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Reviews: June 18

18 Jun, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman

Look, Up in the Sky!: The Amazing Story of Superman
Street 6/20
Warner, Documentary, $14.99 DVD, NR.

Everyone has a connection to Superman — through the original comic books, the 1978 movie and its sequels, the old black-and-white TV show or the newer TV shows, animated and otherwise.

This doc, narrated by Kevin Spacey, touches on all of these and on how Superman has affected America and pop culture for the past 60 years.

Look, Up in the Sky! is funny and sentimental. It's obvious from interview footage with directors Richard Donner and Bryan Singer, as well as actors Dean Cain, Brandon Routh, Annette O'Toole, Bill Mumy and others who've appeared in “Superman” TV shows or movies, that they have a great affection for the character.

There's even a segment devoted to Christopher Reeve, complete with footage of his appearance on “Smallville,” during which he passed the baton to the show's Tom Welling.

Comic book writers, comic book historians and pop culture icons like Stan Lee, Mark Hamill, Adam West and even KISS bassist Gene Simmons chime in.

Most important, this documentary crafts a compelling narrative about the legend of Superman. It's not cheesy or overly promotional, but it does strike a chord and perfectly sets up fans for Superman Returns in theaters.

Selling Points: It's the year of the Man of Steel, with the hotly anticipated Superman Returns hitting theaters June 28 and a wealth of other Superman DVD product hitting the market. It's a must-own for Superman fans. Jessica Wolf

Awesome; I ... Shot That!
Prebook 6/29; Street 7/25
ThinkFilm, Music, $29.99 DVD, ‘R' for language.

It's the Beastie Boys in a box. Awesome; I … Shot That! is about as close as you can get to MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock without a backstage pass. Focusing on a frenetic 2004 Madison Square Garden performance, the concert film captures the raw energy of the Beasties and their fans while delivering knockout versions of the band's Beastiest tunes. The film owes a great debt to its editing team, which tied together footage from 50 video cameras handed out to audience members before the event. Viewers are not only treated to great shots of the Beasties busting rhymes, but they also find themselves bumping, grinding and rapping along with the audience. The technique gets right to the heart of a Beasties show, which bounces from band to fun-loving crowd.

Although probably not a hit for those who don't enjoy the music, Awesome is about as good as a concert film can be. Musicians may be frustrated by the lack of attention on the guys who (sometimes) play the instruments, but the Beasties were never about shredding solos or exceptional musicianship.

Selling Points: A hit at Sundance earlier this year, Awesome shows why the Beastie Boys have remained on the charts for so many years while others have disappeared. A must-have for fans, its approach will likely find viewers who might not otherwise have had reason to appreciate the boys from NYC. — J.R. Wick

What's on DVD?

  • 30-minute short film “A Day in the Life of Nathaniel Hornblower,” starring David Cross (“Arrested Development,” “Mr. Show”)
  • Beastie Boys BBQ short film
  • Alternative audio and camera angles
  • Tour “shout-outs” and “bits”

  • Is It Really So Strange?
    Street 6/27
    Frameline/Strand, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.

    It's not often a British alt-rock crooner with a pompadour and ambiguous sexuality becomes an idol of Southern California Latinos. That's the phenomenon that caught the eye of director William E. Jones.

    The former singer of The Smiths with an active solo career, Morrissey hadn't released an album in more than six years when the doc was filmed. Yet, there was a grassroots movement with dance parties, cover bands and hundreds of men and women, straight and gay, enjoying the work of a Brit in the “real” Southern California of the amorphous entity known as the Inland Empire. Why the Latinos? Why there?

    Jones doesn't get absolute answers, but it's all about the journey of honest interviews with fans. Some are gay men, wise beyond their years, or former male prostitutes. Others are music fans with walls of CDs or middle-class guys playing Smiths tunes to adoring listeners. There's even a Latino couple that waylaid Morrissey in his driveway and whose kid pointed at the tall Englishman and knew his name.

    The interviews are interspersed with short meditations by Jones on the scene and the music, and some beautiful photos Jones took of the action at the parties (available as a gallery on the DVD).

    Selling Points: Newspapers have written about this phenomenon, but here the fans get to tell their piece without pushy reporters. This is a must-see for fans of British rock, Morrissey and The Smiths. Jones even relates a meeting with Morrissey when he tagged along on a friend's photo shoot. Brendan Howard

    Cheech Marin & Friends: Live From South Beach
    Street 7/4
    Codeblack/Vivendi Visual, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, NR.

    On-stage host Cheech Marin lends his name, a brief intro and a few between-act jokes to Cheech Marin & Friends: Live From South Beach. The 90-minute show is mostly occupied by the five Latino comics he introduces at the South Beach Comedy Festival in Florida. It's hit-or-miss, depending on viewers' senses of humor, but there is something for everyone.

    There's Al Madrigal, a brutal comic with a soft voice and surprising vitriol, including lambasting other people's babies.

    Second is Gilbert Esquivel, who does “You Might Be a Redneck” jokes by differentiating between Mexican and “Mez'can.”

    The set peaks with the third act, Carlos Oscar. Because he's on a stool for his set, he forces the audience to find the funny in his wild eyes, pliable face, constant complaining and fast banter, making him the least mobile but most animated of the quintet.

