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Reviews: March 14

14 May, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic

Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic
Street 6/6
Visual, Comedy, B.O. $1.3 million, $26.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Sarah Silverman.

Watching Sarah Silverman make funny on a stage gives me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. Her style of delivery ushers me to the edge of the cliff and convinces me to step off. Once suspended in space, she drops me toward the ground and lifts me back up again and again as a source of amusement for her.

It works like this. She starts off with normal comments — somebody died, something's bothering her, look at something her boyfriend (unnamed Jimmy Kimmel) gave her — but eventually, and sometimes unexpectedly, the bottom drops out and race, sex and religious humor explodes from her angelic face. Her big brown eyes and expressive mouth reflect fake sadness and mirth as she fills the roles of both straight-woman and comedian. Her acting ability makes the humor so engaging, even if I don't laugh out loud. Then again, I didn't laugh out loud at Silverman's take on the dirtiest joke ever in The Aristocrats, but I was completely engaged.

Also amusing is the frame story for this stand-up film, as Silverman tries to impress friends. A few funny songs, sung and performed straight by Silverman, with their obscene and/or cruel lyrics round out the concoction.

By the second half, though, I found the effect of springing humor on me losing its shine. The film seemed less a comedy revolution and more standard comedy-club fare.

Selling Points: Those with quirky, dirty senses of humor can't miss with this. Those who loved Silverman in The Aristocrats will be sorry if they miss it, too. Brendan Howard

What's on DVD?

  • “Give the Jew Girl Toys” music video
  • 30 minutes behind the scenes
  • Sarah's part in The Aristocrats

  • Dazed and Confused
    Street 6/6
    Criterion, Comedy, $39.95 two-DVD set, ‘R.'
    Stars Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey.

    The extras on the upcoming two-DVD edition of Dazed and Confused seem to prove reviewer Desson Howe's 1993 statement that the movie “succeeds on its own terms and reflects American culture so well, it becomes part of it.” Film notwithstanding, an extensive range of those involved in the production — from director Richard Linklater to his ridiculously talented cast — has had significant social impact for more than a decade. Nowhere else can you find indie-queen Posey, gossip-column poster boy Affleck and ultra-macho leading man McConaughey giving every bit of ambition and youth to the same project.

    It almost seems as if half of Hollywood got its break from Dazed, and the behind-the-scenes footage on this set shows each of them, mercifully, before they were anybody. The personalities behind the personages are beautiful to behold, whether watching Posey ramble, Affleck expound or Adam Goldberg hustle. A number of early interviews with Linklater nicely depict the combination of excitement and insight that allowed him to lead such a motley crew. In later interviews, he adds the wisdom and reflections of middle age to the mix — something that will be welcome to those who first experienced the film when it was released.

    The deleted scenes don't add much, either in laughs or understanding, but the cast auditions more than make up for this. It's easy to see who was picked for their looks and who could really act. A few of the regular add-ons — commentary, trailers, etc. — round out the set and make it a must-have for fans. Newcomers, too, will find much to love. – J.R. Wick

    MLB Bloopers: The Funny Side of Baseball
    Prebook 6/7; Street 6/27
    Shout Factory, Sports, $19.98 DVD, NR.
    Hosted by Chris Kattan.

    Cyndi Lauper sings “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and if MLB Bloopers: The Funny Side of Baseball is any indication, boys do, too.

    This is a lighthearted look at Major League ballplayers and some of their not-so-glorious moments. As expected, viewers see bloopers and blunders on the baseball field. Baseballs fall untouched between fielders, and base runners stumble around the bases.

    What makes this feature unique is the personal experiences of the baseball players. Alex Rodriguez's confusion on directions while driving to the stadium and Eric Chavez's story about accidentally running over a squirrel on the way to the ballpark are particularly funny.

    We also see that baseball has its share of pranksters, as evidenced by pie-in-the-face interviews and bubblegum on baseball caps (worn by unsuspecting players). Two of the more meanspirited pranks include tires removed from a player's truck and placed in different locations around the ballpark, and pitcher Tim Hudson hiding in a hotel closet, wearing a Scream costume, much to the surprise of teammate Eddie Perez.

    Natural occurrences make an appearance in the form of bug infestations, beehives in the ballpark and adventures in putting a tarp on the field during a rainstorm.

    The last part pokes fun at baseball clich?s, with baseball legends Tommy Lasorda and Yogi Berra making memorable appearances.

    Handshakes and champagne celebrations wrap it all up.

    Selling Points: This is a wonderfully entertaining DVD for any baseball fan, with special features that expand upon some of the funniest moments. Kurt Wohlman

    Street 5/30
    Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $12.5 million, $28.5 DVD, ‘R' for language and some violent content.
    Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Julianne Moore, Edie Falco.

