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Reviews: Oct. 7

7 Oct, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Planet Terror


Planet Terror
Street 10/16
Genius/Weinstein, Action, B.O. $25 million (as part of Grindhouse), $29.95 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Marley Shelton, Josh Brolin, Bruce Willis, Stacy Ferguson.

Planet Terror is a lot of fun, an hour and a half of blood and guts, topped off by the utterly preposterous and iconic image of Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg. Welcome to exploitation, Robert Rodriguez style.

And style is the key word here. The screen scratches and pops in sync with the action, mirroring the mood of the film and paying perfect homage to the ‘B' movies of the 1970s.

The film is the antithesis of the other half of the Grindhouse double feature, Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. Where Death Proof is plodding and methodical, Planet Terror is hyper and gleefully absurd. Rodriguez barely gives the audience time to breath as he revels in the gory excess of a story about a literal army of flesh-eating zombies.

The DVD has some great bonus features about the special effects, detailing how they were used mostly to make the film look cheaper. After greenscreen-heavy projects such as Sin City and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Rodriguez's usual crew was happy to get back to doing some real stunts for a change.

Most interesting is a featurette about Rodriguez casting his son Rebel in a key role. Leave it to Rodriguez to kill off his own son in a movie, but even he didn't have the heart to tell the kid that. So he filmed a whole sequence of alternate scenes that follow Rebel through the end of the story.

Don't think this completes the Grindhouse experience on DVD. In one of the special features, Rodriguez confirms a two-DVD set of the theatrical version of Grindhouse is on the way. Triple-dip, anyone? John Latchem


Burt Lancaster: The Signature Collection
Street 10/23
Warner, Drama, $49.92 five-DVD set, Single titles $19.97 each, NR.

With a superb body, a result of being a professional acrobat in his youth, and ruggedly handsome leading-man looks, Burt Lancaster was one of Hollywood's most popular and durable stars.

This collection shows his acting range from the South Pacific adventure films His Majesty O'Keefe and South Sea Woman, to the entertaining period actioner The Flame and The Arrow. But it's Jim Thorpe — All American that combines Lancaster's excellent acting and athletic skills, which demonstrate why he was a unique talent.

The real life story of a Native American at the turn of the century who may have been the greatest athlete who ever lived, this biopic is heartfelt without being trite, and honest without being sentimental, aided in part by the passion Lancaster brings to the title role.

As the legendary football coach Pop Warner, Charles Bickford underplays his role with a quiet dignity well worth watching.

The special features in the collection are quite nice, including cartoons and Lancaster trailers, thus presenting an overall package every film buff should check out.

What makes the package special is the 1973 political thriller Executive Action, the first studio film to examine a possible conspiracy behind the murder of President John F. Kennedy. It's ironic that Executive Action is the only film in the collection not to spotlight Lancaster's athletic ability, but indicative of the risk-taking the then older actor took in lending his considerable star power to get the controversial and powerful picture made.

Aided by portraits of evil from co-conspirators Robert Ryan and Will Geer, Lancaster and company make Executive Action a brave, must-see movie worth the price of this package alone.

One must watch the film first before looking at an emotional special feature, in which the three Executive Action stars discuss where they were when Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, and reveal personal emotions in direct contrast to the memorable amoral characters they and director David Butler and legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo have created. — Craig Modderno


Ice Spiders
Street 10/16
Sony Pictures, Sci-Fi, $24.96 DVD, NR.
Stars David Millbern, Vanessa Williams, Patrick Muldoon, Thomas Calabro, Stephen J. Cannell.

Sci-Fi Channel has been producing some arresting original movies lately, and Ice Spiders is no exception. Much like Eight Legged Freaks, this campy, yet strangely charming, movie relies on a fast-paced story and some exceptional CGI to deliver a chilling good time.

The plot of Ice Spiders unfolds at a secluded ski resort where a group of young Olympic hopefuls have come to train in peace. Before the team gets a chance to settle in, the tranquility of the mountain is shattered when gigantic spiders with insatiable appetites escape from a nearby lab and come looking to prey on the locals.

As the snow turns red with blood, and leftover body parts pile up, only two people are brave enough to intervene: Dash Dashiell (Muldoon), a washed-up skiing legend who works as a ski instructor at the resort, and Dr. Summers (Williams), who was one of the people responsible for creating the genetically altered arachnids.

