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Reviews: November 12

12 Nov, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Ice Age: The Meltdown
Street 11/21
Fox, Animated, B.O. $195.3 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG' for some mild language and innuendo.
Voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Seann William Scott.

The plot of the second “Ice Age” film is simple. With the ice age ending, the valley will flood, so all the animals must migrate to safety.

The movie shifts between a series of vignettes involving the fan-favorite Scrat the Squirrel character chasing his favorite acorn, and the continuing migration storyline. Manny the Mammoth, Sid the Sloth and Diego the Sabre-Tooth Tiger encounter a female mammoth, Ellie, and her possum companions, setting up a romance subplot about the mammoths staving off their eventual extinction.

The film contains some dark overtones about death and mortality that younger children may not understand. Most kids, however, will be enchanted by more zany adventures of their favorite characters from the first movie.

The jokes are somewhat derivative, and connoisseurs of animation immediately will recognize most of them. The Scrat sequences are easily the best part of the film.

For the DVD, the filmmakers completely concede to their older audience with the short film No Time for Nuts, in which Scrat discovers a time machine and zips through history in search of his acorn. Scrat's cameo on “Family Guy” also is included.

Several short featurettes focus on designing the new characters. These aren't very detailed and mostly feature interviews with the creators intercut with clips from the film. A director's chair feature allows viewers to compare scenes at three different stages of production. It's not a new concept, but those interested in how the film was animated will enjoy it. More interesting is a sound effects studio in which the Scrat vs. piranha scene is dubbed with a variety of themed sound effects, such as car noises or musical instruments.

Other features include games, musical montages, drawing segments and one of those personality tests that seem to be in vogue with animated films these days. There's more than enough to keep kids occupied beyond the running time of the film itself.

For those interested in their children's DVDs being educational, the disc includes a series of “lost historical films” that discusses facts about the various prehistoric animals seen in the film, accompanied by clips from the movie featuring each creature. That some of the species may be fictional isn't mentioned. John Latchem

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
Street 12/12
Westlake, Drama, B.O. $1.6 million, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend, Anna Massey.

In this lovely British import, Plowright dazzles as a woman of limited means who ensconces herself in a residential hotel in London so she won't become a burden to her only daughter.

When she takes a tumble while out walking one day, a young man rushes to her rescue, inviting her into his modest basement flat, ministering to her scraped knee and plying her with that English cure-all, a nice hot cup of tea.

The unlikely pair strike up a friendship. He is the perfect surrogate for her grandson, too busy to come and visit her. And she offers him her rich perspective and her wisdom.

Their talks are rambling and wide-ranging. She tells him how she fell in love with her husband, how they bonded over the film Brief Encounter. Nearing the end of her life, she gives him the tools to truly begin his own.

Plowright paints her character with delicate and subtle colors. She is both selfless and a little vain, both self-sufficient and longing for companionship. But the film's real treasure is newcomer Friend, whose Byronic good looks are the cherry on top of the wonderfully sensitive and affective performance he delivers as a struggling young writer who befriends an older woman and is wise enough to see they each fulfill some longing in the other. His performance here was among his first; he has since completed roles in six fairly high-profile projects that will be in theaters over the next 12 months. Interest in him will only grow.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont is charming and poignant and has the added advantage of being a film that adults thoroughly can enjoy watching with all but the youngest children in their lives. It is that relatively rare film from which the widest range of viewers will take something wonderful. — Anne Sherber

Mi Amigo
Prebook 11/16; Street 12/26
Velocity, Western, $24.98 DVD.
Stars Josh Holloway, Channon Roe, Tom Everett, Burton Gilliam.

A tumbleweed throwback, Mi Amigo ambles along nicely as a character drama, bypassing western-genre clich?s.

The 2002 film co-stars Josh Holloway, who went on to earn fame as a cast member of the popular ABC television series “Lost.” Holloway plays Pal, one of two cowboy buddies looking to break out of the small town of Cherub, Texas, for good.

Before they go, though, the friends make an unplanned withdrawal from the local bank, to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars. This act causes a split between the friends.

The film then moves forward 30 years, with the two aging men now reunited in Cherub, where they must deal with the crime they committed long ago, and also with the same lawless creep in town who bothered them way back when. In the mix, of course, is a woman, the same woman who helped drive the boys apart those many years ago. (Would it surprise you to learn that her name is Kitty?)

