Log in

Reviews: May 21

21 May, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

The Hills Have Eyes

DVD EXTRAS — The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated Edition
Prebook 5/24; Street 6/20
Fox, Horror, B.O. $41.4 million, $29.98 DVD.
Stars Ted Levin, Kathleen Quinlan, Emilie de Ravin.

The Hills Have Eyes: Unrated Edition is a by-the-numbers horror DVD.

Extra footage included in the version that didn't get by MPAA censors is found mostly in the trailer attack scene, when things go horribly wrong for a family ambushed by cannibal mutants.

The 50-minute documentary “Surviving the Hills: The Making of The Hills Have Eyes” is the star of the edition. Many of these obligatory making-of docs play like press kits, but this one reveals so much of the cruelest scenes that it was clearly intended for DVD. It moves from subject to subject — the choice of Morocco for filming, tidbits on setting up the main scenes, how actors really got into the heads of their mutant roles — in such a well-edited, organic way that it will leave viewers hoping for so much more from the two commentaries than they get.

Aja, co-writer/art-director Gregory Levasseur and producer Marianne Maddalena cover the standard ground only interesting to fans: where they got the props, why they shot it like that, how lucky nobody tripped in the dark. The second commentary, with producers Peter Locke and Wes Craven (who wrote and directed the original in 1977), has pauses, some repetition from the doc and other commentary, and Craven cracking jokes. Fans will have hoped for more talk of how the two films differ, but maybe we're expecting too much from creative people who specialize in scares and gore.

A music video, 11 minutes of vignettes of moments on the set as “Production Diaries,” and the standard lackluster music video round out the offerings.

It's what a fan would expect of an average horror DVD release. Brendan Howard

Night Watch
Prebook 5/24; Street 6/20Fox, Action, B.O. $1.5 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong violence, disturbing images and language. In English or Russian with English, French or Spanish subtitles.
Stars Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov.

Action and horror have merged in American film lately, with the “Blade” and “Underworld” series highlighting monsters fighting for good and evil in the shadows of our modern world. That's also the premise of Night Watch, a Russian-made adaptation of the first book in a series by Sergei Lukyanenko.

For centuries, the Others — seers, witches, werewolves and vampires — have been split into two factions: Light and Dark. A truce signed centuries ago makes sure that killing of innocents is controlled and that new Others choose their side without being coerced. The evil Day Watch monitors the Light, and the Night Watch monitors the Dark.

The uneasy truce is threatened in 2004 Moscow when a Vortex of Damnation storm appears and threatens to lead to a fresh battle, and Night Watch must shut it down. Caught in the crossfire is the future-seeing seer Anton, who is intent on protecting a little boy whose own future may mean victory for good or evil.

Along the way are plenty of twists and turns, well-done supernatural fighting, a slowly developing family crisis and detail-oriented special effects worthy of The Matrix or the surreal Am?lie. This one-of-a-kind cumulative concoction gets off to a slow start despite its action sequences and eventually leaves audiences with a cliffhanger. But those who fall in love with the gritty supernatural Moscow and its heroes and villains will follow this adventure to the end and pray sequels are on the way.

Selling Points: With a mostly excellent Russian-accented English dub, beautiful visuals and a creative world, action and horror fans will love this. A mainstream audience, however, may spend some of the movie confused about what's going on and trying to sort the good guys from the bad guys. Brendan Howard

What's on DVD?

  • Extended ending
  • Writer-director commentary
  • Novelist commentary

  • Why We Fight
    Prebook 5/25; Street 6/27
    Sony Pictures, Documentary, $24.96 DVD, NR.

    The title for this startling and often disturbing documentary comes from an eponymous series of propaganda films created for the military by director Frank Capra during World War II. Those films offered eager recruits an answer to “Why We Fight” that they could hold on to in battle.

    This Why We Fight can't do that for us. What the filmmakers can do, though, is show the context for America's attitude toward war and illuminate the intricate infrastructure that supports that attitude.

    It's not exactly a bipartisan look, but it's not completely leftist, either.

    The documentary looks at the evolution of America's military industrial complex from all angles and levels, talking to senators, analysts and even the workers in bomb factories.

    It's frightening to see how important the defense industry is to the American economy and how the powers that be keep it going.

