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Reviews: May 7

7 May, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Night Stalker: The Complete Series
Street 5/30
BV/Touchstone, Horror, $29.99 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Stuart Townsend, Gabrielle Union.
Out of the shadows of the past comes a serious gothic-horror show for those who didn't see “The X-Files” and “Angel,” or those who might want more of the same.

“Night Stalker” is an update of a 1970s monster-of-the-week series about reporter Carl Kolchak, who investigates stories of the supernatural.

In the '70s, Darren McGavin's Kolchak was a wisecracking has-been. His update (Townsend) is a brooding loner who uses his job as crime reporter to hunt for clues to his wife's mysterious death. His colleagues are an “X-Files’ Scully-type skeptic (Union) and a photographer with a Jimmy Olsen complex. And while the old show bordered on dark comedy, the new one is deadly serious, with Kolchak at the center of a supernatural war between good and evil.

Six episodes aired on ABC in 2005, and this set includes four unaired episodes. The episodes are in airdate order, rather than production order, with the bonus episodes tacked on to the end, which is a shame because important character development and continuity are contained in the unaired second episode.

The series is beautifully photographed and could have developed into an interesting examination of the nature of evil.

Executive producer Frank Spotnitz in two commentaries explains a lot of the intended mythology of the series. But without these hypothetical later episodes, the early stories are somewhat confusing. It's easy to understand why a mainstream audience wouldn't have the patience to stick around. This was a show destined for a cult following, and its involvement with a major network probably doomed it from the start.

Selling Points: This updated “Night Stalker” is closer in spirit to “The X-Files” and “Angel” than the original series, and should appeal to fans of those shows. John Latchem

The Boondocks: The Complete First Season — Uncut and Uncensored
Prebook 5/11; Street 6/13
Sony Pictures, Animated, $49.95 three-DVD set/three-UMD set, NR.
Voice talent from Regina King, John Witherspoon, Cedric Yarbrough.

In a DVD interview, Aaron McGruder — creator of “The Boondocks” comic strip and Cartoon Network Adult Swim animated show — says “Chappelle's Show” paved the way for his race-obsessed concoction.

“Chappelle” overstepped bounds in making fun of racism through the abundant use of the N-word and by brutally mocking black and white cultures and their absurdities. But “Boondocks” surpasses even “Chappelle,” as it has time to unfold more complicated treatments. In one episode, 8-year-old wannabe gangster Riley Freeman (King) shoots a dumb-as-rocks rich white kid back from Iraq wearing a bulletproof vest because he asks Riley to. Riley's brother, 10-year-old revolutionary Huey (King), tries to explain to guests at a garden party that Reagan was the devil, but discovers rich people are completely without anxiety about the state of the world. Granddad (Friday's Witherspoon) starts out trying to impress the rich white man whose bank owns the Freemans' house, but then discovers they share the same cruel sense of humor.

Finding the controversial comic strip tiringly angry, I was surprised to see those same characters in the cartoon involved in more interesting relationships and more emotions.Hopefully, others will give this outspoken cartoon a try, too.

Selling Points: Fans of “Chappelle's Show” should check this out. It may not be as laugh-out-loud funny, but it has more depth. Be aware the show has extreme language and some nudity. (Even audio commentators are stunned when they see a naked Granddad opening an episode.) Brendan Howard

What's on DVD?

  • Video and audio commentaries
  • DVD-ROM printable storyboards
  • Unaired TV promos
  • Animatic compilation
  • Making-of featurette
  • Deleted scenes

Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Prebook 5/10; Street 6/6
Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for bloody horror violence and gore, language and some nudity.
Stars William Sanderson, Tom Savini.

H.P. Lovecraft's horror stories from the early 1900s — about fear of the unknown and incomprehensible extradimensional monsters, full of elaborate Victorian writing and little plot — are hard to translate word for word into film, so most films don't. Two that draw on Lovecraft — In the Mouth of Madness and Dagon — took his stories to the present, preserving the curious protagonists who slowly go crazy and adding touches of modern-day gore.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep's attempt to keep the old period feeling, with derby hats and pre-modern insane-asylum conditions, could work, but it doesn't. With a modest budget, stumbling bit actors and capable leads who are forced to sound off in old-fashioned language and overly dramatic anger and frustration, the movie leads to more laughs than scares.

The story follows the work of psychiatric intern Dr. Charles Jarvis, who's experimenting with brainwaves and life after death. He becomes obsessed with the newest inmate, Joe Slaader (Blade Runner's Sanderson), a murderous inbred redneck. The horrors of another world are almost nothing compared to the deranged literal brain-poking of Dr. Jarvis and the horrible vivisections of Dr. Wardlow.

A finale makes the awful mistake of trying to show a Lovecraftian monster, beings that are supposed to be so hideous and unfathomable that seeing them leads toinsanity. The monster looks like a big octopus-armored warrior.

