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Reviews: November 25

25 Nov, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — The Complete Series
Street 11/27
Time Life/Warner, Action, $249.99 41-DVD set, NR.
Stars Robert Vaughn, David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll.

The boxed set for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” is about as extensive as they come, loaded with enough bonus materials to make it a must-have for any fan of the 1964-68 spy series.

The nostalgia appeal is obvious, but fans of the James Bond films and similar fare may want to check it out as well.

The show about a multinational intelligence agency starred Vaughn as dapper secret agent Napoleon Solo, McCallum as his sidekick, Illya Kuryakin, and Carroll as their boss, Alexander Waverly. Each episode featured a different guest star as an innocent bystander caught up in the wild adventure.

“Star Trek” fans should get a kick out of the first-season episode “The Project Strigas Affair,” which features an early pairing of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. In fact, each disc includes a nifty featurette about all the great guest stars who appeared on the show over the years, including Ricardo Montalban, Barbara Feldon of “Get Smart” and a 13-year-old Kurt Russell.

The first season, in black and white, offered relatively serious spy fiction in the mold of the Bond films, which was no surprise considering Bond creator Ian Fleming had been attached to the show early in its development. In later seasons, under different producers, the show devolved into near self-parody in an attempt to imitate the success of the campy “Batman” series.

The packaging is based on an attach? case that perfectly incorporates the espionage theme of the show. It contains boxed sets for all four seasons plus two bonus discs that feature mostly promotional material, but also extra interviews and the amusing “Tom and Jerry” cartoon spoof “The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R.”

A real treat for fans is the original series pilot, called “Solo,” which was shot in color and features another actor as Waverly. The set also includes a reunion interview with McCallum and Vaughn, who admits he originally took the job without actually reading the pilot script and bluffing his way through a meeting with the producer. Series director Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon) also figures heavily in the extras.

Included is the 1966 offshoot movie One Spy Too Many, but the set does not include any trace of the spinoff “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.”

Fans can order the boxed set through Time Life's Web site, manfromuncledvd.com; the DVDs will be available at retail after fall 2008. John Latchem

The Hottest State
Street 12/4
ThinkFilm, Drama, B.O. $0.03 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexual content and language.
Stars Mark Webber, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Laura Linney, Michelle Williams, Sonia Braga, Ethan Hawke.

Ethan Hawke's development as a filmmaker has improbably gone into hyperdrive. His first film was the clumsy Chelsea Walls, and his second is the wildly assured and indie-minded The Hottest State, adapted from his own novel.

Hawke must have many actor friends because he apparently had no trouble assembling impressive casts for both films.

The real difference between the films is largely technical. Even though both share the same sort of disjointed, deliberately paced narrative style, The Hottest State is so much better conceived visually and tonally, the rhythm and pacing really complimenting and supporting Hawke's rambling narrative approach.

The story — a basic boy-meets-girl plot — focuses on Will (Webber) a successful young actor transplanted from his native Texas to the bright lights of New York City, still haunted by the absence of and perceived abandonment by his long-lost father.

He meets and is instantly captivated by Sarah (Moreno), an aspiring singer. After an intense, maybe overbearing courtship, he wins her over. Will invites her to move in with him and they embark on what winds up being a rocky relationship plagued by personal doubts about themselves, each other and their backgrounds.

The production impressively (for its modest budget) moves the action from NYC to Connecticut, Texas and an extended sequence in Mexico as it documents the romantic roller coaster that is so often the case in young love between young adults.

Oddly free-flowing and compelling at the same time, Hawke's film impresses on so many levels — not the least of which involves the uniformly awesome performances of his cast of Oscar nominees (Linney, Braga, Williams, Moreno and even Hawke himself) all in nearly career-best form and, holding it all together in a star-making turn, the criminally lesser-known Webber. — David Greenberg

Intimate Affairs
Prebook 11/27; Street 12/26
Universal/Screen Media, Comedy, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong sexual content, including dialogue and nudity.
Stars Dermot Mulroney, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Nick Nolte, Terrence Howard, Julie Delpy.

Intimate Affairs has a cast of top-shelf talent, beautiful cinematography, period costumes and set designs that draw the viewer into this Bohemian world of sexual exploration from the start.

In the 1920s before the Depression, Edgar (Mulroney) is a former member of psychological academia bent on a clinical approach to examining the heterosexual male libido.

To keep his male subjects focused, Edgar hires two female stenographers and has them wear suggestive outfits. Alice (Campbell) plays a bookish virgin seemingly shocked by each male fantasy, while Zoe (Tunney) appears to be more experienced than most of the men involved in this carnal endeavor.