    Like Fahrenheit 9/11, Why We Fight uses a personal element in the narrative, though not in as melodramatic a fashion as Michael Moore's bereaved mother of an Iraq-war soldier. A retired New York cop who lost one of his sons in the attacks of Sept. 11 serves as a one-man symbol of a grieving American public that over the past several years has only begun to understand or wonder why we fight.

    Selling Points: This should be required viewing for everyone, but especially for young people. There is a whole generation, maybe two, that has grown up in a country that depends on its defense to not only support its ideals, but also its economy and its position as a world power. For learning the context of the phrase “military industrial complex” alone, this film is worthwhile viewing. Jessica Wolf

    What's on DVD?

  • Extended scenes
  • History featurette
  • 11 mini-docs
  • Audience Q&A
  • TV appearances
  • Commentary by director and Army colonel
  • Web links

  • That Man: Peter Berlin
    Prebook 5/23; Street 6/13
    Water Bearer Films, Documentary, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.

    Peter Berlin was a gorgeous young man from San Francisco (by way of Germany) who reinvented himself as a sexual icon due to his good looks, overtly sexual fashion sense and air of mystery. He starred in two gay adult films, but photographed countless self-portraits that were erotic and also quite beautiful and artistic. He spent his days strutting along the streets of San Francisco in impossibly tight pants that celebrated his, um, impressive assets. (Also, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Owen Wilson in Zoolander.)

    That Man: Peter Berlin is a celebration of Berlin's life and icon status. The documentary features interviews with cultural figures (Armistead Maupin, John Waters), individuals who knew Berlin in his 1970s glory days, and Berlin himself. Now in his 60s, Berlin is still remarkably good-looking, living in a shrine to his younger years.As a documentary, this film stands on the strength of Berlin as a subject. The earlier sections of the film are quite interesting, exploring Berlin's role in the gay community, his strange Andy Warhol-esque fame, his conscious effort to create an “identity,” and his exhibitionist-narcissistic interpretation of sexuality. The latter half mostly features interviews with Berlin, who, unfortunately, tends to ramble. Halfway through many stories, you realize you have no idea what he's talking about. Still, his tales of hanging out with Robert Mapplethorpe and Warhol are fun, and the stories of how he lost so many friends to AIDS are tragic and touching. After all these years, he's still a mesmerizing personality.

    Selling Points: This film primarily will attract a gay audience, but people interested in the 1970s, adult film or self-made icons should find it interesting. — Laura Tiffany

    Blossoms of Fire
    Prebook 5/24; Street 6/20
    New Yorker, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, $24.95 VHS, NR. In English, Spanish and Zapotec with English subtitles.

    “Blossoms of fire” could describe the vibrant, hand-embroidered clothes of the Juchitán women of Mexico. It also could describe those strong, independent women themselves.

    Juchitán lies in Oaxaca, Mexico and is dominated by the indigenous Zapotec people. This documentary tells their story, mostly through interviews with townspeople speaking in both Zapotec and Spanish.

    The doc paints the town as a utopia, where women and men are equally valued and children are healthy (infant mortality rates are lower in Juchitán than in comparable regions of Mexico), and where the whole town unites as a community to throw a good fiesta.

    The women are confident and smart. They're the backbone of the family and the town's economy, handling money for their households and running the town's commerce in the central market.

    While the narrator insists that Juchitán society is a matriarchy, Zapotecs themselves say it isn't. They say both genders are equally valued. The men appreciate the women for their strength, beauty (most rarely wear makeup) and leadership. The women recognize and appreciate the roles of men, who often work as farmers or fishermen.

    Steeped in tradition, the town is still progressive. In 1981, Juchitán become the first and only city in Mexico with a leftist government. Homosexuality is widely accepted, with no oppression of its gay community.

    But little by little, the outside world is encroaching on Juchitán. The people are fighting to keep its culture, tradition and environment, while trying to embrace progress.

    The narrator focuses on how great everything is in Juchitán, but glosses over how hard the people have to work, including the children. The decreasing safety of the town isn't brought to light until the last few minutes.

    Selling Points: This one is good fare for doc and history buffs. Angelique Flores

    What's on DVD?

