Reviews: June 1111 Jun, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews
Final Destination 3: Thrill Ride Edition
Prebook 6/13; Street 7/25
New Line, Horror, B.O. $54.1 million, $29.93 DVD, ‘R' for strong horror violence/gore, language and some nudity.
Stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman.
Final Destination 3 is more of a remake of the original than a sequel, with no real connection other than the situation. The now-familiar setup involves a paranoid high-school student, Wendy, having a vision of a roller coaster accident and influencing her classmates to miss the ride when it really does crash. But the spirit of death has to keep a balanced budget, so one-by-one the survivors are killed off in a series of bizarre accidents.
From a metaphysical standpoint, the film is absurd, as if the only reason she had the vision was to create an excuse for the spirit of death to set up complex killing scenarios that would make Rube Goldberg proud. But these movies aren't supposed to be viewed logically, and as a splatter film, it's amusing in the way the plot sets up each brutal death. Be wary of tanning booths, drive-thru windows, weight rooms and nail guns.
The much-publicized DVD option “Choose Their Fate” gives viewers a chance at certain points to alter the plot, ostensibly to prevent characters from dying. One choice ends the film after 20 minutes, but most just set up the characters to die in a slightly different way, with the plot progressing unimpeded. There is a funny subplot for the one character who can be saved, but the option is really just a clever way to include unused footage on the DVD.
A featurette here compares Final Destination 3 to other films in the “Dead Teenager Movie” genre, so at least the creators understand their place in the canon. — John Latchem
Prebook 7/18; Street 8/29
Allumination, Sci-Fi, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Sam Trammell, Daniel Baldwin, Faye Dunaway.
The sci-fi landscape is littered with interesting ideas that were fouled up in the execution. That's not true of the 2004 Sci Fi Channel TV movie Anonymous Rex.
The premise, based on a book series, is golden. Thirty-five million years ago, dinosaurs didn't go extinct — they went underground. They found ways to fit in with humans, developing costumes and eventually holograms 50 years past human technology. Their small numbers — one for every 9,999 humans — forced them to keep their existence a secret, and that's how it is when we meet dino-in-hiding Vincent Rubio in 2004.
Rubio (Trammell) and partner Ernie (Baldwin) are ostensibly private detectives, with Ernie's adopted daughter handling office duties. But their more important job is killing humans who discover the truth. It's a task they don't hesitate to perform to save the species, taking their orders from a cabal of old lizards (including Dunaway and Isaac Hayes).
A detective story unfolds when the two prehistoric P.I.'s uncover a plot by a rebel faction to start a species-ending final battle between Homo sapiens and the saurians. Rubio must decide whether he wants a bloody battle between humans and nonhumans, devolving into the bloodthirsty, clawed warriors the lizards could be outside of their confining disguises. The fate of mankind or dinosaur kind comes down to a hand on a freight truck's door and Rubio's reaction to the secret his partner, Ernie, has been hiding for decades.
Selling Points: Other than the Dunaway and Hayes cameos, there are no big names here. The box art doesn't sell the picture as the interesting sci-fi detective tale that it is, but the principals sure do. This is a good bet for sci-fi fans. — Brendan Howard
Protocols of Zion
Prebook 6/15; Street 7/11
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.2 million, $29.99 DVD, Rating pending.
In exploring anti-Semitism and the fabricated book The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, documentarian Marc Levin uses as his jumping-off point the lie that Jews were warned in advance of the 9/11 attacks and fled. In fact, hundreds of Jews died, but that doesn't stop streetside prophets, angry Muslim youth and white racists from asserting they all escaped.
Levin visits mosques, synagogues, neo-Nazi printing presses and his old Jewish neighborhood, asking whether Jews really do control the media, the banks and the U.S. government, as anti-Semites assert.
Unfortunately, the documentary focuses more on how sad racism is and less on solutions to anti-Semitism and racism.
Selling Points: Protocols of Zion got press as an arthouse release, and the box highlights the Twin Towers connection. — Brendan Howard
Shakespeare Behind Bars
Prebook 6/16; Street 7/18
Shout Factory, Documentary, B.O. $0.04 million, $19.98 DVD, NR.
How do you make a 500-year-old play fresh? How do you do something with Shakespeare that's never been done before?
That's what anyone who performs the ubiquitous plays must answer. Shakespeare Behind Bars both goes back to the roots of the bard's era and tries something wholly new with Shakespeare's The Tempest. As in Shakespeare's era, the play is performed with an all-male cast — here made up of convicted felons in Kentucky's Luther Luckett prison.
It's a gimmick, but a surprisingly well-executed one. The Tempest, Shakespeare's last play, has the right blend of melancholy, frivolity and escapism that really works in this context.
