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Reviews: June 1, 2008



By Home Media Reviews | Posted: 01 Jun 2008


Semi-Pro
New Line
Street 6/3
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Dirty Harry: Ultimate Collector's Edition
Warner
Street 6/3
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The Onion Movie
Fox
Street 6/3
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Flawless
Street 6/3
Magnolia, Drama, B.O. $1 million, $26.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for brief strong language.
Stars Michael Caine, Demi Moore.

Flawless is a cleverly-plotted diamond-heist thriller set in mad, mod 1960 London. Moore is Laura Quinn, an American who attended Oxford and then stayed abroad, rising through the ranks of the London Diamond Corporation until she encountered a glass ceiling. And Caine is Hobbs, the company's nighttime janitor who has spent his 20 years on the job watching, listening and learning.

One of the things he sees as he makes his rounds is Quinn, the first one into the office and the last one to leave, passed over for promotion after promotion. Sensing her growing dissatisfaction, he proposes a plan he has devised to steal just enough diamonds to give them both freedom from, and revenge against, the company. But there is more afoot than a simple heist. Soon Quinn finds herself at the center of one of the most audacious robberies ever.

Moore, whose most recent roles have been more notable for the remarkable nature of her abdominals than anything else, delivers a very strong performance as the buttoned up American who has even “caught” a bit of the British accent during her years with the firm.

And Caine is very good as the jovial janitor whose good nature masks a hardened heart hell-bent on revenge. The film does a great job of evoking the period, before electronics invaded every aspect of our lives. Everyone puffs away on cigarettes, drinks heavily and wears suits that button all the way up to the teeth.

This is a nifty little heist film that was largely overlooked at the box office and should do well on DVD based on the power of its stars. – Anne Sherber


Time Bomb
Prebook 6/3; Street 7/1
PeaceArch, Drama, $29.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Jake Busey, David Haydn-Jones, Daniel Cook.

Evoking the very best of the wonderful post-Watergate/Vietnam War-era paranoid thrillers of the early-to-mid 1970s and then updating the milieu, Time Bomb is a welcome surprise that should really please, provoke and captivate fans of psychologically intense political/military conspiracy stories.

Busey gives a terrific performance as complicated, difficult and deeply troubled Iraq war veteran Jason Philby, haunted by memories of his tenure on the battlefield and tormented by guilt over the death of his young son. Horrifying images of both experiences constantly invade his dreams and begin to meld and creep into his waking hours, creating a combustible existence where the question of what is real, imaginary or something even more sinister becomes increasingly pervasive.

Director Erin Berry has fashioned an impressive mix of Jacob's Ladder and The Manchurian Candidate. Additionally, he invokes elements of Martin Scorsese's quintessential Taxi Driver — overtly by having Busey's character driving a cab and obsessively stalking his ex-wife, as well as subtly employing a very minor supporting character, Senator Palantine, much like the presidential candidate targeted by Travis Bickle.

Tying together narrative strands that include post-traumatic stress disorder, chemical weapons, human guinea pigs, suicide bombers, religious convictions, spontaneous combustion and 9/11, the film has a rich, nightmarish style that utilizes distinctive visual techniques to differentiate between the Iraq sequences (recalling the best Gulf War films such as Three Kings and Jarhead) and the scenes of stateside life.

As impressive, sophisticated and engaging as the narrative and sub-textual elements of the plot are, the production itself is something of a marvel. Berry takes what, to the trained eye, is probably a fairly modest budget and cleverly stages action scenes, creepy interrogation sequences and operating-room settings that completely succeed within — maybe even because of — the financial constraints and suffers absolutely no loss of cinematic quality. — David Greenberg


Rock the Paint
Street 6/10
Allumination, Drama, $29.98 DVD, ‘R' for language.
Stars Douglas Smith, Kevin Phillips, Sam Stone, Christopher Innvar, Jas Anderson.

This coming-of-age story stars Smith (“Big Love”) as Josh Sendler, a white basketball star out of Indiana who joins the all-black team at his new high school in Newark, N.J.

Meanwhile, Josh's father (Innvar) is struggling with his wife's death and his new teaching position. Josh's younger brother Tim (Stone), a wannabe rapper, runs with the wrong crowd. Josh does have some positives in his life, primarily his teammate Antwone (Phillips of American Gun), who helps with his game and his adjustment to the city.

These crises propel Rock the Paint but also cause it to unravel. Too much happens far too quickly that the movie loses dramatic credibility. Two examples: Josh goes from being an overmatched scrub to the teenage version of Larry Bird in no time flat, while young Tim's evolution into a street thug is comical and jarring considering the movie's gritty depiction of street life.