Edgar's restrictive clinical approach gets derailed almost from the start when one of the subjects (Alan Cumming) discusses his desire for young boys and a childhood sexual experimentation with a puppy.

Edgar also must contend with the interference of Faldo (Nolte), the wealthy businessman who owns the house where this research is conducted, and Oscar (Jeremy Davies), an independent filmmaker.

Edgar's weakness seems to be his overwhelming desire for a “succubus,” the mythical female demon who makes love to men in the night in order to steal their seed so that no woman can have them.

The best summary may be from Edgar himself: “Sex has nothing to do with love. Love is a lightning bolt from the blue … isn't it?” – Brett Sporich

Who's Your Caddy?
Street 11/27
Genius/Weinstein, Comedy, B.O. $5.7 million, $28.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for crude and sexual content, some nudity, language and drug material.
Stars Big Boi, Jeffrey Jones, Susan Ward, Sherri Shepherd, Faizon Love, Tamala Jones, Andy Milonakis.

Check out the special features first and then the movie. Trust me. Start with the deleted scenes and the must-see “Men Are Like Puppy Dogs.” “Little T.T.” is worth a look, too.

Then absorb some serious conversation in a good way, coming courtesy of billionaire Bob Johnson, founder of BET, owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats and a figure who sometimes gets mixed reviews. He shares his optimism on one of his latest investments, Our Stories Film, which he founded.

The vision, he says, is to give minority filmmakers and artists a bigger stage for film and other projects. Producer-director Tracey E. Edmonds is leading the way. She's COO and president of Our Stories Films. Though she might be known as ex-wife of Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and the better half of Eddie Murphy right now, she carries clout in the film industry. “Soul Food,” on which she and Edmonds collaborated, was a hit for Showtime and a very popular series.

Comedian Faizon Love is also a standout, which is no surprise to his fans. He shares the laughs and good-natured ribbing well with co-star Sherri Shepherd, a talented comedian herself, who tells some of the best Faizon stories. The sexy Tamala Jones is definitely a good addition — and a lovely distraction. Jeffrey Jones and Susan Ward are good, too, as the husband-and-wife team called the Cummins. But it's Andy Milonakis who almost steals the show. He oozes with talent.

The movie? It's a trumped-up clash of cultures: A snooty country-club crowd meets a set from hip-hop nation battling over a golf course. Now there's a stretch.

Andre “Big Boi” Patton, best known as the equally talented half of Outkast, heads the cast of this comedy as C-Note, a rapper who, despite his fame, desires membership in this exclusive country club.

Still, as predictable and disappointing as the movie is, the special features are almost worth the price. — Benny Lopez

The Namesake
Street 11/27
Fox, Drama, B.O. $13.6 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use, some disturbing images and brief language.
Stars Kal Penn, Tabu, Irfan Khan, Jacinda Barrett, Zuleikha Robinson, Glenne Headly, Brooke Smith.

The Namesake is a beautifully realized adaptation of the popular Jhumpa Lairi novel, but it may be better known as the dramatic debut of Kumar.

Not to diminish Kal Penn's accomplishments in the film, but The Namesake is so much more. It's an intricate, thoughtful examination of family and the effects of living your life with each foot in two distinct cultures. Penn, as Gogol, is the namesake. And although trailers would have you believe he's the main focus of the film, this movie belongs to Tabu, the luminous actress who ages 25 years in the role of Gogol's mother, who must navigate new worlds when she first comes to the United States as a bride and later again when her children leave home.

Director Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding) performs her usual visual magic on this Bengali-American drama, and one of the biggest treats in the DVD extras is an extensive filming of a Columbia University graduate film school class with lectures by Nair and her behind-the-scenes cohorts on everything from financing and locations to casting and the musical score. It's a rare glimpse into the process by an excellent filmmaker.

Another extra, “Kolkata Love Poem,” uses up Frederick Elmes' gorgeous cinematography of India, but “Photography as Inspiration” is more interesting. In it Nair shares photographs from which she drew inspiration alongside the affected scenes.

A few deleted scenes can be skipped, and an interview with Penn about his character is marginally interesting, as he explains it's Gogol's personality that's similar to him, not their cultural background. Nair's commentary rounds out the extras.

This is a film any fan of adaptations or cultural dramas would do well to revisit. The story is quiet, yet epic. There are no heroics, hysterics or sappiness — just the inner workings of a multicultural family making a history and a home. — Laura Tiffany


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