Mi Amigo is a story of friendship, loyalty, reunion and nostalgia. It proceeds at a leisurely pace, and even if that pace lags sometimes, the film is more concerned with character development and common human traits and themes than it is with chases and confrontations. There's even a hint of social conscience, with a timely subplot about the treatment of immigrants.

An ample helping of original music helps things along, and it's good to see familiar but little-seen faces such as that of Gilliam, who delighted us in Blazing Saddles. — Dan Bennett

Saint of 9/11
Street 11/21
Hart Sharp, Documentary, B.O. $0.007 million, $24.98 DVD, NR.

Of the many horrible images of Sept. 11, 2001, there is one that really sums up the good side of human nature. The photograph depicting rescue workers carrying the body of the New York City Fire Department's chaplin, Father Mychal Judge, away from the destruction tells a story that contrasts sharply with the story of the terrorists.

While the perpetrators of this heinous act gave up their lives in the name of the destruction of life, Judge and the many others who arrived at the scene gave up their lives in an effort to preserve life.

People around the world were introduced to Father Judge that day, and his name is one of the few among individual victims that is widely known. Yet to hundreds of lucky people in the New York City, Long Island and New Jersey areas, the name was as familiar as their closest relatives.

While Father Judge died that day, this new documentary seems to be making the case that 9/11 was merely the climax of his service to God on Earth.

Glenn Holsten's rich, inspiring film serves as an elegant portrait of a complex and extremely decent man. Father Judge, the son of Irish immigrants, was a homosexual and recovering alcoholic who was widely beloved by legions who were touched by his magic.

Interview subjects range from firefighters, the former fire commissioner of NYC and former president Bill Clinton to friends, fellow members of the clergy, members of the gay community and former homeless people.

Nobody will ever forget the horror of 9/11, but everyone should see this film and experience the hope and love of humanity shared by one of its victims, Father Mychal Judge. — David Greenberg

Death & Texas
Street 11/21
BFS, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Durning, Steve Harris, Corbin Bernsen, Billy Ray Cyrus, Andy Richter.

If you've had the (mis)fortune of driving through the vast, flat state of Texas, you no doubt noticed “Don't Mess With Texas” scattered on freeway signs throughout.

The warning mainly is for litterbugs, but it also speaks volumes of the clutter of harsh laws in the Lone Star state and the consequences for breaking them.

When it comes to executions, Texas leads the nation by a country mile. Texas — and you could throw in Florida and California — also ranks high in the number of college football prospects annually graduating from the state's high schools.

What do these two have in common? Ladies and gentleman, meet Death & Texas.

This mockumentary offers a humorous take on sports and politics, centered around the exploits of “Barefoot” Bobby Briggs (Harris of “The Practice”), a Texas football legend who is convicted of murdering a convenience-store clerk and ends up on death row. Despite the magnitude of his heinous crime, Death & Texas sometimes mocks it, providing a jaded view of how we sometimes put our sports heroes above the law — and how the sometimes strange behavior of the criminal justice system might score it differently than you might at home.

The film can be a bit tricky early on, leading some to initially believe it is a documentary. But most viewers won't be fooled.

The dry humor works well, and the writing by Kevin DiNovis is strong (DiNovis also provides a skilled effort as director). The bonus material features scene selections and interviews with some of the film's cast members. — Benny Lopez

High School Musical: Remix Edition
Street 12/5
BV/Disney, Musical, $29.99 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel.

That lovable pair, Romeo and Juliet, are back. This time, the star-crossed lovers are on opposite ends of the high-school geek-jock continuum, with the basketball team and the drama club stepping in for the Capulets and the Montagues. Luckily, this time, they manage to avoid all that messy murder/suicide business at the end.

A pair of teenagers, on summer vacation with their respective families, meet over karaoke and, come September, find themselves attending the same high school. The problem? She's a math whiz and he's captain of the basketball team, and they both are hiding a secret desire to star in the school musical.

The film does a surprisingly good job of modernizing movie-musical conventions. Elaborate musical production numbers complete with singing, dancing and cheerleading break out in the cafeteria and the gym, as well as the theater.

The DVD includes an extensive roster of extras, including all those from the single-disc version released earlier this year.

A short documentary chronicling the film's DVD premiere party includes interviews with most of the film's cast as well as some unconnected, mostly ‘B'-list celebs. In two “Dance Alongs,” cast members demonstrate the dance steps to a couple of the film's production numbers. There also is a standard-issue making-of documentary, four music videos and a sing-along option so viewers can see the words to the songs as the movie plays.

