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Reviews: November 11

11 Nov, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn
Street 11/20
Fox/MGM, Drama, B.O. $5.5 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some sequences of intense war violence and torture.
Stars Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies.

Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn is without question the iconoclastic filmmaker's most accessible feature film to date. While other avatars of the '70s era New German Cinema movement have either passed on (Fassbinder) or burned out (Wenders, Schlöndorff), Herzog has remained vital and relevant by spending the past two decades focusing primarily on documentaries, churning out minor masterpieces such as Grizzly Man and Lessons of Darkness at an astonishing rate.

It is fitting then that his overdue return to narrative cinema is based on his own 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly, about an American pilot who was imprisoned in, and ultimately escaped from, a Laotian POW camp at the beginning of the Vietnam war.

In revisiting this material for Rescue Dawn, Herzog was able to attract, for the first time in his career, significant Hollywood funding and an ‘A'-list actor, Christian Bale, for the lead role of Dieter Dengler. Although rumor has it that the director was at constant loggerheads with his tinsel-town paymasters, the result is fairly astounding. Rescue Dawn is an edge-of-your-seat film rendered with a poet's touch. Herzog evokes Dengler's nightmare of trying to survive in a brutal, unnavigable jungle with a rare intimacy and meticulous attention to detail.

He also seems to have abandoned his former indifference to filmmaking fundamentals such as spatial continuity and tight scripting, and the performances he commands from Bale and supporting cast members Zahn and Davies — all of whom look as if they haven't eaten in six months — are remarkable.

Like many Herzog productions, the shooting of Rescue Dawn was fraught with no end of production problems, especially those incident to being on location in the jungles of Thailand. The DVD extras — short making-of docs and a feature-length commentary by Herzog — highlight the unusual, and at times shocking, rigors that cast and crew underwent, and are almost as diverting as the film itself. – Eddie Mullins

Cougar Club
Street 11/13
Vivendi Visual, Comedy, $26.99 DVD, Available in ‘R' and unrated versions.
Stars Jason Jurman, Warren Kole, Joe Mantegna, Faye Dunaway, Carrie Fisher, Loretta Divine, Joanie Laurer, Jon Polito.

The tagline for this film reads “Forget Youth. Go For Experience. Join The Club.” The debauchery and decadence of the main characters brings to mind another, more familiar saying: “Youth is wasted on the young.”

Thankfully, the creators of Cougar Club are wise enough to recognize the moral and ethical ramifications of their story. They manage to have it both ways, sending their viewers on a zany, carnal journey that ultimately has their fresh-scrubbed but dirty-minded protagonists come out at the other end more mature, level-headed and well-educated in the lessons of dawning adulthood.

Relative newcomers Jurman and Kole star as recent college graduates who appear to land their dream jobs. However, the dream soon becomes a nightmare as the two find themselves working for an upscale law firm where they are forced to perform acts of menial, often demeaning, labor at the whim of their maniacally sadistic bosses, played by the always entertaining character actors Mantegna and Polito.

With prospects bleak in this dismal situation, the guys jump at a chance to improve their fortunes, establishing an exclusive dating club for young men who favor older women (cougars) and vice-versa. The hijinks arise when the work that they do for their day jobs begins to intertwine with their new business, which intrudes upon their work.

With a talent-heavy cast that also includes heavyweights Dunaway and Fisher, director Christopher Duddy (a veteran high-end visual effects co-coordinator) impressively goes relatively small scale here with a narrative that relies more on the intricacies of human interaction than it does on the complexities of digital manipulations. The special features include bloopers and outtakes and an optional adults-only menu. — David GreenbergDriftwood
Street 11/13
Image, Horror, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for violence, language and sexual references.
Stars Raviv Ullman, Diamond Dallas Page, Talan Torriero, Cory Hardrict, David Eigenberg, Lin Shaye, Marc McClure, Jeremy Lelliott, Russell Sams, John Walcutt, Baelyn Neff.

Writer-director Tim Sullivan crafted a cult hit with 2001 Maniacs, but fans of that film may be disappointed by his latest effort, the unsettling Driftwood.

The major flaw is a lack of focus. It begins with the feel of a tough prison drama and morphs into a ghost story, and ends up doing neither well. We learn from the featurettes that the supernatural element was introduced by executive producer Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Indie (the film division of Dark Horse Comics) to ramp up the graphic-novel spook factor.

A troubled 16-year-old named David (Ullman) finds himself committed to the Driftwood attitude adjustment camp by his parents after a rough emotional response to his older brother's death. The camp is run by the sadistic Capt. Kennedy (former WWE wrestler Page), who doesn't hesitate to whore out his teenage daughter to the prisoners to gather information (it doesn't help that he may be sleeping with her himself).

