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Reviews: November 26

26 Nov, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Snakes on a Plane
Prebook 11/28; Street 1/2/07
New Line, Thriller, B.O. $34 million, $28.98 DVD, ‘R' for language, a scene of sexuality and drug use, and intense sequences of terror and violence.
Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Kenan Thompson, Rachel Blanchard, Nathan Phillips.

As anyone paying the least bit attention to the Internet should know by now, the oversimplified plot of Snakes on a Plane involves a gangster releasing hundreds of deadly snakes on board a jumbo jet midway between Hawaii and Los Angeles, hoping to eliminate a witness who can identify him in the murder of a prosecutor.

The script milks the concept dry and throws in every conceivable sight gag to portray snakes attacking people, combined with all the various clich?s associated with airplane disaster movies.

This is a film designed for a cult following, and those fans are going to love this DVD.

Jackson, director David Ellis and others who worked on the movie spend no time during the commentary trying to explain away any of the plot's logical flaws. As Ellis notes, the mainstream film critic isn't the target demographic for this movie, which was never intended to be anything but fun summer entertainment.

They do relish the opportunity to point out a number of continuity errors and a few visual gags, such as an appropriately labeled button on a microwave.

Along those lines, be on the lookout for an Easter egg that unlocks an airline safety video about what to do on the off chance deadly snakes are loose onboard your flight.

“Snakes on a Blog” explores the Internet frenzy that built in anticipation of the film's release. The title alone sparked a wave of fan parodies of the concept. The film's signature quote was added after appearing in several Internet comic strips.

The behind-the-scenes glimpses are rather interesting, although it's amazing to see how special effects artists still act as if computer animation is still groundbreaking.

Deleted scenes, a gag reel and a music video round out the set, but aren't anything special. John Latchem

The Descent
Prebook 11/29; Street 12/26
Lionsgate, Horror, B.O. $26 million, $28.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray,
‘R' and unrated versions available.
Stars Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza.

Anyone who watches this horror film will never want to step foot in a cave again. I'm sure that was the intent of the makers of The Cave last year, but that film failed to deliver the type of claustrophobic dread and blood-curdling fear that The Descent manages.

As a group of British women climb further into the caves of North Carolina, the film builds up the danger — both the psychological horrors of getting stuck underground, and the terrifying thought of being eaten by vicious, sharp-toothed creatures that lurk in the depths.

What follows is a tightly paced horror movie that oozes with blood. The film does an excellent job of building tension and unleashing hell on these adventurous, spirited women, who fight to the very end as they face off against their nightmares.

Once you've watched the main course, there are plenty of extras to dive into for dessert, including commentaries and outtakes.

There's also a fascinating look at how the movie was made. Although you'd never guess, all the caves in the movie were faked with polystyrene. Nothing in the movie looks unreal, including the underground creatures that hunt and kill the unsuspecting women.

The DVD also features a number of deleted and extended scenes, although the pacing in the film works fine as is, and it's understandable why these didn't make the cut. Of note is an extended ending that didn't play in U.S. theaters, and an interview with director Neil Marshall, who discusses why the alternate ending appeared in print in the U.K. — John Gaudiosi

Street 12/5
Genius/Dimension, Horror, B.O. $20.3 million, $29.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' and unrated versions available.
Stars Kristen Bell, Christina Milian, Ian Somerhalder, Ron Rifkin.

Pulse is a horror film definitely worth watching on DVD, starring a trio of hot young stars: Bell (“Veronica Mars”), Milian (Be Cool) and Somerhalder (formerly of “Lost”).

Set in the technologically advanced present day, where cell phones, text messaging and instant messages are a way of life, a computer hacker mistakenly opens a doorway to the dead. Once opened, evil spirits walk among the living, and when they touch a human being, they suck the life force from within, leaving a hollow shell.

Directed by Jim Sonzero, working from a script by horror master Wes Craven, the film oozes dread. From the bluish glow of the technology-obsessed living to the static-rippled undead escaping from their netherworld, the film is quite eerie. Unlike traditional horror films, which manage to find some type of happy ending, even the final shot of this film is dark and depressing, with little sign of hope.

Watching the seven alternate and cut scenes is a worthwhile experience, and considering the film's 88-minute running time, I wonder why many of these informative and scary sequences weren't in this unrated version to begin with. For that matter, although I didn't see the ‘PG-13' theatrical version, there didn't seem to be any excessive violence or language, and certainly no sex. I'm assuming the unrated version goes for more intense scares.

Horror fans who enjoyed White Noise will get more information about the undead and technology in the featurette “Pulse and the Paranormal,” while “The Visual Effects of Pulse” explain how the undead came to life in this creepy tale. There's also the standard making-of featurette.

The DVD includes two separate feature commentary tracks: one with director Sonzero and makeup designer Gary Tunicliffe, and a second with producers, cast and crew. — John Gaudiosi

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Special Edition
Street 12/5
Warner, Drama, $26.99 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, Sandy Dennis.

This new special edition of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? truly is special. Mike Nichols' 1966 adaptation of Edward Albee's classic play is coarse and spellbinding, and should not be missed by anyone interested in the history of cinema.

Burton and Taylor gave career-defining performances as a boozy married professor and his sexually frustrated wife, as they engage in mind games late one evening with a young professor and his mousy spouse (Segal and Dennis in their best performances). All four were nominated for Academy Awards, which the ladies won.

With its uncensored sexual language, the film was a hit in its time largely because of teenagers sneaking into a movie they weren't supposed to see.

Haskell Wexler's stunning cinematography, Alex North's understated score and production designer Richard Sylbert's realistic sets are even more appreciated having stood the test of time.

The new DVD has a Wexler commentary, Dennis' powerful screen test opposite Roddy McDowell and a feature on the problems in bringing the one-set play to the screen.