The film follows the actors for a year as they cast and rehearse the play, and the whole thing takes on a very redemptive arc. The performers aren't professional, but they're not horrible either. You never quite forget who you're watching, but it's rather touching to see how putting on this performance affected the felonious actors.
Selling Points: Shakespeare Behind Bars is another one of those oddities that will appeal to lovers of the bard and the A&E/History Channel crowd. The film has gotten good reviews at several film festivals. — Jessica Wolf
Prebook 6/19; Street 7/18
Palm, Drama, B.O. $0.07 million, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for drug content, language and brief nudity. In French, English and Cantonese with English subtitles.
Stars Maggie Cheung, Nick Nolte.
Few actresses get the chance to sink their teeth into a role like Emily in Clean. Even fewer have the talent, grace, strength and vulnerability that Cheung (Hero, 2046) demonstrates in this incredible (and Cannes award-winning) performance.
Emily, a Yoko Ono/Courtney Love type, is blamed for the overdose death of husband Lee, who was a once-famous musician with a heroin habit but no record contract. Emily, also an addict, must start her life over after a 6-month stint in prison, coming clean and finding a normal job so she can have contact with her young son, who lives with Lee's parents (a stoic Nolte and Martha Henry). The father-in-law is rooting for her (for his own selfish, yet ultimately understandable and sweet reasons), while the mother-in-law tells Emily's son that Emily murdered his father.
As much as Clean is Cheung's tour de force, the power and beauty of the film begins with writer-director Olivier Assayas. He never demonizes or excuses Maggie for her addiction and behavior; she's a human being who has hurt people in the past, but is still hurting herself. Assayas offers a beautiful portrait of forgiveness with Nolte's character.
The rock music world is woven seamlessly into the plot with real-life musicians (Tricky, Metric) appearing, yet it never feels forced.
Clean is beautifully filmed, flawlessly acted and deserves all the attention it can get on DVD.
Selling Points: Indie and foreign film fans will know this one from positive reviews and Cannes recognition. — Laura Tiffany
Imagine Me & You
Fox, Romantic Comedy, B.O. $0.7 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for some language and sexual material.
Stars Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, Matthew Goode, Anthony Head.
Lesbians finally have gotten their own mainstream romantic comedy, with believable relationships, beautiful leads and a Say Anything-worthy finale.
Rachel (Perabo with a decent British accent) is getting married to long-time friend and lover Heck (Goode). But as she's walking down the aisle, her eyes meet those of florist Luce (angel-faced Headey). Another run-in at the reception plants a seed of yearning in Rachel's heart.
The two come together again and again as friends, with even Heck encouraging them to hang out. Rachel is confused but loves Heck too much to hurt him. Luce is principled and doesn't break up relationships — until now?
Their passion is ultimately too great to stop, and the couple comes together in clich? but satisfying fashion in a traffic jam that holds one of them long enough to be enticed back into the arms of the other. Fear not for good-hearted but doomed Heck: He gets happiness in the end.
Selling Points: It's Brokeback Mountain for lesbians, and a well-done retread of other films that tell the tale of love that cannot be denied. Its British locale, good dialogue and excellent cast will make it an entertaining date movie for both Four Weddings and a Funeral fans and followers of Perabo's quirky but interesting career (check out The Cave, Lost and Delirious and Perception to see what I mean). — Brendan Howard
Sony Pictures, Thriller, B.O. $3.6 million, $26.96 DVD, ‘R' for brief strong language. In French with English subtitles.
Stars Juliette Binoche, Daniel Auteuil.
In Cach?, French writer-director Michael Haneke continues to explore the themes of voyeurism, video and/or violence that populated his earlier films: Benny's Video, Funny Games, The Seventh Continent and 71 Fragments, all recently re-released on DVD from Kino on Video. But Cach?, unlike, say, the simple-plotted Benny's Video, refuses to explain the mystery at its core. That will be interesting for arthouse viewers and frustrating to most others.
The film opens with a stationary shot of what turns out to be the home of a family — public TV host Georges, wife Anne (Binoche looking surprisingly matronly) and son Pierrot — and it closes with a stationary shot of what turns out to be Pierrot's school. We are invited to watch closely what happens in these shots, as their watcher starts sending the tapes to the family, with grisly, child-like artwork accompanying them. The shots' importance is revealed to us only afterwards, in memories or dialogue. Eventually, we learn that whoever is sending the tapes has a stake in connecting Georges with a man whom Georges dealt poorly with as a child. Distrust and paranoia in the family and the fact that characters never explain themselves fully makes the suspense fascinating, but slow.
