, Candy Stripers) gives a credible performance as Tara. Ginger Lynn Allen (American Pie Presents Band Camp) is convincing in her role as the seductive Mrs. Whiteman. — Forrest Lee

    QUICK TAKE: Kevin Smith Rocks House
    Those who loved Patrick Swayze as a 1980s beefcake or who can appreciate over-the-top 1980s actioners will enjoy the extras on Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's Road House: Deluxe Edition. It's got commentary from the director, but better yet is the commentary from Kevin Smith and his filmmaking partner Scott Mosier. The two, of course, weren't involved with the film, but they talked about it on a commentary track for Clerks X and Sony invited them in to do it. Neither of them take the film too seriously, but both find moments to mock and love in the unfolding story of bouncer Dalton. Fun for anybody will be the 12-minute “What Would Dalton Do?” featurette, featuring interviews with a handful of bouncers and coolers. Don't know the difference? You'll learn. The only glaring omission is involvement by Swayze himself. Road House: Deluxe Edition ($19.94) and the all-new, Swayze-less sequel Road House 2 ($24.96) street July 18. Brendan Howard

    Love Comes to the Executioner
    Prebook 7/20; Street 8/15
    Velocity, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, Rating pending.
    Stars Jonathan Tucker, Jeremy Renner.

    As a rule, dark comedies usually deliver on the “dark” — which is to say, twisted and/or morbid subject matter — but are significantly short on the comedy. For every Heathers, there are 10 Death to Smoochys and Very Bad Things. You get a gruesome premise and no jokes. Love Comes to the Executioner is one of the 10, although it struggles valiantly.

    Planning only a one-day stop-over, recent college graduate Heck arrives at home to discover that his alcoholic mother has liver disease and will need constant monitoring. Reluctantly, he digs in and looks for work in his hometown, only to find that no one will hire him, owing to his brother having massacred an entire junior high school group years before. The only place that will have him is the very prison where his brother is on death row, and even then, only as the resident “closer,” another name for executioner.

    Heck takes the job, thinking that, if nothing else, he'll get revenge on his brother. What he doesn't anticipate is falling for his brother's ex-girlfriend who, through a plot contrivance, is the only woman locked up in an all-male security facility. Old sibling rivalries are revived, and Heck contrives to expedite his brother's execution while simultaneously trying to spring his new love.

    It's all very amusing in a light-hearted, who'd-a-thunk-it kind of way, but none of the gags really strike home. The most they're likely to induce is a light chuckle. Still, the cast of up-and-comers strives gamely to work with what they're given. Tucker is a bit of a lame duck as Heck, but Renner fares admirably as his scapegrace brother. Selling Points: Dark comedies have their fans, and this should amuse them. — Eddie Mullins

    Adam & Steve
    Prebook 7/11; Street 8/8
    TLA, Comedy, B.O. $0.3 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for sexual content, language, drug use and some crude humor.
    Stars Craig Chester, Malcolm Gets, Parker Posey, Chris Kattan.

    If you can get through the first half of Adam & Steve, the rest is pretty decent. The problem is, the first half's predictable dialogue and crude humor doesn't always work.

    A group of lesser-known performers play the main characters in this twisted story about relationships between two couples: one homosexual and one heterosexual. Chester writes, directs and stars as Adam, a recovering alcoholic who develops a relationship with a physician named Steve (Gets). Steve becomes smitten with Adam during the latter's visit to the hospital where he works to have his dog treated for a stab wound.

    Kattan is cast as likable loser Michael. He's been sleeping on Steve's sofa for the past five years and, like many characters with his personality, has a critical opinion about everything but himself. Posey plays Rhonda, who pursues a dead-end career as a comedian before she starts to find some substance in her love life. In her limited role, Sally Kirkland plays Mary, a recovering addict.

    Selling Points: Kattan and Posey are the big faces here. Adam & Steve got some press as a limited release. — Forrest Lee

    What's on DVD?

  • Commentary with producer and stars
  • Making-of featurette
  • Deleted scenes with optional director's commentary
  • “Learn the Battle Dance”
  • Gag reel

  • Aristocrats
    Prebook 7/11; Street 8/8
    Acorn, Drama, $49.99 three-DVD set, NR.
    Stars Jodhi May, Sian Phillips, Julian Fellowes.

    Not to be confused with Penn Jillette's exploration of the world's dirtiest joke, Aristocrats is BBC cinema at its most proprietarily Georgian. The British miniseries is replete with lavish costumes, sprawling estates and familial intrigue — exactly what to expect from a tale of aristocratic sisters in 18th-century England.

    Closely based on the lives of the Lennox sisters, grand-daughters of King Charles II, the three-part Aristocrats begins with a setup befitting a Jane Austen adaptation, but soon moves into more lively and dangerous territory. Those who enjoy the sisterly affection and adventurous romances of Emily and Caroline Lennox in the first part might be surprised by the events of later chapters, as the series delves deeper into the lives of the sisters and the Austen-esque bliss begins to disintegrate.

    Marked by exceptional acting, high production values and lush set pieces, the drama becomes more rewarding the longer it's indulged. It culminates beautifully in the story of the most famous Lennox sister, Sarah, who elicited kingly affections, entered a disastrous marriage and fell on wanton ways.

    Selling Points: Adapted from Stella Tillyard's book of the same name, Aristocrats draws on a meticulously researched tapestry of British history. It promises a healthy life among its intended audience. — J.R. Wick

    Twisted Sisters
    Prebook 7/25; Street 8/15
    MTI, Horror, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence and gore, sexuality/nudity and language.
    Stars Fiona Horsey, Andrew Southern, Edna Ford.