Another feature focuses on the impact the picture had in ushering in an era of films for adults. A case could be made that the movie pioneered the sexual revolution on screen by destroying the Hays Code of censorship that had frightened studios for 30 years.

A candid TV profile about Taylor is a welcome inclusion and begs the question: What actress today has the sexual heat, charisma and talent Taylor displayed throughout her career?

The highlight of the DVD is a commentary in which Nichols is interviewed by Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh, similar to their commentary for the Catch-22 DVD.

The only thing missing on the DVD is acknowledgement of Sylbert's critically acclaimed production design, which earned him the last Academy Award in this category for a black-and-white picture.

The DVD also is included with the $49.92 Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton Film Collection boxed set, which also contains The Sandpiper, The V.I.P.s and The Comedians. — Craig Modderno

Prebook 11/28; Street 12/26
First Look, Thriller, $26.99 DVD.
Stars Marisa Tomei, Craig Bierko, Regina Hall.

Motherhood can bring out the best in people, but for some, it may bring out the worst. Such is the case of Danika (Tomei), a pretty young mother of three whose worries about the dangers of the world are taking over her life. She begins hallucinating horrific situations — a school-bus explosion, a bank robbery, a severed head — and cannot see the line between the real and imaginary dangers her children face.

Danika is a psychological thriller, but it's obvious from the beginning that there is no villain. Yet, watching Tomei unspool as Danika is thrilling. Director Ariel Vroman effectively weaves the normal dangers children face with Danika's imagined dangers until it's difficult to tell what is real and what is only in her mind. It makes for a reliably interesting unreliable narrator.

As Danika, Tomei carries the film. She retains a sympathetic sweetness even as the viewer realizes her psychological difficulties may arise from insecurities and neuroses of her own making.

An expected, but not terrible, twist ending explains the source of Danika's madness. However, a better impact could've been made if Vroman and first-time screenwriter Joshua Leibner had played it straight. What are the mostly imagined dangers of the nightly news doing to people? Are the lives of the upper middle-class so safe that a mother must imagine danger to be protective? How is this overprotection affecting children?

The questions Danika raises could've made it a new generation's Safe, the 1995 Todd Haynes film that explored a possibly imagined environmental sickness.

Still, it's one of those films that might be a little small for theaters, but excellent for home audiences looking for a hidden gem. The DVD gets a robust treatment with actor interviews, a commentary featuring Vroman and Tomei, storyboard art and special features. — Laura Tiffany

Dog Lover's Symphony
Street 12/5
Allumination, Family, B.O. $0.003 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘PG' for thematic material, including some drug issues.
Stars Maxwell Caulfield, Alaina Kalanj, Jesse Bernstein.

In a sort of family-friendly version of last year's Must Love Dogs, a mutt named Toby changes the heart of Jerry (Bernstein), a young man jailed for drug possession, and helps him and his owner, Susan (Kalanj), find true love.

Tom (Caulfield), a California attorney, persuades the local police to release Jerry into his supervision. A widowed father in the mold of early-1970s TV dads such as Mike Brady, Tom has a reputation for taking on charity cases, and believes Jerry is redeemable.

Jerry, who was abandoned by his father and runs with a tough crowd, at first rejects Tom's offers to help. But after a few false starts, Jerry agrees to take up dog training under the tutelage of Susan, Tom's beautiful daughter.

Susan puts Jerry in charge of Toby (who, voiced by Bryce Papenbrook, serves as narrator), and a friendship — with signs of a deeper attraction — develops between Susan and Jerry. This doesn't sit well with Susan's fianc?, John (Sean Foley), a rich, high-powered young executive. As Jerry slowly comes out of his shell, he learns the value of love, loyalty, responsibility and hard work.

The movie also puts a twist on the conventional happy ending with some plot twists and turns. Fans of Because of Winn-Dixie and My Dog Skip may also find something to appreciate here. — Mark Lowe

A Love to Hide
Street 12/5
Picture This, Drama, $26.95 DVD, NR.
Stars J?r?mie Renier, Louise Monot.

In the wide and varied spectrum of World War II films, few filmmakers have given more than a glancing treatment to the particular plight of homosexuals under the Third Reich.

Christian Faure's A Love to Hide makes fair bid to fill that void, although it would be narrowly reductive to characterize the picture as a specifically “gay-themed” film. What A Love to Hide more deeply explores is a family during war time, and the ways in which it is challenged, tested and ultimately fragmented by the crucible of war.

When Sara Morgenstern's parents and siblings are killed while trying to flee the Nazi assault on Paris, she turns to childhood friend Jean Lavandier to protect her. Thinking it best to hide her in plain sight, Jean secures phony papers for her — changing her name to Yvonne Brunner — and finds her work in his family's laundromat. Now safe, Sara earnestly hopes to renew her adolescent romance with Jean, but is devastated to discover that he is a homosexual.

Although Jean's scapegrace brother, Jacques, has eyes for her, she remains loyal to her first love, even when he is sent to the infamous Dachau for “re-education.” To elaborate further would be to compromise some of the film's surprises, but it suffices to say that Jean's experiences in the camp are not pleasant.

Unlike recent meditations on WWII such as The Pianist and Saving Private Ryan, A Love to Hide eschews the battlefield in favor of the drawing room, much in the spirit of, say, John Boorman's Hope and Glory. Although not a prey to strafing fire or grenades, the film sharply illustrates how life away from the front lines can prove no less tortured and arduous, particularly for a Jew living under an assumed name, or a homosexual struggling to hide his sexuality.

Paranoia and fear become the punishing norm, and, in Jean's case, every assignation with a lover is fraught with the dreadful knowledge that it could potentially mean imprisonment and/or death. — Eddie Mullins


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