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Reviews: November 18

18 Nov, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Katt Williams: American Hustle


Katt Williams: American Hustle
Street 11/20
Vivendi Visual, Comedy, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Katt Williams, Red Grant, Luenell, Melanie Comarcho.

Katt Williams is the latest character on a short list of black comedians drawing comparisons to the great Richard Pryor.

Eddie Murphy was one of the first. Then it was Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. Each has enormous talent and uses a similar approach to comedy as Pryor famously did — his raw stories about the streets and some of its characters kept audiences in stitches. But few of them come close to Pryor.

Williams, though, definitely has appeal. You'll immediately recognize his talents in American Hustle. This film is Williams' follow up to The Pimp Chronicles Part 1, his hilarious 45-minute set released last year.

In American Hustle, Williams plays himself. Early in the movie, he gets an earful from two Hollywood executives who want to tell his story. Instead, the craziness of Hollywood leads Williams to a comedian's home — on the road. Behind the wheel of a vintage Cadillac, with personalized plates that read the laughable “Katt-A-Lac,” Williams travels with old friends and comedy acts Comarcho, Grant and Luenell.

Vegas, Dallas, D.C., Philly and Cleveland are among the stops before a pivotal performance — that's how it's played up in the film — in Chicago practically brings down the house.

Williams is at his best here when he pokes fun at himself. One of his best quips is about his arrest at LAX last year for carrying a stolen gun in his briefcase. But he also puts some heat on others (Michael Jackson and Shaq among them), the relationships between men and women, their sexual habits and the idiosyncrasies of relationships.

Jeremy Piven, Snoop Dogg, Ludracris and Da Brat make guest appearances. They're funny, too. But Williams, of course, is the life of the party. – Benny Lopez


7 D?as
Street 11/20
Xenon, Comedy, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.99 DVD, NR.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Stars Eduardo Arroyuelo, Martha Higareda, Julio Bracho, Jaime Camil.

Some films sound off-puttingly stupid when boiled down to a one-sentence synopsis: A young man has one week to bring rock band U2 to town, or local mafiosos will kill him. Really?

7 D?as is just as quirky as it sounds, but not nearly as silly. Claudio (Arroyuelo) tries to fill the shoes of his deceased brother, a concert promoter, by bringing U2 to Monterrey, Mexico. But rather than finding investors, he gambles away money that doesn't belong to him.

The local godfather's son, Tony (Camil), worships “Saint Bono” and loves U2. So he arranges for Claudio to have one week to pull off this stunt or he gets offed.

Tony joins as an unwanted business partner, along with Claudio's girlfriend (Higareda), on a surprisingly engaging ride through the complications of concert promotion. Bizarre investors, mob henchmen and an unscrupulous rival promoter all serve as speed bumps.

The film is a slow starter and confusing at first; it's not clear for what Claudio needs the money. But the introduction of Camil as Tony sets the film in motion and gives 7 D?as its soul and swagger. The incredibly charismatic Camil steals the film from Arroyuelo, who is buried in the thankless role of the overly serious Claudio.

Tertiary characters, especially the idiosyncratic investors, are all memorable.

First-time director-writer Fernando Kalife's strength is drawing out charming performances from his players. His forays into quick cuts and camera effects (such as swirling lights during a drunk scene) don't work, but are thankfully sparse.

Having been nominated for five Ariel Awards (Mexico's Oscar equivalent), this strong debut is a film that both Spanish-language cinema fans and arthousers who like dark comedies and crime capers will enjoy. – Laura Tiffany


Vitus
Street 11/27
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $0.2 million, $29.95 DVD, ‘PG' for mild thematic elements and language.
Stars Bruno Ganz, Teo Gheorghiu.

What is the sustained appeal of child prodigy movies? They are more predictable than Westerns, and not nearly so diverting. Every cinematic whiz kid, from Little Man Tate to Searching for Bobby Fischer, is essentially the same, which is to say preternaturally gifted (at chess, mathematics, the piano, etc.) and a constant source of headaches for their parents.