Standing in their way is a crazed professor and gung-ho Capt. Baker (Calabro), who keeps trying unsuccessfully to use his paramilitary unit to capture the spiders alive so they don't lose funding for their top-secret program, which has been breeding these mutant spiders to produce silk webbing for covert military purposes.

As the spiders continue to wreak havoc on the mountaintop resort, it's up to Dash and Dr. Summers to devise an extermination plan quickly before everyone barricaded in the lodge is torn apart by the vicious spiders.

The movie's mix of awesome ski footage and special effects, including showing things from the spiders' point of view, creates a unique and highly entertaining sci-fi adventure. The filmmakers should be commended for adding a fresh spin to an otherwise tired story.

Plus, it's hard to dislike a movie about giant man-eating spiders that stars a perfectly cast trio of lively actors from “Melrose Place” (Muldoon, Williams and Calabro). — Matt Miller


Christopher Reeve: Hope in Motion
Prebook 10/9; Street 11/6
Arts Alliance America, Documentary, $26.98 DVD, NR.

Christopher Reeve had a solid fan following when a horse-riding accident left him a quadriplegic. It seemed more tragic because the world came to know him as the Man of Steel in the 1980s.

Six years after the debilitating spinal injury, he began to regain some motion. His son Matthew began a three-part documentary series about the senior Reeve's journey to regain as much movement as possible and later to return to the public eye to campaign for embryonic stem cell research. Reeve died during filming of the final installment, and it was never finished.

Reeve talks about the “cruel irony” of not being able to wash or dress himself, having to have someone around him 24 hours a day. He tells how he feels he stretched “in sickness and in health” to its limit with steadfast wife Dana.

Most of all, he tells how a loving, supportive family and devoted physical therapy staff helped him keep going.Starting with a tiny twitch of his index finger, Reeve eventually was able to walk underwater. His goal at that point was essentially to be more self-sufficient in the most basic ways, such as getting off a ventilator and regaining control of his bladder and bowels. It's all the more extraordinary knowing he was never expected to move below the neck again at all.

The film captures the indignity of such an injury and Reeve's struggle to overcome that. He's bravely honest about how completely his life changed after the accident and his guilt over needing constant care.

For fans, it's an intimate glimpse at a hero who fell and rose again. Matthew Reeve's admiration for his father could have been sappy, but it isn't. Christopher Reeve never stopped fighting until his last day, and this documentary offers inspiration for anyone.

Bonus features include interviews with Brooke Ellison, a quadriplegic since age 11 who was profiled in a film Reeve directed; Jim MacLaren, who was severely injured while participating in a triathlon; and Jesse Billauer, a surfer who was paralyzed after hitting a sand bar. — Holly J. Wagner


The Forgotten Coast
Prebook 10/9; Street 11/6
Echo Bridge, Sports, $26.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Travis Potter, Micah Byrne, Ben Knight, Brandon Tipton, Brian Conley, Daniel Thomson, Brett Schwartz.

The phrase “a day at the beach” takes on a whole new meaning in the context of this documentary about surfers looking for an almost-mythical virgin beach in remote Indonesia.

In May 2006, pro surfer Travis Potter gathered fellow surfers who, like him, had a thirst for something new and a yearning to find a spot way off the beaten path, to surf the world's “last untouched waves.” For years surfers have been scouring the planet trying to beat each other to discover the best, most far flung new location in which to engage in their sport, and there have already been a number of documentaries about surfing in exotic lands. But The Forgotten Coast takes the subject to new heights.

The charismatic Potter, joined by equally fascinating friends Micah Byrne, Daniel Thomson, Brian Conley, Brett Schwartz, Brandon Tipton and Ben Knight, set out to find an alternative to the now overcrowded and polluted hotspots in California and Hawaii, among others.

The film, well-directed by Justin LaPera and incredibly shot by cinematographer Jeff Dolen, captures not only the physical journey, but also the mental, emotional and philosophical voyage that the guys take.

Life in Indonesia is tough, and to see it through the eyes of young men who ride surfboards for a living seems like a situation that is begging for skepticism and criticism.

The surfers employ local fishermen to transport them deep into the country, forming, at times, an uneasy relationship with one another.

However, they do, indeed, shift their focus from surfing to interact and help villagers they encounter. “I love this country and would do anything I can to help these people,” says one of the surfers. — David Greenberg


Out of Balance
Prebook 10/10; Street 11/06
Cinequest, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Tom Jackson.