    Freedomland is a noble attempt to explore racism, poverty and child neglect. Adapting his own novel, screenwriter Richard Price tells a tale of two New Jersey cities: Dempsey, a lower-income black community, and neighboring Gannon, home to upper-crust whites.

    Tensions rise after Brenda (Moore) wanders into a Dempsey hospital with bloody hands, claiming a black man stole her car with her child in the backseat. White cops from Gannon swarm the housing project where she claims she was carjacked.

    The residents resent that a missing white child brings more police to the area than the myriad crimes against blacks. They think she killed her son and is pinning the deed on a fictional black assailant.

    Caught in the middle is local-boy detective Lorenzo Council (Jackson). He turns for help to a group of concerned parents who specialize in finding missing children. Their leader is Falco, who delivers a strong performance.

    A viewer expecting a taut thriller may be disappointed that the crime is resolved halfway through the movie, with the rest devoted to the psychological aftermath of Brenda's plight.

    Several scenes seem out of place, and some plot points are left undeveloped — the byproducts of condensing a 700-page book into a two-hour running time.

    Selling Points: This meditation on contemporary issues isn't nearly on the level of Crash, Do the Right Thing or Mystic River, but fans of those films might want to take a look, as will those who enjoyed Moore in Forgotten. Be warned: the DVD is bare of extras. John Latchem

    La Llorona (The Wailer)
    Prebook 5/19; Street 6/20
    Laguna, Horror, $19.95 DVD, NR. Includes short Spanish opening with English subtitles.
    Stars Nicole Danielle, Eltony Williams.

    Once the bloody slayings start, La Llorona will be fine fun for fans of ‘B'-grade slasher films. It's that pesky first 45 minutes, though, that drags.

    It starts promisingly enough, with a quick Spanish-language prelude that shows a Mexican woman drowning her kids to futilely try to gain the love of a kid-hating man, and then dying herself at the hands of said man. Then viewers are whisked to the present day, where three good-looking college-age couples from the United States are eating local cuisine and drinking like fish. All the hotels are booked, so they take up Juan's offer for a cabin in the mountains.

    Of course, that's a mistake. These pesky kids don't know the child-killing woman's wailing ghost inhabits the home, and hell will break loose if they move the furniture or break something.

    Of course, they move and break things. That's a mistake.

    What's not a mistake for pure thrills is watching the amateur cast trying their best at hysterical screaming as the clawed lady ghost picks them off one by one. What's not as amusing is the long start of requisite bikinis, naughty partying and establishing who's “good” so we know they'll last longer than the “bad” coke-sniffers.

    Selling Points: This film has a unique mixture of English and Spanish that'll be interesting to horror fans. No worries on the translations, though. Even if viewers are like the characters and don't catch all the Spanish, it turns out blood is red in any language. Brendan Howard

    Straight Into Darkness
    Prebook 5/16; Street 6/6
    Universal/Screen Media Films, Action, $19.98 DVD, ‘R' rating pending.Stars David Warner, Scott MacDonald.

    Straight Into Darkness is impressive for its scenes of desperate bravery against a backdrop of the tragedy of war. The film is perfectly titled, as everything is wrapped in a sometimes-impenetrable haze. That darkness, however, is lit up by the innocence of children trained to think of war as a game.

    The movie opens in the winter of 1945, as two AWOL U.S. soldiers in Europe find themselves behind enemy lines and all alone. One is brutal and selfish, the other emotionally scarred by events before and during the war. Things become surreal when the soldiers stumble across a suicidal priest, then a seeming freak show: war-maimed children, burned, scarred, mentally challenged or limbless, who carry guns like fearless soldiers.

    After the bad-cop soldier threatens to rape one of the kids' caretakers and the two soldiers are tied up in the basement, the surreal nightmare gives way to sympathy for the kids. The kids are orphans whose caretakers made them a family of soldiers to give them identity and strength.

    Most of the group won't make it through the film's climactic German siege, but redemption will come for the two soldiers in their refusal to run again from the guns of the enemy.

    Selling Points: Billed as a war movie with horror touches, Straight Into Darkness will disappoint those hoping for a soldier-driven gore film like Dog Soldiers or Alien 2. It will, however, impress war-film and drama fans. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: Go Wide
    We've all learned to love letterbox, so why not take advantage of the sea change on DVD box art? Kino on Video's recently released comedies Monday Morning and Farewell, Home Sweet Home feature full scenes of real action from the films, not concocted film-poster material. It's visually engaging and deserves to catch on big. Both films from Georgian director Otar Iosseliani are $24.95 each. Brendan Howard

    The Big White
    Prebook 5/16; Street 6/6
    Echo Bridge, Comedy, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for language including sexual references and some violence.
    Stars Robin Williams, Holly Hunter, Giovanni Ribisi, Woody Harrelson.