  • Rare historical footage of Juchitán with excerpt from book Mexico South.
  • Deleted scenes

  • Our Italian Husband
    Street 7/18
    Xenon/Visual Entertainment, Romantic Comedy, $19.99 DVD, NR.
    Stars Brooke Shields, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Chevy Chase.

    One of the more despicable stereotypes of women is that when a man is caught cheating by two women, they'll turn on each other rather than the guy. “You stole my man!” As if the man was worth having.

    That's the basic premise of Our Italian Husband. Maria's (Cucinotta of Il Postino) husband, Vincenzo, leaves Italy to pursue his sculpting dreams in New York City. After not hearing from him for months (and being pursued by her lecherous landlord who's hiding Vincenzo's letters), she flees Italy to find him.

    When she finally locates him in New York — after losing all her money and being pushed around by every stereotypically mean New Yorker she asks for help — he has a new wife, Charlene (Shields), who is nine months pregnant with his baby. Charlene and Maria accuse each other of husband-stealing and are terribly mean to each other, but eventually ditch Vincenzo and find friendship for reasons that aren't terribly realistic or interesting.

    The film is full of racist and misogynist “jokes,” with even a little homophobia thrown in. Maria begins as a likable, bootstrapping strong woman, but is turned into a shrew. Secondary characters constantly make racist remarks toward Maria, Vincenzo and even their kids (whose performances are probably the best part of this flick). Shields and Cucinotta are too good for this unfunny exercise in mean humor.

    Selling Points: Those who like comedies with an ethnic bent (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the recent Keeping Up With the Steins) may enjoy this Italian take on the genre. — Laura Tiffany

    Personal Sergeant
    Prebook 6/5; Street 6/27
    Monarch, Family, $26.95 DVD/VHS, Rating pending.
    Stars Victor Argo, Celine Marget.

    The box says this is about 12-year-old Jenny's obsession with soccer and the unlikely bond she forms with her personal coach, war-vet granddad Chuck (the gravel-voiced Argo). Unfortunately, the film spends little time on action on the field or girl-to-girl dialogue and all its time on adult problems with child-care, a two-career family and a troubled relationship between son and father.

    Trouble at the Manetta household starts when mom Ellen gets promoted to a job three hours away and can't babysit Jenny after school. Old-fashioned Chuck criticizes his son, Paul, for letting his wife leave her motherly duties, and Paul tells Chuck he'll be babysitting Jenny or it's off to the retirement home. Young Jenny and crotchety Chuck first fight, then find common ground in the war vet's admiration for the pre-teen's obsession with soccer. Chuck turns Jenny into a little soldier who doesn't balk at competing with girls a head taller and isn't happy with giving hugs against her commanding officer's orders.

    Most of the film is taken up with scenes of Ellen, Paul and Chuck fighting over Jenny; Chuck's criticisms of Paul; and Ellen and Paul's unsatisfying jobs as store manager and English teacher. In the end, the smorgasbord of real-life issues is interesting, but scattershot in its approach — and not at all satisfying as a film about young girls playing soccer.

    Selling Points: Young girls struggling for independence will relate to Jenny, who's often pushed around like a soccer ball by adults. Modern moms, dads and grandparents struggling with real life will relate to the circumstances of this family. This was the second-to-last film from the excellent actor Argo (Taxi Driver, Ghost Dog) before he died of lung cancer. Brendan Howard

    A Perfect Fit
    Street 6/6
    Polychrome Pictures, Thriller, $19.97 DVD, ‘R' for language, some violence and sexuality
    Stars Adrian Grenier, Leila Arcieri, Polly Draper.

    Grenier is a prettyboy Benicio del Toro for the next generation, with pouty lips, a thick shock of dark hair and intense eyes underneath a strong brow. It's that prettiness that he employs in his breakout hit, HBO's “Entourage,” as laidback heartthrob actor Vincent Chase. Those who fear he's a one-trick pony playing himself need look no further than A Perfect Fit to see laidback actor Vincent transformed into obsessive-compulsive, increasingly unstable John.

    The movie explodes from the start, with John ruthlessly murdering his therapist. When we discover it's just a dream he reveals to that therapist, the movie mellows. John runs into twentysomething dance instructor Sarah (Arcieri) at his computer shop, and he chases her on the Internet to set up a date. Not halfway into the film they meet and, instead of developing into a comedy of errors based on John's virtual stalking, he comes clean and she thinks he's adorable enough to accept his apology.