Meanwhile, David is haunted by the ghost of a former inmate whose mysterious death casts a pall over the establishment. His investigation threatens the Captain's land-scam deal involving turning former prisons into prime real estate.

The cast — which includes McClure (the “Superman” films), Eigenberg (“Sex and the City”) and reality-TV star Torriero (“Laguna Beach”) — should appeal to fans of modern ‘B' movies.

The DVD is loaded with bonus features, including two commentaries, two behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending that highlights just how uneven the screenplay is. John Latchem

In the Winter Dark
Street 11/27
BFS, Thriller, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Brenda Blethyn, Ray Barrett, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto.

In the Winter Dark is a spellbinding thriller about four neighbors residing in an isolated Australian farming valley who are brought together by their fear of the unknown.

The film unfolds like a modern-day fable filled with ominous metaphors. The main character, Maurice Stubbs (Barrett), a lifelong farmer with many dark secrets of his own, and his wife of 30 years, Ida (Blethyn), watch their simple way of life usurped by an influx of city folks into their tranquil countryside.

First comes Murray Jacob (Roxburgh), a loner with a uncertain past who runs a lawn service and drowns his sorrows in alcohol and country music. Then there's Ronnie (Otto), a young, out-of-control gothic-looking pregnant woman who is abandoned by her boyfriend and left to fend for herself and tend to a small farm.

For the most part, the neighbors mind their own business and keep to themselves, until the day they begin hearing strange noises and seeing a shadowy figure lurking around their farms at night. But it's not until their animals start turning up mutilated that the four neighbors join forces to stop the mysterious cat-like creature that seems to be stalking them. Unfortunately, working together only increases the tension, driving the neighbors to the brink of insanity and forcing them to confront their own personal demons, which may prove more dangerous than the deadly beast hiding in the farmland.

In the Winter Dark, based on Tim Winston's novel of the same name, is not your typical action-packed thriller. The filmmakers create an intense, disturbing mood by leaving a lot of the plot open for viewers to make their own inferences. What really holds the film together are its powerful characters and eerie setting, which have helped make it a favorite at international film festivals since its release.

The film also hit the jackpot with an amazing cast of both accomplished actors with Blethyn (a two-time Oscar nominee and Golden Globe Winner for Secrets & Lies) and Barrett, as well as rising stars Roxburgh and Otto. — Matt Miller

The Rocket
Prebook 11/13; Street 12/11
Palm, Drama, $24.99 DVD, ‘PG' for rough sports action including fighting, some bloody images, some language and historical smoking throughout.
In French and English with English subtitles.
Stars Roy Dupuis, Patrice Robitaille, Stephen McHattie.

Whether or not you're a die-hard hockey fan, it's hard not to fall in love with The Rocket, an inspiring and electrifying biopic about Maurice Richard, the athlete many refer to as the Babe Ruth of hockey.

Set in Quebec against the backdrop of World War II, The Rocket begins with Maurice (Dupuis, who has played the hockey icon twice before) as a teenager forced to work as a machinist after being rejected by the Army for having too many unhealed injuries from playing junior hockey. Despite being seen as frail by others, Maurice knew he had what it took to become a great hockey player, and persevered until he got his big break with the Montreal Canadiens.

Maurice's speed and power on the ice made him an instant star, earning him the nickname “The Rocket,” but his injuries had the team's owners always looking to trade him. Lucky for Maurice, the Canadiens' tough-as-nails American coach, Dick Irvin (McHattie), saw his passion, fire and natural talent, despite his being dragged through the mud by the press and the public.

Despite all his naysayers, Maurice never lost focus and went on to become one of the National Hockey League's toughest players — becoming the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games and helping his team win eight Stanley Cups during the 1940s and '50s. He was able to accomplish all of this while fighting for much-needed reform in the NHL, which was openly biased against French-Canadians, culminating with the 1955 “Richard Riot” in Montreal, following Maurice's unjust suspension for his involvement in a fight during a game.

The Rocket is hands down the best hockey movie, and one of the best sports movies, ever made. Everything from the filmmaking (kudos to director Charles Binam?), to the exciting on-ice action, to the superb cast (which includes a number of actual hockey players) adds up to a hard-hitting, historical look at the evolution of professional hockey while spotlighting one of the sport's true legends. If you weren't a hockey fan before watching the film, you will be afterward. — Matt Miller

Prebook 11/16; Street 12/18
Vanguard, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Amy Colon, John Riedlinger.