    Critics have made lots of comparisons to other films in describing The Big White. It's like Fargo because it takes place in a snowy climate and follows the twists and turns of an attempted scam and bumbling criminals. It's like Weekend at Bernie's because a dead body is the main vehicle for the scam. But The Big White isn't anywhere near as dark as Fargo, and it's a lot smarter than the slapstick Weekend at Bernie's.

    The scam involves travel agent Paul Barnell (Williams), who uses a dead body he finds in a dumpster to try to collect on a $1 million life insurance policy on his brother, who's been missing for five years. The complications from such a simple plan are immense. Barnell's wife (Hunter) supposedly has Tourette's and is around the house as Barnell tries to hide the body. The two criminals who dumped the body want it back as proof for their boss. An insurance company investigator (Ribisi) desperately wants to catch Barnell in a lie to get a promotion and a transfer out of Alaska. Barnell's brother (Harrelson) shows up halfway through — very not dead — and wants his cut from the scam.

    The movie drags a bit in parts, but the strong cast brings the heartwarming collection of damaged, desperate characters to life. It all wraps up with an appropriate happy ending where the good go free, the wicked get their punishment and the characters finally explain to each other what happened.

    Selling Points: It's amazing such a cast in such a good film didn't make it to theaters, but the video industry gets the reward. Brendan Howard

    A Good Woman
    Prebook 5/17; Street 6/13
    Lionsgate, Drama, B.O. $0.2 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic material, sensuality and language.
    Stars Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson.

    A Good Woman takes its audience back to the era of elegance in beautiful Italy to a season of high-society luncheons, opera, bridge, tea, cigars and brandy. With the disaffectedness of Titanic and the lighthearted humor of Emma, this film is an entertaining keyhole in the door of the privileged.

    A middle-age Mrs. Erlynne (Hunt) — once welcomed among the coterie to whose elegant lifestyle she has been accustomed — appears again at the height of the season. At once entertaining and scandalizing the members of high society, she escorts viewers into the leisurely world of the financially well endowed. Seducing and blackmailing her way into the lap of luxury, she stirs up quite a bit of gossip among the ladies and envy among the gentlemen. Finally, a sobering word of endearment moves her to leave those ways behind her, and she emerges an honestly good woman.

    What at first appears to be a satin-and-lace film turns out not to be just for the ladies. Male viewers will enjoy the witty banter and general misbehavior of the gentlemen in the film. The ladies will be appeased by all the niceties of ballroom dancing and champagne.

    The voyeuristic look behind the well-kept appearances of the wealthy smacks of Gosford Park, but the mischief is much more subdued (though the men of the movie take pride in their disregard for propriety.) What this film lacks in theatrics, romance and action, it amply makes up for in cleverness.

    Selling Points: Lovers of the English novel will enjoy this sophisticated scandal of a film. Justin-Nicholas Toyama

    Sunday Driver
    Prebook 5/15; Street 6/13
    Palm, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.

    0An homage to low-rider culture, Sunday Driver rides along with the founders of Majestics, California's oldest black low-rider car club, as they explain the roots of their collective passion.

    Perhaps owing to the turbulent past and present of the club's members, the well-paced documentary examines the subject from multiple viewpoints — not hesitating to explore the seedy aspects — while still managing to capture the singular, exuberant pulse pumping through each pimped-out hydraulic system.

    Although interspersed with a few tidbits of print explanation, most of the Majestics' tale is told through interviews with its members. The formula yields deep insights into the histories of the men as well as their Compton, Calif., neighborhood.

    However, some of these insights come at the expense of the speakers. Many interviews are characterized by rudimentary communication skills and lack of moral responsibility. If the cars didn't speak for themselves, the police officer who eloquently describes the problems in low-rider culture might have had the last word. But Sunday Driver successfully offers a rebuttal in chrome and convertible.

    Selling Points: From the producers of the California driving game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, this documentary is perfect for car clubs across the country, and should find a small but devoted audience similar that of other niches, such as extreme skiing, surfing and GTA fans. — J.R. Wick

    Mother Teresa
    Prebook 5/17; Street 6/13
    Fox, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
    Stars Olivia Hussey.

    Mother Teresa is considered by many to be an unblemished saint, and the biopic Mother Teresa treats her that way.

