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Reviews: June 10

10 Jun, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia
Street 6/19
BV/Disney, Fantasy, B.O. $81.7 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG' for thematic elements including bullying, some peril and mild language.
Stars Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick.

The popular Newberry Award-winning novel for young adults is translated into a lovely and lyrical family film that explores the power and limits of imagination.

Teenage misfits, ostracized by their classmates, find each other and, as they explore the woods near their houses, develop a friendship that becomes cemented by their shared flights of imagination.

Although their lives at home and at school are fraught with stress and angst, they create a wonderful refuge for themselves deep in the mysterious and fanciful forest.

Hutcherson and Robb, the pair of young actors who carry most of the film, give surprisingly subtle and nuanced performances as Jess and Leslie, respectively. Also strong are Deschanel, as a music teacher who sees something special in Jess, and Patrick, who gives Jess' stressed-out, short-tempered father a strong undercurrent of humanity.

The disc contains several extras. Robb sings the song that plays over the closing credits, and the DVD includes the music video of this tune.

Also included are two mini-documentaries: one about translating the much-loved novel into a film and one about creating the film's special effects.

The first doc includes an interesting interview with Katherine Paterson, the novel's author. The second describes the fine line that the film's creators trod between the gently fantastical images described in the novel and the over-the-top special effects that are so popular with audiences.

Additionally, the process of creating effects is detailed, including making every stage of the computer-generated imagery. — Anne Sherber

Reno 911! Miami
Street 6/19
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $20.3 million, $29.98 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Carlos Alazraqui, Mary Birdsong, Robert Ben Garant, Kerry Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Niecy Nash, Cedric Yarbrough.

Those who love “Reno 911!” on TV will like the movie, and those who don't, won't — it's that simple. Reno 911! Miami does nearly nothing different than the show. It's the same cast (plus cameos by the likes of Paul Rudd, Danny DeVito and The Rock) and the same absurdist toilet humor.

But unlike “Saturday Night Live” sketches stretched way past their means into theatrical-length hell, there's enough here to warrant a film.

Lt. Jim Dangle (Lennon) and crew get invited to a police convention in Miami and use the time to let loose, imbibe whatever's around and try to sleep with whoever wants it (including each other). Try to count how many of the eight squad members get caught in the throes of self-gratification and you'll stop at around seven.

When the convention gets hijacked by terrorists, it's up to the Reno crew to keep the streets clean. It goes without saying they don't succeed. A couple of them are repeatedly accosted by a hapless, Tony Montana-esque drug lord (Rudd), while the rest get into all manners of flopped police duty (the infamous scene where Garant's Deputy Travis Junior falls into a whale's stomach gets even grosser than what you see in the trailers).

Garant and Lennon wrote the script (if there was one), but you can tell a lot of things were improvised. It's a rare case of TV-to-film in which the feel of the original show was preserved.

As with the show, Lennon's short-shorted Lt. Dangle and Kenney-Silver's nutjob Deputy Trudy Wiegel steal every scene. A part (that never could have made the show) in which street-smart Deputy Raineesha Williams (Nash) tries to teach clueless Trudy how to speak in slang on the beach (“Whatup yo … playa?”) is priceless.

So what if it's really just a long episode of the show. Think of it as the best episode yet. Billy Gil

Street 6/26
Lionsgate, Drama, B.O. $7.1 million, $28.98 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic material, language including some racial epithets and violence.
Stars Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise, Tom Arnold, Evan Ross.

Granted, this is another story about athletes overcoming overwhelming odds and barriers to score a championship. But the circumstances are quite different here.

For one, the performers and storyline make it more than just another sports story. Pride, which is set in 1974, is based on the true and inspirational story of Philadelphia schoolteacher Jim Ellis, a former competitive swimmer, and how he developed a swim club for poor black kids.

Academy Award nominee Howard, (Crash and Hustle & Flow), versatile comedian-actor Mac (Ocean's 13), Arnold (True Lies) and Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman) give this film an uplifting voice and some wonderful performances.

As touching as the movie and the performances are, the bonus features add additional significance. The one drawback is the DVD doesn't offer more history and background on Ellis and what he was forced to overcome. Still, viewers are treated to deleted scenes and a music montage paying homage to some of the movie's moving moments.

There also is an extended version of the league championship, the climax of the film. Though it might seem insignificant to some, there is a passing moment in this segment portraying the black swimmers in a patriotic gesture.