There's a long tradition of films in which a main character spends a big chunk of his or her time on screen dying, beginning with 1915's Camille.

Although Vernie is a recent entry into the dying protagonist genre, it takes a quiet, funny and restrained approach to the material and even throws in a couple of surprising plot devices and more than a few laughs.

Kristi and Sean are best friends woven deep into the fabric of each other's lives. So when Sean is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, it's Kristi who is devastated. Just as she is beginning to process what is happening to her dear friend, he comes to her with a proposal: He wants them to have a baby together, before it's too late.

At its core, Vernie is both very sad and, at the same time, life-affirming. Newcomer Riedlinger brings a rich, varied stew of emotion to a role that could easily have dipped irretrievably into the maudlin. And Colon, also a movie novice, is able to bring both depth and breadth of emotion to her role as a woman who is confronting both an unimaginable tragedy and a life-changing miracle.

Vernie is both a bit of a tearjerker and a surprisingly funny examination of the capriciousness of disease and its effect on family and friends. Viewers interested in films that delve into raw emotion will find Vernie worth a look. — Anne Sherber

48 Angels
Prebook 11/13; Street 12/11
MTI, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for brief language and some violence.
Stars Shane Brolly, Ciaran Flynn, John Travers, Daragh Kelly.

Irish boys in the movies tend toward one of two sides: Uber-literal religiosity or bordering-on-criminal rapscallion behavior. The meditative, touching 48 Angels features both. It treads on ground familiar to fans of Danny Boyle's excellent Millions, but trades the cash from that film for salvation, healing and death.

Seamus, the literal one, is an 8-year-old with a death sentence due to a bum heart. Enamored by a friend's tale of St. Columcille, who left Ireland in a boat without oars or a sail, guided only by God's wind, Seamus floats off in a rowboat to seek God's healing touch — before God gets the chance to cart him off to heaven.

He meets a surly teen, James, as well as a wounded mystery man with a crown of dark curls, a beard and a suspiciously familiar wound in his side. The trio runs from police, each for their own reasons.

Flynn is incredibly sweet as Seamus — his knitted brows encapsulate all his childish confusion, as well as his unwavering faith — but it's John Travers as the 15-year-old James who brings the conflict and heart to 48 Angels. Led toward chaos and trouble-making by a tragedy, Travers genuinely projects his irritation at the ridiculously pious Seamus, while also showing his own personal struggle between good and evil, and his desperation for a father figure — be it Jesus or an IRA terrorist.

Marion Comer is a triple threat as producer, writer and director. Her quiet, lyrical style wonderfully exploits the beauty of Ireland and lends a needed gravitas to Seamus' fanciful quest for life.

That's not to say the film is humorless, but whatever frustration James or “The Man” (the wounded Jesus-figure) has with Seamus' certainty, his quest is never treated lightly.

48 Angels is not a film for young children. Rather, it's more suitable for the Bridge to Teribithia, Grave of the Fireflies or even My Girl crowd who can handle heavier questions of death and religion. — Laura Tiffany

An Angel Named Billy
Street 11/13
Ariztical, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dustin Belt, Richard Lewis Warren, Hank Fields, Buddy Daniels Friedman.

At best, An Angel Named Billy will serve as a fairy tale for closeted teens or those who've been rejected by family for coming out of the closet. As a dramatic story to take seriously, however, the professionalism just isn't there.

The best thing about An Angel Named Billy is Dustin Belt as Billy, a young adult kicked off the farm by his insane father after he discovers Billy kissing another boy. Within about 48 hours, Billy hitchhikes to Los Angeles, finds a gay-friendly caf? and new best friend, and a live-in job caring for a stroke victim, Mark — no references or background checks necessary. Indeed, within the first day of work, Mark is calling Billy an angel, and Mark's son, James, has already fallen for Billy.

Belt does show a sparkle and innocence that might encourage others to so easily invite him into their lives. Hank Fields, as James, is reminiscent of Kyle McLachlan — charming, but with the wide age and experience difference between James and Billy, their relationship comes off as a little creepy, rather than heart-crushingly romantic as the director/writer Greg Osbourne intends. Almost all of the secondary characters — Mark's drag-queen best friend, the caf? proprietress, and especially Billy's father — come off as loud caricatures.

This isn't the type of movie one wishes were never made, such as a bad video-game adaptation. Rather, I just wish it was made better. An Angel Named Billy imparts a crucial message — even if your family doesn't accept your homosexuality, there are people who will and you can create a new family.

Kids such as Billy may sometimes be angels, but they always need to find their own angels — and if this film helps them realize that, it's worth watching. — Laura Tiffany

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