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Reviews: May 20

20 May, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Epic Movie

Epic Movie
Street 5/22
Fox, Comedy, B.O. $39.7 million, $29.98 DVD, Available in ‘PG-13' and unrated versions.
Stars Kal Penn, Adam Campbell, Crispin Glover, Kevin McDonald, David Carradine, Darrell Hammond, Carmen Electra, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard.

Spoof movies poking fun at recent popular films have become something of a tradition in Hollywood. If they continue to come in as lifeless and uninspired as Epic Movie, I think we can do without. Kal Penn acts as if he'd rather be back on “24” getting killed off.

The latest effort from the creators of Date Movie and the “Scary Movie” franchise plays out like a remake of The Chronicles of Narnia, with jabs at Snakes on a Plane, Superman Returns, The Da Vinci Code, Click, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, X-Men, Borat, the “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, the “Lazy Sunday” sketch from “Saturday Night Live,” and, for some reason, Nacho Libre.

The problem with movies like this is they don't particularly make fun of anything. They just try to re-create the look and feel of bigger and better movies, hoping for a chuckle from fans who recognize the attempt, and throw in some slapstick for cheap laughs. While there seems to be a fan base for this type of comedy, most viewers would be better served by just watching the original films.

Epic Movie is not completely devoid of genuine humor. Hammond gives a spirited Johnny Depp impression as “Captain Jack Swallows,” and there are some funny bits involving the X-Men in a high-school setting, not to mention the fact that any decent Borat impression seems to be inherently funny.

Ironically, some of the concepts in the film play better as gags in the special features, especially one involving a faun phone-sex hotline. And the always-welcome Fred Willard shines in a couple of Fox Movie Channel interviews once he is free to stretch his comedic legs. John Latchem

Hannibal Rising
Street 5/29
Genius/Weinstein, Horror, B.O. $27.7 million, $29.95 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Gaspard Ulliel, Gong Li.

The “Hannibal Lector” films can be neatly divided into two categories. First, there are the police procedurals Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Then there are slasher epics like Hannibal. This fourth film falls more into the realm of the latter.

Hannibal Rising is a prequel that tells the story of young Hannibal's childhood and early adulthood, as he developed his taste for blood. After his parents are killed during World War II, Hannibal (Ulliel) and his sister are captured by marauders who turn to the dying young girl as a source for food.

Years later, Hannibal seeks revenge in a storyline somewhat akin to a Western, with Lector cast as the loveable rogue ? la Clint Eastwood.

This raises the notion that the Lector of the other films isn't simply a soulless monster, but understandably evolved from his horrific childhood experiences. The plight of his sister makes him almost sympathetic.

The basic question that must be asked is, if this character were not named Hannibal Lector, is there a reason for this film to exist? Anthony Hopkins so owned the role that it's hard to care about this earlier incarnation. This is not the Hannibal we want to see, and that's probably one reason the film tanked in theaters.

It is only through the intense involvement of the character's creator, Thomas Harris, that this film has any semblance of a connection to the Hopkins films. Director Peter Webber and producer Martha De Laurentiis basically admit in their commentary that their main focus was to create an atmosphere of moodiness to replicate the look and feel of the previous films.

This kind of prequel storyline is usually restricted to direct-to-video movies, and as such the film should get a bump on DVD. John Latchem

Street 6/12
ThinkFilm, Music, B.O. $0.008 million, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for nudity, drug use, language and some sexual content.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Glastonbury DVD set is its tasteful integration of past and present. At few points can one precisely place a performance in its time setting, and only then by the age of the musicians or whether the performer in question has left for the great concert in the sky.

In part, this also is a credit to the quality of the acts and their obvious passion for the event. Regardless of the era (anywhere from the 1960s to the present), taking the stage at Glastonbury seems to reawaken the original vitality of the songs. The Velvet Underground's performance on the first disc is a great example — upon first hearing it, I immediately wondered who had covered them so faithfully, only to realize the briefly reformed group had instilled one of their classics with a familiar, but fresh, dark allure.

Although the Glastonbury festival dates back to the 1960s, the crowd has barely changed. The interviews and performances also span nearly the entirety of the festival's existence, but the energy and focus of the event betrays a remarkable contiguousness throughout the entire period. This helps lend the DVD the very aura of the festival itself, and watching it, one feels steeped in the magic of the place and music. If there can be any complaints, it is only that so much time is spent establishing the proper tone that it takes screen time away from the performances. When watching the DVD, you're at the festival, wandering the grounds, speaking with the colorful visitors and experiencing the event but not always near the stage. — J.R. Wick

Robin Hood: Season One
Street 6/5
BBC, Adventure, $79.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, Sam Troughton, Gordon Kennedy, Richard Armitage.