Curiously, and for good reason, this segment was eliminated from the film. African-Americans, as a group, are some of the most patriotic people one will encounter. Yet they are frequently portrayed as the opposite. To make this point in a movie such as this would distract from the overall story. — Benny Lopez

Rap Sheet: Hip-Hop and the Cops
Prebook 7/3; Street 7/31
Universal/Screen Media, Documentary, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for language.
Stars Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, Russell Simmons, Suge Knight, The Game, Fat Joe, Irv Gotti, Jadakiss, Freeway, Cam'ron, Ja Rule, Jim Jones.

For 80 minutes, Rap Sheet entertains viewers with tales of murder, violence, conspiracy theories and racial profiling, and packs plenty of punch.

An all-star cast of performers and hip-hop moguls reveal stories about law enforcement keeping tabs and collecting information on them to use for criminal prosecution. According to the documentary and some of the figures in the film, there is a nationwide group of “Hip-Hop Cops,” whose sole duty is to target and bring down some of the biggest names in this entertainment genre.

Tensions between the two parties are high, as can be expected. This has been a black-and-white issue for years, and it isn't going away anytime soon.

Granted, some of entertainers have created their own problems, but it's still revealing to watch and listen as these men share tales about their frequent clashes with law enforcement, and how the FBI and other federal agencies continue to keep secret files about them and their associates.

Law-enforcement officials claim they're only doing their jobs, charging that many of these performers are their own worst enemies. The entertainers charge the authorities with racial profiling and harassment.

Rap Sheet provides some great theater, captivating viewers from start to finish with some perceptive observations and provocative discussions. Regardless of whom you believe, this film is recommended viewing, particularly if you're a fan of hip-hop and embrace its history. — Benny Lopez

The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico
Street 6/19
ThinkFilm, Comedy, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for language and drug content.
Stars Kris Kristofferson, Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm, Merle Haggard, Matt Murphy.

For all its ridiculousness, the mockumentary The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico rides performances by Merle Haggard, Ronnie Hawkins, Kris Kristofferson and other notables to a strange level of believability.

It is a bit of a one-trick pony, as Guy himself offers little more interesting than humping his drummer's drum set, but its sarcasm is delivered with such tenderness that one can't help warming up to it despite its failings.

Centered on Guy Terrifico, a country “star” famed more for his onstage and offstage antics than his music, the film tells his story in typical “Behind the Music” fashion.

Through interviews with persons real and fictional, and artificially aged footage, we see Guy rise from Canadian yokel to country star, and then witness the curious circumstances of his death.

Somewhere in the middle of the tale, Guy wins the lottery, making him a millionaire — momentarily tipping the delicate balance of the film into silliness.

Nonetheless, the questions surrounding Guy's death, and the possibility of his creation of an album from somewhere beyond the grave, grant Terrifico enough steam to reach its conclusion intact. — J.R. Wick

Wedding Wars
Street 6/26
Sony Pictures, Comedy, $24.96 DVD, NR.
Stars John Stamos, Eric Dane, Bonnie Somerville, James Brolin.

Two of television's dreamiest doctors, Stamos (“E.R.”) and Dane (“Grey's Anatomy”), trade their stethoscopes for a healthy dose of sibling rivalry in this delightfully bubbly comedy that is, at its heart, an issue-oriented fairy tale.

One brother, Ben (Dane), is a speechwriter and campaign manager for a powerful governor (Brolin) and is engaged to the governor's lovely daughter (Somerville). The other, Shel (Stamos), is a happy-go-lucky party planner who throws fabulous fetes at his swinging apartment complex where he lives with his cute boyfriend. Once very close, the brothers are all but estranged until Ben asks Shel to plan his wedding.

In the middle of wedding preparations, gay marriage becomes a campaign issue and the governor comes down on the wrong side of the debate, sending Shel off the deep end and to the picket line.

Slowly, his protest gains steam and attention. Gay and straight people all over the country start walking off their jobs, out of their houses and onto the streets. But Ben is unmoved until his bride-to-be joins the protest and decides she can't marry him.

Although the issue at the core of Wedding Wars is a serious one, the film treads lightly. Both Stamos and Dane have fun playing against type, but neither chews the scenery quite so voraciously as Brolin, who plays the unrepentant conservative politician who takes an anti-gay marriage stance from which he does not back down.