It is the parents, of course, who differ most from film to film. They are the only real X factor. But rich or poor, fawning or indifferent, they tend to run up against the same question: What, if anything, should they do about little Einstein's gift? Should it be nurtured or discouraged? Should he be thrust into the limelight — Mozart is always the reference point here — or should they permit him a normal childhood?

Fredi Murer's Vitus is no different from what has come before. In fact, it might be the apotheosis of the genre. At the age of six, little Vitus (Fabrizio Borsani) is an avid reader of encyclopedias and possessed of a musical gift at the piano that his parents delight in showing off at parties.

There's a lot of earnest talk about their responsibility to nurture his talents, but their real interest is in what his precocity means for them — to whit, no end of pride and fame.

The only interesting and unusual narrative wrinkle in Vitus' awkward (but again, in no way atypical) coming-of-age story is an interlude during which he fakes normalcy after a freak accident. Everyone is temporarily fooled and Vitus is afforded a brief-but-enriching peek into what his life might have been like were he not a genius.

As for the rest, there's not much new under the sun, but Vitus is still as satisfying as this narrow genre usually allows. – Eddie Mullins


Doing Time for Patsy Cline
Street 11/27
BFS, Comedy, B.O. $0.001 million, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Matt Day, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh, Tony Barry, Roy Billing.

“When you think about it … I've been in prison longer than Johnny Cash,” says the hero of this dramatic comedy that carves a brutal trail between a young man's lustful desires for a seemingly vulnerable woman and his fantasy to become a country-western singing star.

No matter — Ralph (Day) is determined to endure — whatever the consequences may be. The film opens on a lonely farm somewhere in the Australian Outback, where Ralph clearly has made it known to his salt-of-the earth parents that he is destined to be the next big American country vocal star.

He embarks on a journey with a little help from his folks in the form of an airplane ticket to Nashville. While waiting at the crossroads to hitch a ride, Ralph meets the infamous mythical music devil Boyd (Roxburgh) and his angelic sidekick Patsy (Otto), who quickly seize upon his naivete.

Here is where the plot twists intertwine rapidly and to the very point of amalgamation.

The trio loses a high-speed pursuit with the local Outback sheriff; Patsy escapes and Ralph and Boyd begin a long psychic journey together in a small country jailhouse cage.As the hickish cage shrinks, their imaginations blossom, exponentially. Before you know it, Patsy and Ralph are cutting a record from an original tune called “Dead Roses,” and Boyd has hooked them up with a performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

Just then, reality hits, and Ralph has a hard choice to make in pursuit of his dream.

The song performed by Day as the credits roll sums it up best: “When you wake up in the morning, hear the ding-dong ring. You go marchin' to the table, it's the same darn thing; spoon and fork upon the table, not a thing in my pan. If you make a crack about it, you're in trouble with the man … Let the midnight special shine its light on me.” – Brett Sporich


This Hollow Sacrament
Street 11/27
TLA, Horror, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars April Potter, Marcus Shelby, Anthony Falcon, Sheila McClay, Krystle Ferrin, Meaghan Sinclair.

According to This Hollow Sacrament executive producer and director Greg Stetchman, this horrific tale of murder and torture is based on a true story about four women who were killed in Northern California and the subsequent police investigation to find the murderer.

This film is definitely not for those who get queasy at the sight of blood, which flows freely throughout the storyline, from the beginning to end.

The movie opens with actual combat footage from the Iraq war. Bullets fly, and bombs blast as U.S. Marines maneuver through the shell-shocked streets of an Iraqi suburb to an American who hangs from the ceiling while being tortured by enemy soldiers.

Within a few seconds, the scene cuts to the other side of the world and a peaceful California street. But that's where the realism becomes even more macabre.

Samantha Benson (Sinclair), a pretty, young girl who stops to help a motorist in distress, is abducted, tied up and eventually killed by a mysterious stranger who likes to take his time in ritualistic murder by torture.