    Jennifer Hartley (Horsey), an attractive young ad executive, finds herself the object of a murder investigation when a London man is found sexually mutilated, and a bartender swears she was the woman the man left with the night he was killed.

    Even Jennifer's medical student fianc?, Alan (Southern), is unnerved, and Jennifer seeks solace in her parents. They reveal she's adopted and may have a twin sister.

    She does: Norah Sullivan, recently released from a mental institution. Norah hates Jennifer for the blessed life she lives that Norah was denied. To exact revenge, Norah seduces and kills men, then implicates her twin.

    When the police investigation turns to Norah, Jennifer and Alan escape to a vacation home. But Norah, still one step ahead of everyone, arrives while Alan is away and seems primed to eliminate Jennifer and take her place, unless the police can guess her final move.

    Twisted Sisters looks like it's going to end with a horrible case of mistaken identity, but at the last minute the course changes and comes to a “happier” — but gory — ending in a final scene that seems out of place.

    Selling Points: Twisted Sisters is, like Horsey's two other films with German director Wolfgang B?ld, a meditation on sex, death and violence. Horsey is pleasing to the eye and interesting to watch both as the sweet Jennifer and especially as the psychotic but ingenious Norah. — Mark Lowe

    Raising Genius
    Prebook 8/1; Street 9/12
    Allumination, Comedy, $29.98 DVD, Rating pending.
    Stars Wendie Malick, Justin Long, Ed Begley Jr., Stephen Root.

    Dwight and Nancy think they've raised the ideal son. Hal has a 4.0 GPA, perfect board scores and an early acceptance to MIT. The only trouble is, he's so slavishly devoted to the working out of various mathematical formulae, that he's taken up permanent residence in the family bathroom. Try as they might to indulge him, after three months his parents are at their wit's end. No amount of coaxing or bribery will induce him to emerge, and when social services gets involved, it threatens to unravel the delicate fabric of their nuclear family.

    Raising Genius is a comedy that tries to milk humor from its characters' diverse neuroses. Dwight (Root) is a hopeless victim of OCD, Nancy (Malick) is a delusional control freak, and Hal (Long) is an agoraphobic recluse. As a family, they're as dysfunctional as can be, but watching them spar with one another isn't always funny. A lot of the gags get lost in the pathos of watching relationships disintegrate, and therein lies the problem.

    While the principals are all comedy veterans (Long, by virtue of his age, less so, but his turn in Dodgeball practically made that film), their performances are not sure-footed enough. It's hard to tell if they're playing it straight, for laughs, or both, and the script and direction do little to make things any clearer. Raising Genius could have gone either way, but instead, it suffers from the kind of identity crisis that drives publicists crazy and leaves audiences confused.

    Selling Points: A cast of recognizable sitcom actors including Malick of “Just Shoot Me” fame and Root of “News Radio” will likely draw fans to this comic version of Little Man Tate. — Eddie Mullins

    WTC View
    Prebook 7/11; Street 8/1
    TLA, Drama, $24.99 DVD, NR.
    Stars Michael Urie, Nick Potenzieri.

    On Craigslist.com, this one should read, “Gay terror victim seeks roommate: 1 BR in spacious APT with post-9/11 WTC view.” Sometimes poignant, frequently overly dramatic, WTC View quickly reveals its stage roots, supplanting plot, action and cinematography with the power of dialogue. This technique, although clunky on screen, has its moments, especially when the powerful cast mine some of the script's genuine insights into post-9/11 New Yorkers.

    WTC View nevertheless stumbles under its own weight. Its main character, a gay photographer who witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center from his downtown apartment, has too many quirks for generic appeal, and his burgeoning phobias threaten to overtake the soft charms of the film with their forced mania.

    In this regard, WTC View suffers from a play's need for tension and resolution. One can almost see the curtain rising and falling between acts, and certain plot points seem introduced merely so the film can follow the traditional story arc.

    While WTC View offers a good view of post-9/11 New York, there are certainly better ones to be found.

    Selling Points: The commercialization of 9/11 is slowly creeping up on us, soon to be announced in full bloom by Oliver Stone's latest opus, World Trade Center, coming to theaters in a few months. This quiet indie is bound to be better in many respects and deserves a look by those who are drawn to the subject. — J.R. Wick

    What's on DVD?

  • Commentary with writer-director Brian Sloan and star Urie
  • Two featurettes
  • Deleted scenes
  • Photo gallery of post-911 New York City

  • QUICK TAKE: After the Fall
    A variety of documentaries and TV specials brought to DVD shed light on the subject of the World Trade Center. Anatomy of a Collapse (Lionsgate, DVD $14.98) is a TLC special that focuses on the promise of indestructibility by architects and the unfolding fall of the two gigantic towers. History Channel's World Trade Center: In Memoriam (A&E, DVD $19.95) was in production months before the attack and became a tribute to the technical marvel that was doomed before the filmmakers finished. Also out is the NOVA special Why the Towers Fell: An Exclusive Investigation into the Collapse of the World Trade Center (WGBH Boston DVD $19.95), which looks at the work of the blue-ribbon team of scientists and investigators on site. Most moving is 9/11: The Filmmakers' Commemorative Edition (Paramount, DVD $29.98), which found two documentarians caught in the attack while filming a local fire department. Brendan Howard

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