From across the pond comes Britain's answer to historical epics such as “Deadwood,” “Rome” and “The Tudors.” This new “Robin Hood” puts a bit of a modern twist on the old legend while staying true to the classic story.

In these first few episodes, nobleman Robin of Locksley returns home from the Crusades to discover his lands subjected to harsh taxes by the new Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin refuses to accede to the sheriff's demands and sacrifices his standing in favor of helping the poor.

Armstrong is an unlikely Robin Hood — roguish, charming and heroic. The main challenge from a character standpoint, according to the writers, is not to make Robin too much of a goody-goody, overshadowed by the villains. The series strikes a good balance, although the baddies do come off as a little too delicious in comparison on occasion.

At once a rousing adventure and social commentary, “Robin Hood” is more family friendly than its aforementioned brethren of American cable. In typical British fashion, the show is not too gritty, yet focused on detail; cheeky, yet sentimental; sophisticated, yet silly. There's more than enough here to hold audience interest, plus a bevy of behind-the-scenes material to satiate fans.

Many viewers might be interested in learning that the show is filmed not in England, but Hungary. Producers needed expansive locations to control the settings to make the series seem as authentic as possible, and Hungary fit the bill for both open space and lush forests. John Latchem

Fire Serpent
Prebook 5/23; Street 6/19
Lionsgate, Sci-Fi, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Nicholas Brendon, Sandrine Holt, Randolph Mantooth, Robert Beltran.

This Sci Fi Channel movie is loaded with built-in appeal for genre fans. It stars Nicholas Brendon, best known as Xander from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Robert Beltran, aka Chakotay on “Star Trek Voyager.”

And it is based on an idea by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, with a screenplay by the writing team of Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who frequently collaborate with Shatner on his “Star Trek” novels.

It's better than expected for having such an absurd plot. Basically, solar flares cast off living fireballs that occasionally make it to Earth, inhabit people and start fires. Some people believe the flames represent divine retribution.

Brendon plays a firefighter whose partner is killed by the living flame. He is drawn into a government conspiracy involving an old-timer named Dutch Fallon (Mantooth), who has been hunting the flames for 40 years. On Dutch's trail are an arson investigator (Holt of “24” and “The L Word”) and a federal agent (Beltran).

The effects are cheesy, and the movie takes itself way too seriously. This storyline would lend itself perfectly to “Buffy”-style goofiness and self-referential dialogue, and it's too bad Brendon's involvement didn't inspire more of it. John Latchem

Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams
Prebook 5/24; Street 6/12
Strand, Drama, B.O. $0.04 million, $27.99 DVD, NR. In Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles.
Stars Mirjana Karanovic, Luna Mijovic.

Sometimes a film can be both an acute social commentary as well as a deeply personal and moving story. Grbavica is such a film.

In post-war Sarajevo, where inhabitants are still trying to reconstruct their lives, Esma (Karanovic) is forced to take a night job as a cocktail waitress to make ends meet when government aid isn't sufficient to raise her adolescent daughter Sara (Mijovic).

It doesn't help that she has no husband to help raise her increasingly defiant daughter.

Sara's questions as to who her father really was, as well as her unruly nature, lead to an increasingly strained relationship between mother and daughter. Esma's no saint either, smacking her daughter in public when she challenges her. The classic coming-of-age story should translate well across audiences, regardless of the circumstances.

The story leads to a climax that is hinted at too strongly, and comes across as slightly contrived when compared to the slice-of-life feel of the rest of the film. It's a case in which the long set-up is much more pleasurable than the payoff.

But what a set-up. Grbavica comes from an old school of filmmaking akin to Italian neo-realist films such as The Bicycle Thief, in which characters play out their actions naturally, letting story arcs and social commentary come through unhurriedly. While it may feel slow at times, the effect is that the smallest occurrence, such as a quick kiss, can leave you reeling.

The film is terrifically shot, with appropriate emphasis on the Grbavica district's damaged and dirty streets. The acting also is excellent throughout — the young, beautiful Mijovic is a small force of nature as Sara.

Grbavica ends up being extraordinarily affecting. It doesn't sensationalize, nor does it draw power away from the strained faces of women who have faced such adversity as poverty and rape. Despite its heavy subject matter, the film surprises with a sly positivity. Billy Gil

Loveless in Los Angeles
Street 5/29
Allumination, Comedy, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Dash Mihok, Brittany Daniel, James Lesure, Navi Rawat, Geoffrey Arend.

Who never forgets that college crush — the boy or girl who caused infatuation to the point of distraction? Who doesn't wonder now and again what happened to that person after college, if the crush never materialized into a romance, much less an ongoing relationship? These questions are at the heart of writer-director Archie Gips' new romantic comedy Loveless in Los Angeles.

The construction of the title will no doubt stir associations with the now classic Sleepless in Seattle, but the similarities end there. The film has little of the poignancy and sweeping romance of that film, but it delivers healthy portions of raunchy humor tempered with genuine character development, an adult coming-of-age story and a good-ole boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-a-second-chance scenario.

