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Reviews: October 14

14 Oct, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Meet the Robinsons
Street 10/23
Disney, Animated, B.O. $97.8 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.'
Voices of Daniel Hansen, Wesley Singerman, Laurie Metcalf, Angela Bassett, Adam West, Tom Selleck.

Meeting the Robinsons is not, alas, akin to meeting an excellent Disney movie like the studio's hits of the 1990s or collaborations with Pixar, but it's better than revisiting The Wild or Home on the Range.

It's a spottily charming mess that veers between quirky anachronism and lazy retreads. Lewis is an orphan and inventor who's losing his confidence; Wilbur Robinson is a boy from the future who picks up Lewis in his time machine because, for confusing reasons, he must convince him to finish a failed invention.

We've seen the hero (plucky orphan) and villain (Snidely Whiplash wannabe) many times before. The Robinsons are admittedly a fun bunch — like the Addams Family living in Pee-Wee's Playhouse in the year 3000 — and the film has some sweet moments, but they're too often overshadowed by the confusing, manic plot.

The candy-colored utopian future is delightful, hearkening back to the wildly imaginative future visions from the 1950s. Stephen J. Anderson ties the film's themes into a quote from Walt Disney, whose (now retro) future imaginings were featured as theme park attractions.

Appropriately, the best extra on the DVD is “Keep Moving Forward,” a slick featurette on major inventions that makes excellent visual use of the vast Disney library and stock footage. It ends a little self-servingly, comparing Walt to inventors like Guttenberg and the Wright Brothers, but it's still a treat to watch.

Other extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette that covers the usual (source material, the director, animators, voice actors and the music, notably scored by Danny Elfman) and an equally informative and earnest audio commentary by Anderson, who reveals that he also was an orphan. A not-very-fun game, two music videos and three deleted scenes hosted by Anderson round out the bunch.

This DVD will be on many holiday shopping lists, especially for kids who enjoyed Robots and The Incredibles. — Laura Tiffany

The Junior Defenders
Street 10/23
Warner, Comedy, $19.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Ally Sheedy, Brian O'Halloran, Justin Henry, Jason David Frank, Fred Hazelton, Bill Raymond, John Waters.

This DVD is a testament to the creative process. Writer-director Keith Spiegel has crafted a charming indie comedy that parodies obsessive fandom and television sensationalism. You can't listen to him describe the effort it took to actually complete the film without respecting his determination.

Under the constraints of his shoestring budget, Spiegel has structured the film as a mockumentary/fake news broadcast about a man who kidnaps the stars of “The Junior Defenders,” a fictionalized 1970s adventure series about four kids with mental powers. His goal is to film a new episode of the show to tie up the loose ends of the final episode, which ended with a cliffhanger 30 years earlier. Meanwhile, the four stars have managed to screw up their adult lives so much they relish the opportunity to re-embrace their childhood.

With Sheedy, Henry (the kid from Kramer vs. Kramer), O'Halloran (Clerks) and Frank (“Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers”), Spiegel has managed to pull together a pretty impressive cast for such a low-budget project. Cameos include Kevin Smith, Pauly Shore, Florence Henderson, Peter Tork, and even Michael Dukakis. But it's the narration of John Waters that really lends an air of credibility to the proceedings.

The DVD's featurette consists mostly of Spiegel looking directly at the camera and telling the story of making the movie, of assembling the cast, and of constant re-edits to improve pacing. His perseverance eventually paid off with a Warner Bros. distribution deal through Lightyear Entertainment, which just goes to show that good things can happen when you see things through to the end. John Latchem

Prebook 10/18; Street 11/13
ThinkFilm, Thriller, $27.98 DVD.
Stars Emmanuelle Chriqui, Matt Long, Luke Mably, Pell James, Jon Abrahams, Joe Pantoliano.

Writer-director Matthew Cole Weiss clearly knows his film history, celebrating the legacy of film noir without merely copying the classics. Weiss has crafted a completely modern-feeling film that could have easily been made decades ago — albeit with slightly less-steamy soft-core sensuality.

The familiar, though nonetheless entertaining, narrative focuses on a trio of fresh college graduates — Dave (Long of TV's “Jack and Bobby”), his best friend Brian (Mably of The Prince & Me) and Brian's girlfriend Emily (Chriqui of “Entourage”) — with their futures waiting for them.