    It starts with her spiritual awakening as a middle-age nun in Calcutta who realizes her place is not in the guarded convent, but among “the poorest of the poor.” The Catholic Church resists sending one of their own into such dangerous conditions, but relents under Teresa's stubbornness. She goes on to inspire others to devote themselves to supporting her efforts with their time, their careers and their money.

    It is those financial interests that give the film any semblance of real drama. In the last half, a man who's donated money turns out to be a crook who's swindled innocents. Teresa is confronted by a news reporter who asks if she'll give the money back. She agrees and marches him to a classroom full of children. “Take it,” she says. When ill-gotten gains are put to good use, it's hard for anybody to complain.

    Critics argue that Teresa spent more on proselytizing than health care and that she spent too much time with celebrities to bolster her cause and not enough on her cause. None of that is here. Mother Teresa doesn't look at Teresa as a woman, but an eventual saint, with her only drawbacks those heroic virtues of stubbornness and fighting authority to do the right thing.

    Selling Points: Mother Teresa is a sweet, Catholic-friendly homage to a woman adored by millions, with respectable if predictable performances, good production values and a beautiful score. For triple the saintly fun, match this with Xenon's recent Therese and the the May 30 No Shame release Saint Francis. — Brendan Howard

    Family Affair: Season One
    Prebook 5/22; Street 6/27
    MPI, Comedy, $39.98 five-DVD set, NR.
    Stars Brian Keith, Sebastian Cabot.

    “Family Affair,” a CBS sitcom that ran from 1966 to 1971, is remembered by many as one of the first shows centering on a single dad.

    Keith (The Parent Trap) starred as Bill Davis, a globetrotting bachelor architect who is first saddled with 6-year-old twins and their 15-year-old sister and then gratefully learns to share his life with them. Their parents killed in a car wreck, the kids are left, one by one, on the doorstep of Davis and his precise but warm-hearted English valet, Mr. French (played charmingly by Cabot in most of the series, with only episodes off in this first season because of illness).

    The show is old-fashioned, and the most controversial aspect is the mothering done by a fortysomething English butler. Episodes deal with lost toys and dating troubles, not the pain of losing parents in a fiery crash or adjusting to life in a high-rise apartment in New York City. Children say “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” and teen Cissy never gets rebellious. It would never happen, which is one reason critics say it was so successful. “Family Affair” was a refuge for families as the gender, race and military conflicts of the 1960s raged.

    As a dark point of trivia, two members of the cast committed suicide: Keith in 1997 and Anissa Jones (who played the girl twin Buffy) at age 18 way back in 1976.

    Selling Points: Those who remember this show will be surprised to see it on DVD. An interview with Kathy Garver, who played 15-year-old sister Cissy, is enlightening and sweet. Her memories of the show are bright. Brendan Howard

    Shining Soul: Helen Keller's Spiritual Life & Legacy
    Prebook 5/23; Street 6/20
    Victory/Swedenborg Foundation, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.

    Shining Soul is part bio and part homage to the world's most famous deaf-mute finding spiritual sustenance in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. It does a decent job of covering the basics of Helen Keller's early struggles and later triumphs without turning into a 60-minute commercial for The Swedenborg Foundation.

    Starting with Keller's basic bio — born normal, then struck deaf and blind at 19 months by illness — the doc focuses on the fascinating inner world of a woman who knit together a vision of a reality she neither saw nor heard. Ground covered by books, plays and films on how Keller learned language from Annie Sullivan are legion. This documentary, however, points out that Keller's inner vision was what kept her going. After being turned onto Swedenborg by a kind mentor, Keller fell in love with the theologian's theories on the interconnectedness of everything, the spiritual realm, and the theory that those who do good deeds and love one another of any religion will end up in heaven.

    Keller's lifelong commitment to humanitarian work was a testament to her belief in Swedenborg's goals for this life, but Swedenborg's heaven — where disabilities were washed away and all that was left was the eternal, perfect soul — appealed to Keller, too.

    The editing and narration are well-done, but some of the canned images of rainbows and birds and the electronic-keyboard orchestral score will remind viewers more of a museum exhibit piece than a PBS documentary.

    Selling Points: This uncovers more of Keller's life, writing and accomplishment than The Miracle Worker, but it's not comprehensive. Its focus on her spiritual life will mostly interest the open-minded religious as well as students exploring Keller's writing influences. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: Mocku-featurette
    Anyone who's seen making-of featurettes could probably make them up — and the creators of The Venture Bros: Season One (street May 30; two-DVD set $29.98) did just that. Characters doing interviews for a nonexistent live-action version of the animated show are a poke in the eye of DVD extras. “Where do you think the explosions come from?,” asks the evil Monarch. “It's the villains.” Brendan Howard

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