More political parable than realistic drama, Wedding Wars will amuse a wide range of viewers spanning the political spectrum. — Anne Sherber

Solar Energy: Saved by the Sun
Prebook 6/12; Street 7/31
WGBH Boston, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

This episode of the science series “Nova” delves into the recent history and future prospects of solar energy. It's a timely subject, with the country seeking shares in Iraq's oil supply, gas prices climbing and ethanol crops putting pressure on food prices.

The program gives a good overview of solar science, energy policy and new business models and applications.

Information on emerging technologies — such as nanosolar cells (imagine solar-energy-collecting paint!) and multijunction solar cells that capture more of the light spectrum — is impressively current.

Solar Energy seems a bit conflicted, maybe because it's balanced. Even the biggest boosters of solar power acknowledge that today's cells are only 10% to 20% efficient and expensive to make.

Some of the commentators fault public policy for slow development of solar technologies; others say the problem is return-on-investment.

Germany makes an interesting case study. There, the government set guaranteed pricing for individuals and businesses selling solar power to the national grid. The incentives triggered a new market in solar cells and a new industry to make them.

With no federally sponsored incentives here, just 1% of America's power is renewable; Germany is approaching one-third of the nation's power being renewable.

One thing seems certain: with gas prices creeping toward $4 a gallon, interest in solar and other renewable technologies is likely to increase, and the market will begin to extend beyond the crunchy-granola crowd. Higher gas prices may just change the equation to make solar a more competitive option. This is a useful summary for anyone interested in a solar future.

A nice feature of WGBH DVDs is an optional description track for the visually impaired, which is great for homes where not everyone is sighted. The disc also includes DVD-ROM links to downloadable teaching materials in PDF format. — Holly J. Wagner

The Exterminating Angels
Prebook 6/12; Street 7/24
Genius/IFC, Drama, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

Francois is a director whose ambition is to make a film that captures “the grace and pleasure” of the female face in the throes of unusual erotic pleasure.

He's too refined for porn, though; his is to be a classy picture, about normal women confronting extreme taboos. To this end, he interviews a never-ending number of actresses and, insofar as they are willing, watches them get off.

It's a tough job, or at least, that's what director Jean Claude Brisseau begs us to believe. Basically a roman ? clef with Francois acting as Brisseau's stand-in, the story is taken from an actual incident in the director's life wherein a group of actresses alleged that he sexually exploited them during auditions.

Brisseau intends for his film to be the last word on the subject, but even if his version of events is one that exonerates him legally, it still makes him out to be a letch suffering from arty pretensions.

Awash in nudity and Gallic pensiveness, The Exterminating Angels is by turns soft-core sexy and dreadfully dull with little in-between. For all its exploration of female sexuality, and the relationship between directors and actors, there is a predictable absence of discoveries — except that Brisseau might be an even bigger egotist than his stars. — Eddie Mullins

Whole New Thing
Prebook 6/19; Street 7/31
Picture This!, Drama, $26.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Aaron Webber, Robert Joy, Rebecca Jenkins, Daniel MacIvor, Kathryn MacLellan.

Leaping straight out of the “From Small Things …” file comes an intense powerhouse of a film that is modest in scale but enormous in scope. Whole New Thing is a fairly low-budget but deceptively not low-key film from Canada that will engage, surprise, frustrate and probably even move most viewers.

Stylistically on the other end of the world from Thirteen, another film that might spring to mind when approaching a movie about a protagonist making the often bumpy journey from childhood to adolescence, Whole New Thing moves at its own pace and, like the masterful Holly Hunter-Evan Rachel Wood film, does not shortchange the audience on plot, characterization or emotional upheaval.

Webber stars as Emerson, the bookish, almost androgynous son of a hippie environmentalist couple who is being home-schooled in the family's rustic cabin far off the beaten path.

When, for various reasons, his parents decide to enroll him in the local public school, Emerson is uneasy, but throws himself head-first into the new situation.

Needless to say, a wispy, asexual intellectual with limited exposure to the social standards and traditions of teenagers-at-large sticks out like a hockey stick at a basketball game.

Much like in Blue Car, another agonizing exploration of the pitfalls of coming of age, Emerson soon impresses, befriends and becomes infatuated with his English teacher, Don, a middle-aged gay man.

Meanwhile, his father is having a professional and philosophical crisis — how can he save the world and is it really worth saving? — and he discovers his mother having an affair.

The mood, atmosphere and acting are all first rate. Whole New Thing is a tightly wound dramatic package that explodes, blossoms and affects tremendously. — David Greenberg

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