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Reviews: November 4

4 Nov, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

La Vie En Rose

La Vie En Rose
Street 11/13
HBO Video, Drama, B.O. $10.1 million, $27.95 DVD, ‘PG-13' for substance abuse, sexual content, brief nudity, language and thematic elements.
Stars Marion Cotillard, G?rard Depardieu.

There are two things surprising about the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose. The first is that it wasn't made ages ago.

As big a musical icon as 20th century Europe ever produced, Piaf was, and for many remains, the brash, heartbroken, defiant voice of France itself. Brought up in abject poverty, her life, like her music, was a study in tragedies survived and overcome — drug-addiction, public scandals — and there is no shortage of the kind of real, dramatic material that makes a screenwriter's job easy. That no one, especially in France, where her iconic status is impregnable, has gotten to it before now is somewhat baffling.

The second surprise is the actress who plays Piaf, Marion Cotillard. Her performance, which spans some 25-plus years with the help of some excellent makeup wizardry, is the kind of transformative miracle that tends to win piles of awards.

Young and virtually unknown (in the United States, anyway), Cotillard delivers a bravura version of La M?me that is by turns passionate and fickle, shy and showboating. If this is not exactly how the real Piaf was, it is at least how we understand her legend.

Not all subjects get the biopic they deserve, but here director Oliver Dahan has given Piaf an over-the-top treatment that, if nothing else, matches her famously outsized personality.

The film skips around frantically in time, depicting the singer's life as one uncontaminated by any peace. She is either at the apex of her fame, the nadir of her depression, or both. This approach does little to deepen what most fans already know or believe they know about Piaf, but then it's clear that was never part of Dahan's agenda. La Vie en Rose is successful as pure, unapologetic hagiography. It regrets nothing. — Eddie Mullins

The Last Sentinel
Street 11/13
Echo Bridge, Sci-Fi, $26.99 DVD, ‘R' for violence.
Stars Don Wilson, Katee Sackhoff.

James Cameron's “Terminator” movies laid out a future where humanity found itself subjugated by its robotic creations. The Last Sentinel seems to draw a heavy influence from that vision, showcasing nonstop action in a story about a human rebellion against robotic police drones.

Writer-director Jesse Johnson makes the best of what is obviously a shoestring budget. The scenes are staged in such a way that viewers can practically see Johnson visiting a rusty industrial complex and working his story to match it.

The focus is on Tallis (Don “The Dragon” Wilson), a genetically engineered super soldier who is the last survivor of a platoon sent to attack the drones. His only companion is a computerized talking gun that likes to quote philosophy texts.

During one attack, Tallis encounters a girl (Sackhoff) who is the last survivor of a group of rebels searching for the drone command center. In leading a human resistance against a robotic army, Sackhoff is basically playing a variation of her Starbuck character from “Battlestar Galactica.”

The Last Sentinel is neither groundbreaking nor particularly compelling. “Terminator” fans might get a kick out of seeing the similarities with Cameron's fictional future. Comparing the timelines, Sentinel seems to take place shortly after a nuclear holocaust, when the drones are attempting to restore order and quell any human uprisings. And “Galactica” fans will soak up every bit of Sackhoff's appearance (including a sexy shower scene), although her total screen time is all too short, considering her domination of the box art. John Latchem

SpongeBob SquarePants: Atlantis SquarePantis
Street 11/13
Paramount/Nickelodeon, Animated, $16.99 DVD, NR.
Voices of Tom Kenny, David Bowie.

When Nickelodeon decides to launch the first “SpongeBob SquarePants” TV movie, it's not just a special episode, it's an event — a media onslaught that leaves nary a kid under 10 unaware.

To celebrate Veteran's Day — or rather, the fact that kids are out of school — Nickelodeon is having a best-of “SpongeBob” marathon as chosen by fans, culminating in Atlantis SquarePantis, a new special where SpongeBob and the gang visit the legendary lost city. The next day, this DVD will arrive in stores to take its place next to accompanying books and video games.

The plot is thin and is nowhere as compellingly weird as The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, but it does trump the film's best cameo, David Hasselhoff, with the vocal talents of another David: legendary singer David Bowie, whose daughter is a “SpongeBob” fan. Bowie portrays Lord Royal Highness, the polite ruler and tour guide of Atlantis, and animators even included Bowie's trademark blue-and-brown eyes in the character.

Each character finds something they truly love about the lost city — Sandy discovers a state-of-the-art science lab, Squidward finds a beautiful art museum and Eugene Krabs learns that he can take all of the city's gold and no one will care.

SpongeBob and Patrick, however, treasure the world's oldest bubble — the prized possession of the city. You can see where this is headed …

The special is hosted by Patchy the Pirate (Kenny), whose real-world, not-funny antics just suck the momentum from the story. It makes sense to have a host on a TV show with commercial breaks, but to offer a DVD without the option to turn this irritating nonsense off is just lazy.

The DVD also includes six episodes from the most recent season, including “Money Talks,” “The Krusty Sponge” and “Slimy Dancing.” None will be new to the audience, but will probably be privy to several viewings anyway.

SpongeBob is an addicting oddity, and any fan — whether college students who like to alter their reality or kids who thrive on the candy-colored weirdness of Bikini Bottom and its cast of sea creatures — should enjoy the newest oceanic romp. — Laura Tiffany

Rebellion of Thought: Post-Modernism, The Church and the Struggle for Authentic Faith
Street 11/13
Exploration Films, Documentary, $22.95 DVD, NR.

Defining post-modernism is task enough. Creating a documentary that examines the term as it relates to the church and faith is more ambitious.