Police detective Jeff Starken (Shelby) and his partner Det. Tori Carter (McClay) are hot in pursuit, questioning a known child molester, convicted criminals and just about anyone who may have a connection to the case.

Soon enough, however, a personal tragedy involving Starken's troubled fianc?e, Amanda (Potter), combined with flashbacks of his own combat and torture experiences in the Iraq war, puts him over the edge.

Anyone who enjoyed the “Saw” movies is in for an even more gruesome and graphic experience with This Hollow Sacrament. – Brett Sporich


The Ritchie Boys
Street 11/20
Docurama, Documentary, $26.95 DVD, NR.

Christian Bauer's engaging and enlightening documentary The Ritchie Boys serves as a fitting tribute to a group of men who served a vital role in America's efforts during World War II.

As Hitler prepared for his purge, many Jews fled the German storm for America while “Europe was raped,” in the words of one ?migr?. Some found their way to the military intelligence training center at Camp Ritchie, Md., where they lent their unique expertise about Europe to the Allied war effort.

In recounting an often-overlooked element of WWII, The Ritchie Boys serves as a companion piece to other WWII docs, such as Ken Burns' recent The War. Bauer's primary method is to combine narration and archival footage with interviews of the veterans telling their stories. In an aside, two of the men return to Camp Ritchie 60 years later and relive some of their experiences.

The personal anecdotes run the gamut from humorous to near tragic. The DVD includes additional stories that were cut from the interview segments.

The Ritchie Boys returned to Europe on D-Day, many of them altering their dog tags so as not to reveal their Jewish faith to potential German captors.

Service in Europe was doubly dangerous for many of them, facing not only German prejudice, but also confusion among Americans. With German spies infiltrating the American lines, hearing the accents of the Ritchie Boys did little to inspire confidence among suspicious Allied soldiers. According to one story, a Ritchie Boy was shot after accidentally giving a password in German.

The primary aim of the Ritchie Boys was to interrogate war prisoners. Another task was to analyze leaflets to be dropped on the enemy. The most effective proved to be a safe harbor note signed by Dwight D. Eisenhower that guaranteed good treatment should they be captured.

While the Ritchie Boys are proud of the work they did to aid in the defeat of Hitler, most of them can't help but feel a tinge of regret for sacrificing a piece of their cultural heritage in exchange for freedom in America. One of the Ritchie Boys describes meeting a group of liberated Jews only to realize he had forgotten how to speak Yiddish. “I just was no longer Jewish,” he says. “Not like them.” John Latchem


On Common Grounds
Street 11/20
Victory Multimedia, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.

Recently in Kansas, a group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims joined to create The House That Abraham Built, a Habitat for Humanity home built on the sweat equity of congregants from all three faiths.

This hour-long documentary tells of a similar effort. But this house is built in a day in a village near Tijuana, Mexico, by Southern California members of the three faiths.

The film starts in a Chula Vista, Calif., parking lot, as a representative of Corazon, a Mexican version of Habitat for Humanity, inspires the crowd of 40 or so volunteers as they pile into their cars for the border-crossing trip.

The built-in-a-day home pales in comparison to the ones Habitat builds over weeks, but it's a step up from renting a similarly small space for the Mexican family.

In talking-head interviews, congregants and leaders from the participating church, mosque, and synagogue explain that they hope the project yields more than a single home. They want the interfaith project to continue. They hope their children get together again, and, most of all, they hope everyone can learn that these “others” are really not so different.

The only hint of possible tension is between a woman from Israel and a woman from Lebanon. Both have lived through the violence of an occupying war. But even their potential enmity is defused by their fervent hopes that their pain won't continue in the next generation.

On Common Grounds is well intentioned and will make a great film for classrooms or to inspire interfaith projects. However, it isn't robust enough for the discerning documentary fan. It doesn't have the time to delve into the issues of interfaith conflict and settles for hand-shaking and smiles in place of serious debate or difficult emotions – Brendan Howard


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