Selling Points: This is built for arthouse fans, with lots of quiet moments and a puzzle of a finale. Haneke has his foreign-film fans, and Binoche's fame transcends borders, with The English Patient, Chocolat and other big hits. — Brendan Howard
Prebook 6/29; Street 7/25
Monarch, Thriller, $26.95 DVD, ‘R' for language, violent images and some sexuality.
Stars Lucas Black, Peter Coyote, Mia Maestro.
Deepwater marks the first time Hollywood newcomer and darn-good-lookin' Black has to carry a film. Happily, he's up to the task, with impressive charisma and a believable veneer of innocence and confusion as troubled drifter Nat Banyon.
The film starts with Banyon (Black) in a wheelchair pushed by “Veronica Mars” star Kristen Bell in an unexpected cameo. Banyan then proceeds to hitchhike toward his dream of an ostrich farm in Wyoming, but gets sidetracked and ends up saving the life of mysterious motel owner and businessman Herman Finch (Coyote).
Deepwater resident Finch buys Banyon a car and invites him to stay a while and fix up the place to pay for his new ride. Banyon agrees, but starts to see things that make him think Finch is involved in something sinister. Are Finch's two cronies in on it? Is Finch's wife coming onto Banyon? And what's up with the moody dog?
Audiences won't be sure until the end whether Banyon is seeing things as they really are because director David S. Marfield skillfully plays with the characters, the dialogue and Banyon's confused understanding of events. It all pays off, though, in a foreseeable but dramatically satisfying surprise at the end of this dark thriller.
Selling Points: Monarch hopes Black's star will rise as a result of his lead in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, hitting theaters June 16. If it doesn't, Deepwater still has the cachet of Coyote in a big juicy role and “Desperate Housewives’ Lesley Ann Warren in a small role. — Brendan Howard
Prebook 6/20; Street 7/18
First Look, Drama, $24.98 DVD, Rating pending.
Stars Jenna Elfman, Samantha Mathis, Bruce Davison, Randall Batinkoff.
Touched shows that “Dharma & Greg's” Elfman can tackle drama, but it doesn't do much else. The characters aren't fleshed out, and the plot and the premise have big holes, making it tear-inducing, but mostly because of big yawns.
It starts with a few minutes of fatherly bliss interrupted by Scott (Batinkoff) and his young son T-boned in their driveway by a drunk's car. The kid is killed, and Dad falls into a coma for two years. When events resume, Scott is still under, and nurse Angela (Elfman) has been taking care of him all these years. When Scott awakens, his two-years' atrophied legs inexplicably have him up and mobile, asking Angela where his kid is.
Unfortunately, the interesting complexities of adjusting to life after a coma and the shock of a child's death when everyone else has dealt with it are given short shrift. The film instead throws in a medically implausible condition where Scott can't “feel” — of course, that's a physical metaphor for Scott's pain-numbed heart. Angela is handed an arbitrary difficulty: a mentally challenged brother who could be dying after years of illness.
In a better movie, these themes could shine, but not even the charismatic Elfman, Mathis (her friend) or Davison (Scott's dad) can make Touched touching.
Selling Points: Elfman has fans, but few films (most well known are Keeping the Faith and edTV). The first-season set of “Dharma & Greg” streets June 13. — Brendan Howard
Prebook 6/14; Street 7/18
Wellspring, Drama, B.O. $0.1 million, $24.98 DVD, NR. In Italian with English subtitles.
Stars Penelope Cruz, Sergio Castellitto.
As surgeon Timoteo (Castellitto, who also directed) paces while his teenage daughter Angela lies on an operating table with a life-threatening injury, he ruminates on his greatest affair.
Before Angela was born, he met Italia (Cruz), a poor, rather unattractive woman (yes, Cruz pulls it off) who let him make a phone call when his car broke down. He returned that kindness by getting drunk and raping her. Besieged by guilt, he returned to apologize, and they ended up having barely consensual sex. He left money on her table, which she couldn't afford to reject.
What began as a sick power play between a wealthy surgeon and a down-on-her-luck woman turns, strangely, into a full-blown love affair. Italia begins to invest her dreams in this man who visits her when his manicured life becomes too much for him. Timoteo seems to slowly see Italia as a human being, rather than just a sexual outlet.
While it's satisfying to see Cruz take Italia from wounded animal to a full-fledged character with power and a haunted past, of her own, it's impossible to respect Timoteo. He's a rapist; he gets off on his power over a woman who has neither the self-respect nor the money to turn him away. Even when he treats Italia as a person, she's still a mistress, a woman he's making empty promises to while betraying his wife. Timoteo's fatherly love and desperation for his daughter to live isn't enough to make this character sympathetic.
Selling Points: Don't Move, a highly recognized film in Europe, is for the arthouse crowd who may appreciate the skewed romance and Cruz's strong performance. — Laura Tiffany