Dave prepares to leave town and head to New York for law school, but not before an alcohol-inspired fling with Emily. Flash-forward five years: Brian is a millionaire married to Emily and Dave returns home with his new girlfriend when his father dies. Dave decides to remain in town and run his father's bar while preparing to sell the family home.

He soon finds his relationships with Brian and Emily complicated by both his past indiscretion and current attraction to her, as well as tensions between the couple.

Add dark secrets to ulterior motives and the result is a potent mix of sexual tension and lethal intentions.

Like much of film noir, the engrossing Deceit boasts flashbacks, voiceover narration, a complex, maybe convoluted, storyline and, like many of the best films of its kind, some wildly contrived elements. The appealing cast also includes a wonderfully understated turn by the always engaging veteran character actor Pantoliano, who produced the film. — David Greenberg

CIA: Exiled
Prebook 10/16; Street 11/13
Universal/Screen Media, Action, $24.98 DVD, ‘R' for sexuality and violence.
Stars William Peterson, George C. Scott, Julie Carmen.

This smart, sexy 1993 British TV movie stars Peterson (“CSI”) as Stephen Guerin, an ex-CIA agent who has been exiled by the U.S. government to the Caribbean island of Cura?ao after killing a traitorous fellow agent.

Now forced to work as a security officer for the American Consulate, Stephen spends most of his time at a local bar owned by Cornelius Wettering (the late Scott), who also is hiding from his shady past as a ship captain who illegally ran oil between Asia and South Africa.

While both men share the common goal of trying to maintain a low profile, they constantly struggle with their past demons and the thought of being stuck on the island forever. When Cornelius makes headlines for thwarting a terrorist hostage situation at a local bank, he knows it won't be long before his former associates come looking for him.

Meanwhile, Stephen is sorting through his own personal and professional problems, which escalate when corrupt diplomats and opposing crime lords come to him for help reclaiming the incriminating evidence that Cornelius has been hiding for years from both groups.

This puts their friendship to the test as the money and bullets begin to fly, trapping Cornelius in a world of murder, and leaving Stephen faced with choosing between sticking by his old comrade or selling him out for a chance to leave the island to start a new life.

Based on James David Buchanan's novel The Prince of Malta, CIA: Exiled is a fast-paced thriller of international intrigue that could have easily been expanded into a miniseries. But its current 90-minute runtime is just enough to build a gripping tale of greed and deceit akin to a “James Bond” flick, minus the cool gadgets.

You really can't go wrong with a movie starring Hollywood heavyweights from two different eras. Plus, its stunning tropical Caribbean setting serves as a stark contrast to the bloody warfare taking place on the island. — Matt Miller

Michael Moore Hates America
Street 10/16
Allumination, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, ‘R' for language.

Critics of Michael Moore don't deny he has talent; it's his methods they call into question. His abrasive style in targeting America's government institutions is just as likely to rile his opponents as it is to spark interest in his cause.

Moore may be too caught up in his own agenda to craft any argument that would convince those who disagree. He probably doesn't care. Moore has become quite accustomed to defending himself from claims he bends the truth when the facts don't quite fit his narrative.

With Moore's Sicko fresh in the public consciousness, there has been no shortage of anti-Moore DVDs hitting the market. None have such an evocative title as Michael Moore Hates America. In this earnest effort, filmmaker Michael Wilson parodies Moore's style in trying to uncover what motivates him.

The main thrust of Wilson's film is his unsuccessful effort to secure an interview with Moore, just as Moore spent Roger & Me seeking to interview GM CEO Roger Smith. By avoiding the interview, Moore opens himself to charges of hypocrisy.

Wilson does interview people like Penn Jillette and documentarian Albert Maysles and elicits some interesting insights about the nature of documentary filmmaking. Moore ends up becoming symbolic of Wilson's real message — that documentary filmmaking isn't an avenue to absolute truth, and people still need to think for and learn for themselves.

An interesting aspect of this film is Wilson catching himself falling into the same traps he accuses Moore of exploiting. More than once his producer calls him on not being fully honest about the subject of the film with those he interviews. In parodying Moore, Wilson begins to emulate him, and learns a lot about himself in the process. John Latchem

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama
Street 10/23
Monterey, Documentary, B.O. $0.2 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.