    As their relationship quickly develops — with flowers, constant dates and a pregnancy — the movie doesn't hide the fact that John is a troubled man with violent dreams, a history of abuse at the hands of a father figure and an uncontrollable need to control. The film shows us enough of his private moments and inner demons that we can sympathize with him and Sarah, who loves him but isn't weak enough to allow herself to be forever victimized by him.

    A complicated mixture of romantic drama, thriller and Sybil-like analysis of mental illness, A Perfect Fit doesn't completely satisfy only because it refuses to dumb down the material. It rings true, and that's what makes it special.

    Selling Points: “Entourage” fans are a given, but lovers of believable dialogue, drama and thrillers will enjoy it on the strength of word-of-mouth. Brendan Howard

    Lurking in Suburbia
    Street 5/30
    Heretic Films, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
    Stars Joe Egender.

    The general rule of effective filmmaking is to “show, don't tell.” It is a lesson Lurking in Suburbia hasn't learned.

    On the eve of his 30th birthday, Connie (Giovanni Ribisi lookalike Egender) spends the entire movie expressing his inner monologue through a fourth-wall soliloquy in which he looks at the camera to talk directly to the audience.

    It's an effective tool for the filmmakers to wax philosophical about the vagaries of life, but on screen the style becomes annoying.

    Connie is worried his life hasn't amounted to much and attributes his lack of ambition to emotional pain caused by failed relationships. He prefers his bohemian lifestyle, having “written nine novels about trying to grow up.”

    He lives in a wannabe frat house populated by others who refuse to grow up and instead live the clich? slacker life, wondering if they should be living the clich? domesticated life, or considering the clich? alternative that moving to the big city will solve all their problems.

    Like holdovers from a Kevin Smith movie, they hope to stave off becoming bigger clich?s by making speeches about how life should be lived, while an alt-rock soundtrack plays in the background.

    The movie has a nice flow, with moments of hysteria caused by some inspired sight gags and tried-and-true gross-out humor.

    Eventually, the roomies throw Connie a 30th birthday party, which like so many movie parties culminates in key characters expressing pent-up malaise, realizing life-altering epiphanies and reaching cinematic catharsis.

    Selling Points: Had Kevin Smith made the last-night-in-high-school comedy Can't Hardly Wait, it would look similar to this. John Latchem

    QUICK TAKE: Pretty in ‘Pink'
    The upcoming DVD of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's The Pink Panther (street June 13; $28.95) has an impressive array of extras. Some fall short — like director Shawn Levy's commentary on everything — but others thrill, like on-set “Sleuth Cam” shorts that let the behind-the-scenes action speak for itself. It's a very special non-special edition. Brendan Howard

    QUICK TAKE: Wedded Hiss
    The reality TV show “Bridezillas” is supposed to show brides-to-be getting nasty as the big day approaches. But anyone who's been through a wedding may wind up sympathizing with, not sneering at, these women, whose perfectionism is in service of their dreams.
    In the first season, upscale Manhattan brides are demanding perfection with $100,000 weddings — who can blame them? Plunking down 100 grand should guarantee satisfaction.
    The second season aims for more drama: Cops are called, angry yells are heard, and vendors are threatened.
    Genius Products July 11 (prebook May 30) releases Bridezillas: Season One and Two ($26.95 each). Brendan Howard

    FROM THE VAULT: ‘Crash' Again
    With all the buzz about last year's Oscar-winning Crash, I can't help but think back to the first film with the title. While the Oscar-winner is about race relations, David Cronenberg's 1996 cult classic (available on DVD from New Line Home Entertainment) is a twisted and at times shocking look at people who are sexually stimulated by car accidents.

    While nowhere near as graphic as the 1973 J.G. Ballard novel on which it's based, Crash nonetheless provides a riveting and compelling perspective on the marriage of humanity and technology, of man and machine, and where that union might ultimately take us. Along the way, we meet people obsessed with re-enacting famous car crashes, like the ones that killed James Dean and Jayne Mansfield, as well as amputee prostitutes and armchair fetishists who view photos of crash victims as pornography.

    As one reviewer wrote on Amazon.com, “What a bunch of weirdos! Awesome movie!” Thomas K. Arnold

    Add Comment