Al Gore told the world that the truth about global warming is inconvenient.

In Out of Balance, the filmmakers drive home the point that the inconvenience is more immediate for some — namely oil companies — than for others. The film seeks to explore the relationship between global warming, “the largest problem the world has faced, and the largest company in the world.”

Subtitled “ExxonMobil's Impact on Climate Change,” there's no subterfuge. The film makes a fairly detailed case regarding ExxonMobil's tobacco industry-like efforts to undermine science and influence public policy to preserve its own profits.

Much of the 65 minutes is devoted to the potential effects of global warming before delving into the company's history. Former CEO Lee Raymond (who left with a $400 million retirement package) looks like a zombie in archival interview footage. Current CEO Rex Tillerson is shown at a 2005 Exxon press conference disputing the validity of global warming science.

The film details Exxon's abysmal handling of the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup, which may have done more harm than the spill. The PR machine that put on a “mission accomplished”-style show after the spill, we're told, foreshadowed the company's offensive on climate science, spearheaded by scientists in Exxon's pay.

The conspiratorial assertions could seem paranoid in a pre-Enron world, but it's no longer a stretch to believe that energy companies would manipulate markets, laws, science, even wars, or anything else to reap big profits.

Does Out of Balance make its case? It does raise some interesting points. Viewers will have to decide if they're persuaded. — Holly J. Wagner


A Very Serious Person
Prebook 10/9; Street 11/20
Wolfe, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Busch, Polly Bergen, Carl Andress, Julie Halston, Dana Ivey, P.J. Verhoest.

In Charles Busch's third effort as a screenwriter and first effort behind the camera, he foregoes the camp he's known for — well, most of the time — and instead turns in a mature and original look at coming of age, coming out and coming to terms with death.

In A Very Serious Person, young Gil (Verhoest) lives with his grandmother (Bergen), who is dying. Jan (Busch), her hospice nurse, is quite the character — a gay, uptight, Danish man with a long ponytail. The flamboyant, musical-loving and often bratty Gil cracks Jan's stiff facade, and soon Jan becomes a father figure to the boy.

While Gil seeks his way in the world, facing the death of his grandmother and imminent departure to live with a cousin he barely knows, Jan loses his way as he realizes what he has lost by being so distant and closed off to relationships.

While Busch's strange accent and ponytail take getting used to, and some of the acting is overwrought and stagy, A Very Serious Person is a very good directing debut by Busch. He has a strong talent for portraying relationships, and a refreshing openness to the wonderful, unlikely bonds that develop between people that can be as strong as blood ties.

Busch also shows a subtle hand in his honest portrayal of Jan's identity issues, such as Jan's natural talent for tenderly caring for sick people while being closed off from love; his desire for Gil to hide any flamboyancy so he may pass through life without feeling prejudice; and his unexpected longing to be a father.

This film is the next step in Busch's growth as a screenwriter and director. Longtime fans would never want Busch to give up the camp and humor of Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommie, Die!, but A Very Serious Person shows another side to Busch's talent they will surely embrace.

This film also should garner Busch new fans; anyone seeking a thoughtful, open-minded and original look at grief, adolescence and family bonds would do well to seek out this film. — Laura Tiffany


Holla
Street 10/9
Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for violence and language.
Stars Shelli Boone, Young Sir, Charles F. Porter, Michael Bergin.

A TV star (Boone) and her friends go away for a weekend camping trip that turns into a murder mystery. Mix in a small-time hoodlum just released from jail and folks disappearing at the drop of a hat, and everyone becomes a suspect.

The train wreck that is Holla leaves viewers with at least a few pieces of the puzzle to figure out.

Young Sir plays Troy, the small-time hustler who also is one of the prime murder suspects because of his criminal past. It doesn't help when he's caught running from the scene of a crime before all the mayhem at the camp begins. Porter plays Monica's boyfriend, while Bergin plays Monica's nitwit agent.

The neophyte cast doesn't help matters when this tale spins out of control, then lulls like a ball of yawn. At least viewers get to see some pretty women in skimpy outfits — probably the best thing the movie has going for it. If not for them, Holla would be a total disaster.

Here's a happy prospect, at least: A sequel might be in the works. What could be better than that? — Benny Lopez


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