This film is more Just Friends meets Swingers. Dave (Mihok), a producer on a reality TV dating show, is nearly 10 years out of college but has not fully made the transition to adulthood. He holds down the marquee job, but still chases tail and avoids commitment, almost reveling in the empty routine of one-night-stands with his like-minded buddies.

Everything changes, however, when aspiring actress Kelly (Daniel) moves to town and bumps into Dave. Kelly, now divorced from the college boyfriend who stood in the way of Dave's romantic fantasies of her, and Dave strike up a platonic relationship, but the seeds of romance are quickly planted in this fertile dynamic.

Unfortunately, Dave's barely controllable childish behavior threatens to send Kelly running, until she decides she might be able to help him and herself at the same time.

The attractive cast, strong production and intelligent, funny screenplay lift this film above the run-of-the-mill production that it could have been. — David Greenberg

The Foursome
Street 5/29
Universal/Screen Media, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexual content and language.
Stars Kevin Dillon, Siri Baruc, Chris Gauthier, Paul Jarrett, John Shaw.

A genial blend of numerous golf comedies and reunion stories, The Foursome may not say much that's original, but it finds its way through the rough for some laughs.

Four buddies reunite at a country club for their 20th college reunion. Time has not been all that kind to the men, who are in many ways feeling their age. If they aren't, their long-suffering wives, along for the same trip, let them know of their shortcomings.

The de facto leader of the group is Rick (Dillon), the longtime schemer in the bunch, who displays an aura of success his three pals find suspicious. The men discuss their various problems, including money, wives, work and sex.

The glimmer of happiness in this sea of mid-life crises is the common love for golf the men share. This passion leads to a lengthy game for cash that not only reinforces their competitive streaks, but also leads to extremely personal revelations that are at best awkward and sometimes outrageous.

Meanwhile, the wives engage in their own little competitions, also relying on each other as good listeners. Old secrets are spilled, and by the end of the reunion weekend some longtime concerns are actually resolved.

Dillon employs a similar bravado to his “Johnny Drama” character seen weekly on the television series “Entourage,” and that's fine because it fits the mood of this comedy.

The Foursome was directed by William Dear, who is responsible for recent direct-to-video sequel The Sandlot: Heading Home. However, the movie is hampered by incessantly cute music, and when the characters wear 1970s clothes to their 1980s reunion, it's a little puzzling.

No matter. This comically desperate cry for eternal youth is easily relatable and often amusing. The DVD includes outtakes that add to the levity. — Dan Bennett

The Honeymooners
Street 6/12
BFS, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Jonathan Byrne, Alex Reid, Justine Mitchell, Conor Mullen.

The Honeymooners (not to be confused with the TV show or its big-screen adaptation) is sort of a low-rent Irish When Harry Met Sally, made on a budget that aspires to be shoestring.

There is shaky, hand-held camera-work, and lighting that could charitably be described as “moody.” But, at its heart, it is a sweetly romantic film with pleasing cast and a surprisingly new take on an old story.

A man jilted at the altar and a woman finally fed up with her married lover's broken promises find themselves, through a series of missteps, mishaps and miscues, together in a car on the way to Ireland.

Despite a somewhat shopworn, standard-issue, romantic-comedy plot, The Honeymooners manages to be funny, charming and engaging, due largely to the enormously appealing lead actors. Byrne and Reid, primarily British television actors, are delightful as a pair of strangers, both in pain, both trying to recover from betrayals they have suffered, and slowly developing feelings for each other.

Ensconced in a summer house in Donnegal, David and Claire begin a cautious dance around each other. When Claire's lover arrives, ready to take her home, she realizes that there is no future for them. When David's almost-bride turns up, he finally sees her for the two-timing, heartless whiner that she is.

Also engaging are Mitchell and Mullen as the jilters. Although their roles are thankless, they both manage to inject some vulnerability into what might have been one-dimensional villains. — Anne Sherber

Quick Take: The Tao of Trejo

He's one of the most recognizable Latino actors in Hollywood, having made memorable appearances in such films as Anaconda, Desperado, Con Air, Spy Kids and Grindhouse. Before he took up acting, however, Danny Trejo lived a rough childhood of drugs and violence that landed him in San Quentin prison before his 25th birthday.

Trejo tells his story in Victory Multimedia's Champion ($24.99), revisiting some of his old haunts, including his old prison cell. The movie includes interviews with several of Trejo's friends and colleagues, such as Dennis Hopper, Steve Buscemi and Robert Rodriguez.

But the frank honesty of Trejo telling his own story is what makes this documentary so gripping.

Champion will either warn off those who want to emulate him, or reinforce his reputation as an on-screen badass. John Latchem

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