Selling Points: The H.P. Lovecraft name has cachet, and the gore is appropriately cruel. Brendan Howard

When Stand Up Stood Out
Prebook 5/25; Street 6/20
ThinkFilm, Documentary, $29.99 DVD, Rating pending.

From about 1978 to 1988, an organic and explosive comedy scene erupted in Boston, much like grunge was born in Seattle. Comics like Denis Leary, Bobcat Goldthwait, Lenny Clarke, Steven Wright and Paula Poundstone cut their teeth at local clubs and went on to national fame. Boston was the center of the comedy universe, with stand-up clubs giving the heave-ho to nightclubs and the city becoming a giant talent pool for national scouts.

Comedian Fran Solomita turns the camera on his friends, peers and key figures from this era in When Stand Up Stood Out. His personal involvement gives him close access to participants — even those whose careers have long left Boston — and some amazing early archival footage of stand-up shows in the smallest of clubs.

While the film and Solomita's narration (which is reminiscent of the folksy Dana Brown of Step Into Liquid) feels amateurish at times, Solomita's subject matter is fascinating for anyone who never realized that so much talent came from one place — which is probably anyone outside of Boston.

The hecklers, the drugs, the rivalries, the friendships, the jealousy, the two key comedy clubs where all these things originated — it's all recounted by old friends who've long since moved on, but have fond and interesting memories to share.

Selling Points: This documentary offers enough insight on so many famous comedians that anyone with even a passing interest in stand-up will enjoy it. — Laura Tiffany

Austin City Limits 2005 Music Festival
Prebook 5/9; Street 6/20
Image, Music, $24.99 two-DVD set, NR.

For years, the public TV show “Austin City Limits” has given musicians the chance to shine on camera in front of an intimately sized audience. Some complain that the show's original focus on lesser-known bluegrass and Americana artists has given it an any-genre-goes mentality, with guests now including rockers Wilco, The Flaming Lips and Coldplay; country crooner Alison Krauss; and rhythmic Latino bands Los Lobos and Ozomatli. Most, however, just enjoy seeing their eclectic favorites in well-produced performances.

With the Austin City Limits 2005 Music Festival Sept. 15-17 in Austin's Zilker Park, the show took its eclecticism to a stadium audience. The resulting two-DVD concert set comes off like a bootlegger's dream.

Included on the main concert DVD are single songs from such rockers as Jet, The Bravery and Kaiser Chiefs as well as such veterans as Blues Traveler and the Allman Brothers Band.

The music production is good enough to preserve crowd excitement but avoid overpowering bass or watery, underpowered vocals — the bugaboos of big concerts. Multiple-camera production also catches those moments of synergy between the artists and the excitement of the fans.

On the second disc, Q&A sessions and jam sessions with artists as well as some performances from the smaller stages come awfully close to replicating the feeling of getting backstage and everywhere else at a big grassy festival.

Selling Points: Fans with eclectic tastes will love this, while those who hate their dad's music or despise the newfangled rock might like only parts of it. Brendan Howard

Prebook 5/9; Street 5/30
MTI, Family, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Joan Collins, Spencer Breslin, Rachel Hunter.

Little kids will eat up Ozzie, but tweens and young adults will grow bored with the adventures of the eucalyptus-eating, talking koala.

How did a koala learn to talk? An Aborigine boy in a magical village near the Australian Outback taught him. As the movie opens, Ozzie is being blessed by the town elders. Then the plot kicks in when two thieves — one short and cranky, the other a tall and relatively innocent comic book reader — koala-nap him. Their boss (Collins in her best Cruella De Vil impersonation) wants to clone a bunch of talking koalas to boost her toy company's sales after the company owner refuses to sell action figures with weapons. And — horror of horrors! — she's willing to swipe the real Ozzie's brain and shorten the lifespan of the resulting koalas to do it.

But Ozzie's too fast for the thieves, and he switches places with a stuffed koala on the plane ride back to the States, hitching a ride with young Justin (Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat's Breslin).

The rest of the story is predictable: Collins gets more wicked, the thieves run into Home Alone-esque disaster in their attempts to get Ozzie, and Mom (Hunter) won't believe Justin when he tells her criminals are after him and his stuffed animal is alive.

Eventually, Justin gets to be the hero he always dreamed of being, and Ozzie makes it back Down Under.

Selling Points: Breslin's charisma, Collins' cameo and some good interlude animation help this one rise above mediocre direct-to-video kidvid, but the dull dialogue and situations and rickety audio-animatronics make sure it doesn't rise by much. Brendan Howard

Stephen Tobolowsky's Birthday Party
Prebook 5/12; Street 5/30
Available at www.stbp.com, Comedy, $24.96 DVD, NR.