Such is the attempt of scholar-philosophers Kent and Brad Williamson in Rebellion of Thought, a challenging film that attempts to merge notions of faith with postmodernism, and reconcile their strengths and differences.Post-modernism can be defined as developments in critical theory, philosophy, architecture, art, literature and culture that emerge from, in reaction to, or supersede modernism.

One of the Williamsons further defines the term for purposes of the film's discussion, calling post-modernism “a term used to describe the transition from the modern era into a yet-to-be-named time-period of human history, marked by the tearing down of absolute truth claims and a hunger for human experiences.”

The Williamsons suggest that by better understanding the post-modern mind, Christians can use that knowledge to help post-modern thinkers better understand Christ.

To tackle these concepts, the Williamsons and other scholars offer sometimes-differing but well-spoken viewpoints on post-modernism and its place in the world today. The discussion isn't always easy to follow, but the confidence and clarity in the thoughts expressed within help pave the way. Those who enjoy multifaceted, deep-thinking discussion may embrace this unusual documentary. — Dan Bennett

Spiritual Exercises (10 Films by Olivier Smolders)
Street 11/13
Cult Epics, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR.

Short films are usually interesting, if not always gripping. But that's the curse of the short film — and its sister, the short story.

We novel-readers and feature-film-goers are so used to time to explain characters, lengthy plots and narrative hand-holding that we can feel suddenly adrift and uncomfortable in the presence of total silence on film and people with no dialogue (“The Amateur”).

Or a staid, careful narrator telling us what isn't going to happen, or juxtaposing moments of anguish with a Venice tourist film (“Death in Vignole”).

Or, perhaps, the nonviolent obsession with distancing oneself from the opposite sex (“The Amateur”).

But everything beautiful, sad, serious and comical about life is here. Smolders' films are meditations on the cruelty of the camera; it can never capture the lives of the people it films, only moments already dead. Yet those who aren't filmed fear dying without their indelible imprint somewhere — on celluloid, DVD or photograph.

Perhaps that's why the narrator of “The Amateur” can convince women to strip naked for his camera.

Smolders also again and again expresses men's inability to move beyond their sexual need for women, their animal connection to life, death and sex (visible in the juxtaposition of monkey and man on the box art).

Smolders can never get into the mind of the female. He never suggests that the women in his films, who are sensitive, hurt, bemused, or mocking, can be explained. An essay and Q&A in the 48-page booklet explains better the magic behind the deliberately offbeat filmmaker's work.

Comparisons to Ingmar Bergman and David Lynch are apt. These black-and-white films will shake, surprise, shock and impress those who thrill to arthouse film and works that wind up in eclectic film festivals. — Brendan Howard

3000 Miles
Street 11/13Revolver, Sports, $19.99 DVD, NR.

Boys will be boys. In this case, the pleasure-seeking lads are skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and the characters from MTV's “Jackass.” Hawk and company are the focus of this DVD, with the secondary action being the Gumball 3000, a wacky road rally that starts with more than a few twists and turns through the streets of London and ends on the steps of the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

Maxmillion Cooper, who directs this documentary, founded the Gumball 3000 in 1999. When it started, Cooper believed the race would be an excellent way to show off some of his high-profile friends and associates. They would hit the highways in customized racing toys such as high-powered Mercedes, Ferraris, Porsches and Jaguars, sometimes clocking speeds in excess of 160 miles per hour during the 10-day marathon with drinking and hard partying at each pit stop.

There was a catch. Unlike other road rallies, the Gumball 3000 isn't a sanctioned event. This meant the participants frequently played cat-and-mouse with law-enforcement officials, who followed their exploits and patiently waited for these wannabes to fly past. At times, it seemed the racers played a game of seeing who could generate the most citations.

Still, and not surprising, this helped the Gumball 3000 generate plenty of fanfare. And with celebrities participating, it produced more fame and became a cult hit with many around the world.

This DVD attempts to capture some of the notoriety, but viewers are subjected to the ongoing antics of Hawk and others.

The film might appeal to a male audience between the ages of 18 and 34, but even that demographic will grow weary of the frequent whining, juvenile pranks and the endless panning for the cameras. — Benny Lopez

HD DVD Spotlight: Knocked Up
Universal, Comedy, B.O. $148.8 million, $39.98 HD DVD, $29.98 DVD, $30.98 two-DVD set, ‘R' and unrated versions available.
Stars Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann.
HDTV: Panasonic Vista 42-inch
Player: Toshiba HD-XA2

While the premise — hot, lonely, single girl working in television gets impregnated and keeps baby sired by hapless unemployed dude met in a bar — may be laughable, it's on par for director Judd Apatow. Since cutting his teeth on the cult TV show “Freaks and Geeks,” Apatow is on a tear cranking out inane movies (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, etc.) that nonetheless deliver acclaim and box office mojo.

Despite occasional story lulls, Knocked Up evolves into a surprisingly (by Hollywood standards) endearing pro-life movie that circumvents hot-button issues such as abortion and fiscal reality with endless sophomoric humor and a good soundtrack.

Why the movie was released in high-def isn't exactly clear, given similar humor a generation before (The Three Stooges) worked just as well in black-and-white analog. The extensive bonus material (including a surprisingly boring gag reel) is identical to the standard DVD, except that in HD DVD, the picture-in-picture option allows you access to the material while the movie is running. The My Scenes option permits the viewer to clip memorable scenes and theoretically e-mail them to networked friends — a cool idea if your HD DVD player is Web-enabled, which mine isn't.

Noteworthy are the numerous tracks by folk singer Loudon Wainwright III, who appears in the movie as a wayward obstetrician. His duo (in the bonus section) with Joe Henry live at McCabe's is worth the price of the disc. Erik Gruenwedel

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