Those looking for salvation in the basketball scenes should rent White Men Can't Jump or Blue Chips. When debut director Phil Bertelson doesn't favor quick cuts or medium shots, Smith looks uncomfortable and awkward handling the basketball, a description not usually associated with basketball stars. Viewers won't be left empty-handed as Smith and Phillips deliver solid performances (away from the hardwood, of course) as two young men from different backgrounds who try to connect over the sport they love. — Pete Croatto


Pressure Cook: Season 1
Street 6/10
Infinity, Special Interest, $24.98 two-DVD set.
Stars Ralph Pagano.

Ralph Pagano has no idea where he is. However, he can usually cook his way out of any situation.

That's the idea behind “Pressure Cook,” a show that airs exclusively on the cable network Mojo HD.

In each episode, Pagano, the runner-up from the first season of Fox's “Hell's Kitchen” (recently released on DVD from Vivendi), finds himself dropped off in exotic locales such as Iceland, Belize, the Amazon, Macau and Wyoming. Wait, Wyoming? Yes, no matter where Pagano is dumped, this friendly, funny guy can usually find a way of working his Jersey charm into a plane ticket home.

He'd better, anyway. Because if he can't pick up enough odd jobs to finance his return fare, the alternative is that he must sample local “delicacies,” which include decayed shark meat, lamb brains, nasty cheeses, habanero peppers and even maggots.

A cross between “Dinner: Impossible,” “Survivorman” and “Dirty Jobs,” this show seems like the perfect marriage of the Discovery Channel and Food Network. Pagano also has a way of making his subject matter seem mouth-watering, with the exception of an occasional worm and/or hearty helping of bird saliva soup, of course.

The two-disc set is presented in 16:9 widescreen; however, original viewers might miss the high-definition, which is the Mojo network's specialty. Other than that, there are no extras here, which is a shame. Considering the situations Pagano is working with, there must be a killer blooper reel around somewhere. — Rachel Cericola


Heavy Metal in Baghdad
Street 6/10
Arts Alliance America, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

What might at first sound like a metaphor for war or even the punchline to a joke, Heavy Metal in Baghdad is neither an allusion to something else nor even remotely funny.

The name of this film is actually a very straightforward description of what it's about. However, for detractors of this genre of music to dismiss this extremely compelling and eye-opening documentary simply because they do not like the sound of screeching guitars and pounding drums would be close-minded and unfortunate.

Directors Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi of the underground, counter-culture magazine VICE chronicle both their own epic journey to meet with the members of the Baghdad-based rockers Acrassicauda (the Latin name for the deadly black scorpion native to Iraq and Kuwait). They also depict the struggles of the individual musicians in the country's only heavy metal band.

The filmmakers had been corresponding with the musicians sporadically since 2003 but only met face to face in 2006 when they were finally able to get to Iraq and track them down.

Moretti and Alvi employ archival footage (the band has only been able to do four shows in five years) to compliment their own material as they depict life during wartime through the eyes of these passionate young musicians.

Struggle, hope and perseverance are the ultimate themes of the film, and the documentary is a truly revelatory look into the everyday realities of life for a particular group of average Iraqi civilians that is unlike anything depicted in the mainstream media.

It is hard enough to start a rock group anywhere and become successful but to do it in war torn Baghdad, literally under fire, and to be told what the group can and cannot do by the pro-Saddam regime takes drive, spirit and energy. — David Greenberg


R U Invited?
Prebook 6/3; Street 7/15
Ariztical, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Oscar Contreras, John de los Santos, Phil Harrington, Christopher Jones, Brandon Dixon, Gabriel Praddo, David Matherly.

R U Invited? aims to push boundaries — five gay guys discuss their relationships, sexual histories and personal habits while awaiting invitations to a sex party — but ends up being campier than an episode of “Queer as Folk.” Ironically, a little more camp would have helped.

Gordy (Contreras) is a sweet, inexperienced guy anxious to show his friends he's just as sexually daring as they are. Ben (de los Santos) is happily in an open relationship with sugar-daddy Anderson (Harrington). Mondo (Praddo) and Jason (Matherly) are testing the open waters in their six-month relationship. And Charlie (Jones) is generally bitchy and troublesome.

Credit is due to writer-director Israel Luna for not merely spitting out gay stereotypes for his five guys in question. That's not to say these guys are particularly deep, or that their relationships are very interesting, or their frank talk of gay sex and nudity very shocking — but at least it's not five guys talking about shoes and sex toys for 85 minutes.

What emerges is a film that's far less sexual, and more emotionally grounded, than it first appears. The “sex party” in question takes about a minute of film time, while the rest of the film is spent exploring the insecurities unearthed by waiting for the thing to happen. It's a good idea, but the endless banter and soul searching wears thinner than a pair of edible undies.

Some of these conversations play out better than others — some are funny, many are unintentionally funny, and very few are poignant. At one point Charlie's drag queen boyfriend (Wade) comes to visit for a hilarious beatdown of his cheating boyfriend. The levity is welcome; a few more scenes like that could have elevated R U Invited? to the quality camp status of recent films such as Eating Out 2 and Another Gay Movie. —



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