He's been in more than 150 films and TV shows, and you'd know him if you saw him, but you won't know the name Stephen Tobolowsky (toe-buh-LAH-skee). I remember him as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, an obnoxious guy whom Bill Murray's character realizes is best handled with a punch to the face.

Now, Tobolowsky is center stage — at his own birthday party. The idea for this came to cinematographer Robert Brinkmann years ago as he marveled at Tobolowsky's storytelling. Tobolowsky tells stories to the camera while he gets ready, and then regales guests with more stories. Tales of being held at gunpoint and being beaten up by Thai monks are mixed in with just-as-weird stories of acting and auditions: being stuck in a piranha tank and trying out for Ronald McDonald.

The execution seems awkward at first. Tobolowsky stands on the beach and tells us about an earlier birthday, where he wound up in the ocean and gets stared down by a male dolphin. If audiences stick with his quirky voice and the stripped-down concept of one man telling stories, they'll be rewarded with that elusive feeling we all get at a party when someone's telling amazing stories well.

Selling Points: Tobolowsky's insider tales are perfect for cinephiles, and fans of spoken-word and public radio will love the format. It's a unique idea with a unique speaker that's well-executed. Brendan Howard

What's on DVD?

  • More than 90 minutes of deleted stories, including “My First Audition in L.A.” and “Live Bug Tacos.”

Street 5/23
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $0.01 million, $24.96 DVD, ‘R' for strong sexual content, pervasive language and drug use, and some violence.
Stars Chris Evans, Jessica Biel. Jason Statham.

This is a very difficult film to watch for anyone who's ever been “stuck” on someone — you know, those terrible relationships that end and yet you just can't let go, no matter how hard you try.

Six months after his relationship with London (Biel) ends, Syd (Evans, Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four) is a drunken, drug-addled wreck. By chance, he hears about a farewell party for London, who is leaving New York for a new life with her new love on the West Coast. He crashes the party, drug dealer in tow, and in the first half works up the courage to confront her. Through flashbacks, we learn she's a wild girl, a free spirit, who may have been unfaithful; but the biggest problem in the relationship, ironically, was his inability to say “I love you.”

The film ends on an uncertain note. He winds up taking her to the airport and, without giving away the ending (not that it really matters), the film's message seems to be that you might get the girl or get her heart, but rarely both. This isn't a great movie, nor is it a bad one. It's about the human condition, but it doesn't really tell us anything we don't already know.

Selling Points: A Jessica Biel movie that fell through the cracks will garner attention. Thomas K. Arnold

Bill's Gun Shop
Street 6/6
Polychrome, Drama, $19.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Scott Cooper, Victor Rivers, John Ashton.

Face it – guns are cool. Whether they're in the hands of the Terminator or James Bond, guns have a cachet all their own. That's what Bill's Gun Shop is about. Boys and men enjoy playing with and fantasizing about guns. They're always fun until you put someone's eye out.

A young man takes a job at a gun shop to appease his rather adolescent fascination. One night, he takes advantage of being left alone in the shop to play with all the cool guns. It's silly, but understandable.

Compared to his paranoid, Southern Cross-waving co-worker, he refreshingly emerges as the antithesis to the NRA-card-carrying gun enthusiast. Still wet behind the ears, he is befriended by a paternalistic Lakota-Sioux bounty hunter whose heritage implies a unique wisdom concerning guns. The chance to go out on a bounty hunt quickly embroils him in a double homicide. The young man is disillusioned and realizes the terrible power of the weapon he so admired.

Underdeveloped character relationships discredit a cogent, though thin, plot. The romantic interest is grossly underplayed and superfluous. And, for a film titled Bill's Gun Shop, there's not much gunplay — only about four guns in the whole movie ever get fired.

Selling Points: Looks at our culture's obsession with violence are interesting. Gun enthusiasts will enjoy the vicarious rush of working at a gun shop. Justin-Nicholas Toyama

What's on DVD?

  • Gun stories from cast and crew
  • Director's commentary
  • Production slideshow

QUICK TAKE: Saturday Night Live: The Best of Commercial Parodies
With 20 titles out, some say Lionsgate's “SNL” DVD series is running out of steam. I'm just glad it didn't run out before collecting some of the show's funniest gags worthy of water-cooler chat. The Best of Cheri Oteri also streets May 23. They're $19.98 each. Brendan Howard

QUICK TAKE: The Secret World of Benjamin Bear
I thought the “Toy Story” toys worked hard until I saw these teddy bears in action. In Genius Entertainment's Having Fun With the Pets, the bears get the family cat back from a cargo company, find a lost hamster and get a stray dog adopted — all while making sure kids never see them moving. Other 36-minute “Benjamin Bear” DVDs ($12.98 each) streeting May 23 are Big Adventures, Lessons to Learn and Many Mysteries. — Brendan Howard

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