High School Musical has become a full-blown phenomenon; it seems to speak loudly to its target audience of 12- to 18-year-olds. It aired originally on the Disney Channel and has developed a surprisingly large and enthusiastic following, transforming its young and largely unknown cast into the newest pack of teen idols. Even kids without access to the Disney Channel will have heard of High School Musical and will be interested in seeing it. — Anne Sherber

Angel Rodriguez
Street 11/28
HBO Video, Drama, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Rachel Griffiths, Jonan Everett.

Director Jim McKay has found his muse in the teens who inhabit the impoverished, multicultural boroughs of New York City. In his latest film, released on HBO, his focus is on Angel (first-timer Everett, who nails this role), a teen who's been kicked out by his father, and Nicole (Griffiths of “Six Feet Under”), the teacher who takes him in.

McKay, who also co-wrote Angel Rodriguez, purposely puts little in front of the camera. Viewers are thrown into a slice of life in Angel and Nicole's existences, and their backstories are nearly nonexistent. Ultimately, McKay leaves it up to us to determine what's to come.

Will Angel pull himself out of the anger and despair his father has inflicted upon him? And will Nicole continue to help kids such as Angel find their way? It's an interesting experiment on McKay's part, but may leave some feeling unsatisfied.

The extras are sparse on the DVD release. It's unlikely viewers will purchase it solely on the merits of its very short making-of doc, which feels more like (and probably is) an HBO infomercial for the film, and the commentary by McKay. More likely, it will attract those who rightly find Griffiths to be a complex, excellent actress.

That being said, the commentary by McKay is an interesting beast. He seems wholly uncomfortable with the idea of commenting on this film that he crafted as a pseudo-mystery. The story is revealed slowly through the everyday actions of its two protagonists, and McKay seems to believe he'll mar this process with his comments. What is revealed is his love of his subject matter — teens growing up without a safety net — and his strong views on what isn't being done for those teens. — Laura Tiffany

Searching for Bobby D
Street 11/28
Monarch, Comedy, $26.95 DVD, ‘R' for language, sexual content and brief drug use.
Stars William DeMeo, Carmen Electra, Tyson Beckford, Sandra Bernhard, Tony Darrow.

The characters in Searching for Bobby D have a dream and aren't afraid to take the low road to make it happen. Riding that road along with them offers at least a few guilty laughs.

The film brings us familiar characters — if not by name, then at least by sound and appearance. DeMeo plays Johnny, a young but quickly aging Italian-American would-be actor who still lives with his parents in a New York City row house, and still dreams of making it big as an actor.

Johnny, like so many others in the business, carries with him at all times the script he wrote, seeking a financial angel who will fund the film that Johnny will star in himself.

Johnny and his socially inept buddies head off to Pennsylvania, where a cousin has promised he can hook up Johnny with a financier. The boys meet a rancher, and soon hear that the older man spends too much time with his favorite sheep, just to give a preview of some of the film's more “pastoral” humor. The man says he will finance the film if the boys can get Robert De Niro to co-star. That's all. Just get De Niro.

Much deception follows, including a De Niro impersonator the boys bring in, who looks so little like the legendary actor, and whose impersonation is so lame, some of those guilty laughs arrive.

The guys eventually learn that honesty is the best policy, and that friendship trumps stardom.

Searching for Bobby D goes for laughs, and scores on occasion, outrunning a basically amateurish feel to show some heart. Helping things along are Bernhard as a wisecracking assistant to De Niro. Also, Electra has fun as the daughter of the sheep fanatic, and shows off a few good dance moves, giving Searching for Bobby D some oomph. — Dan Bennett

Quick Take: No Lame Duck in This DVD Set

Fans of “The West Wing” who have resisted buying the show on DVD may want to look into Warner Home Video's The West Wing: The Complete Series.

The $299.98 set, released Nov. 7, comes in a nifty case designed to mimic a document bag, with the discs filed by season. There are no bonus discs, so anyone who has been collecting the season sets will just have to get over their disappointment of not receiving a copy of Aaron Sorkin's pilot script.

The seventh season, which streeted solo the same day at $59.98, is unfortunately rather lacking in features. There's stuff about the live episode, but no tribute to the late John Spencer. Still, it's a worthy addition to the collection. John Latchem

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