    Fourth and fifth are Felipe Esparza and Joey Medina, who crack predictable jokes but get the audience laughing.

    Selling Points: Fans looking for Cheech should head back to his classics — may I recommend Born in East L.A.? Those looking for totally fresh and sometimes sharp comedy from Latino Americans should hit this beach. Brendan Howard

    Mañana Te Cuento
    Street 7/18
    Laguna, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, Rating pending. In Spanish with English subtitles.
    Stars Bruno Ascenzo, Oscar Beltran.

    Mañana Te Cuento is American Pie in Peru, but with more hookers and life lessons. Four friends — Manuel, Efrain, El Gordo and Juan Diego — are in various stages of teenage arousal. On Halloween, the four boys hang out while their girlfriends are out on the town.

    Teenage rowdiness ensues. Sexual theories abound. Horseplay happens. Cops get involved. Eventually, the boys return to Juan Diego's, where they get the bright idea to hire three hookers, ostensibly to help virginal Manuel shuck his innocence. From here, the film drops most of the comedy in favor of eroticism and dramatic bedroom talk that reaches into the core of each young man.

    The film succeeds on many levels: The young actors are good at straddling the line between the silliness and immaturity of being 17 and the seriousness of being almost men. The dialogue is often funny, and some of the scenes between the boys and the prostitutes are quite tender, particularly between Manuel and Carla, who are more wounded than they appear.

    Selling Points: This is a surprisingly sexy, engaging, funny and dramatic film that subtitle-reading American Pie fans will greatly enjoy. It should find an even bigger audience among young Spanish speakers. — Laura Tiffany

    Subject Two
    Prebook 6/20; Street 7/18
    First Look, Horror, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence and language.
    Stars Christian Oliver, Dean Stapleton.

    Subject Two is one of the best explorations of the Frankenstein myth in recent years and a must-see for fans of thoughtful horror.

    The film sets the stage quickly, with a short encounter between bright but unmotivated medical student Adam (Oliver) and a disappointed professor. The fact that Adam is failing Medical Ethics comes into play when he accepts an invitation to travel to a remote snowy cabin to work on something mysterious. There, he meets Dr. Franklin Vick, whose experiments involve a serum of microscopic "nanites" that can resurrect and keep alive the dead.

    Like the classic Altered States, where a scientist (William Hurt) regresses into his genetic past, turning more and more animalistic, the Frankenstein's Monster Subject Two feels extremes. The highs of intense joy and interconnectedness with existence are punctuated with bouts of pain so extreme that only suicide can assuage it. Needless to say, Vick brings Subject Two back to life again and again with the doses of serum that mean continued experiments, continued life and continued pain.

    The original Frankenstein was about a man who doesn't fit into human society. This one is a fascinating look at men already detached from society — in a beautiful, isolating wilderness locale — who are exploring both the emotions of the human soul and its unfeeling scientific attitude.

    Selling Points: A selection at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Subject Two is a direct-to-DVD treat with fascinating ideas, interesting characters, believable dialogue and talented lesser-known stars. Brendan Howard

    Prebook 6/20; Street 7/11
    MTI, Action, $24.95 DVD, ‘R.'
    Stars Evan Stone, Jesse Jane, Carmen Luvana, Janine.

    So, is the ‘R'-rated version of the ‘X'-rated adventure Pirates any good? The ‘X'-rated version is one of the best-looking porn movies ever made and has won a ton of awards in that industry. The visual effects, the costumes and the sets are all worthy of a direct-to-video ‘B' movie, putting it head and shoulders above other skin flicks.

    The appeal of an ‘R'-rated version of Pirates, however, escapes me. Take away the hard-core sex and the film's nothing but Cinemax soft-core, attempts at humor and fights that will leave viewers rushing to walk the plank.

    The porn stars deliver lines like, well, porn stars. They're nice to look at — the women with big pouty lips and fake boobs and the men with rugged faces and six-packs — but their laughable delivery proves the old stereotype of the futility of porn actors and actresses ever crossing over into Hollywood careers.

    Only Evan Stone as Capt. Edward Reynolds seems to grasp the humor in this Pirates of the Caribbean rip-off. He delivers lines that garner genuine chuckles as a pirate hunter who yearns for fame, but who has to be talked into things by his female partner-in-crime.

    Stone works because porn stars are only convincing in real films when they're laughing at themselves. Just ask Ron Jeremy.

    Selling Points: The ‘X'-rated version was the talk of the adult-film town, and this ‘R'-rated version is getting mainstream press. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: People Are ‘Stranger'

    The high-school binder look has been tried before by major home entertainment suppliers for DVD sets, but never has it looked as good as Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment's June 27 release Strangers With Candy: The Complete Series (six-DVD set $59.98).

    The thin, laminated cardboard pages won't hold up to a beating, but the look is all here. There's velcro fastening, a 1980s-appropriate color scheme, and the discs held haphazardly on pages with contents posing as fake quizzes, flyers and class notes.

    In-jokes in the fake doodles and other contents on the pages will appeal to those who watched the show from start to finish, as will the few new DVD extras not included on previous sets.Newcomers will like the completeness of the set. Many will want to see Stephen Colbert (formerly of “The Daily Show,” now host of “The Colbert Report”) as one of fortysomething ex-junkie Jerri's high-school teachers. Brendan Howard

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