If you've never heard the Dalai Lama speak, you're in for a treat. His Holiness, with smiling eyes behind large glasses, breaks up his Buddhist philosophy with comical squeaks and never needs an excuse to laugh.

He laughs at himself, and he laughs at the idea that striving for material things or fighting violence with violence will succeed in the long run.

Writer-director-narrator Rick Ray gets 45 minutes to ask His Holiness about poverty, happiness, greed, suffering, nonviolence and the state of the world. The Dalai Lama's simple but wise calculus of real-life situations is powerful, yet difficult to live by — even for his Tibetan followers.

Tibetan refugees living with him in a town in northern India are itching for active rebellion, having seen decades of nonviolent protests yield no results in their desire to return to their home country. Then again, how would the Tibetan people beat the Chinese Army?

The Dalai Lama answers Ray's question about the nonsuccess of nonviolence by explaining that the only way to return to Tibet will be to show that there are benefits to both Tibetans and the Chinese who invaded it decades ago.

However, before Ray ever gets to the Dalai Lama's humble office for the sit-down, he has already produced an hour-long, engaging filmed journal of his journey across India and accompanied it with the narrated story of the Buddha, the 14th Dalai Lama (said to be the reincarnated Buddha), and the Tibetan people's oppression at the hands of the religion-hating Communist Chinese.

But this is not a leader attached to power. The Dalai Lama calls himself a simple man from a poor town, denies that he is the reincarnation of the Buddha and says the Tibetan people are the ones who will decide if the Lamas will continue after he's gone. Maybe the next one will be elected, instead of chosen by other priests.

Ray explains in a bonus interview on the DVD that the Dalai Lama is his hero. Even the cynical will see that this is a guy they'd like to talk to. This DVD is your chance. — Brendan Howard

Lights in the Dusk
Street 10/16
Strand, Comedy, B.O. $0.01 million, $27.99 DVD, Unrated. In Finnish with English subtitles.

Veteran Finnish director Aki Kaurism?ki reminds one, above all else, of an ageing beatnik. His films are awash in alcohol abuse, existential anxiety, and a pervasive mood of aimless desperation that brooks no possibility of happiness. Redemption, maybe. But happiness? Never.

Lights in the Dusk, which rounds out the auteur's so-called “Loser Trilogy” (along with Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past), is no exception to the rule. Loner Koistinen (Janne Hyyti?inen) is a loveless mall security guard whose life is stuck in a grim routine. When blonde bombshell Mirja (Maria J?rvenhelmi) approaches him in a caf?, he is so starved for romance — or for that matter, novelty of any kind — that he proposes on the spot. Undeterred by his bald desperation, Mirja advocates a more deliberate courtship.

What Koistinen is too dumbstruck to realize is that Mirja is the agent of small-time crook Lindholm (Ilkka Koivula) who intends to set up Koistinen for a robbery of the mall jewelry store. Once Mirja is privy to the mall security codes, she drugs Koistinen and he winds up doing time for the theft.

He is not bitter, however. Like the long-suffering saint/martyrs of Bresson, Koistinen emerges from prison two years later destitute, but oddly sanguine about the future.

Kaurism?ki's deadpan miserablism is an acquired taste but is not without its devoted fans. There is a quiet dignity to his storytelling that provides a much needed antidote to the easy sentimentalism that is Hollywood's stock-in-trade. — Eddie Mullins

Girl 27
Street 10/16
Westlake, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.

In 1937, when lucky Hollywood hopefuls worked as contract players on studio lots, Metro Goldwyn Mayer threw a big party for its sales executives at the Hal Roach ranch and tricked 120 girls, some of them underage, into attending.

Although most of the girls thought they were being summoned to perform as bit players in a studio movie, they were really being used as entertainment at a stag party to reward studio sales personnel for a record year.

One young woman, Patricia Douglas, was raped at that party and, when she tried to bring charges against the studio, MGM initiated a huge and brutal cover-up, insinuating that Douglas was a drunken tramp.

While researching a book on Jean Harlow, biographer David Stenn came across references to the case, complete with tabloid headlines, and decided to find out more. The result is a documentary of Stenn's search for more information about Douglas and, ultimately, the relationship he develops with the elderly woman.

Girl 27 is really two documentaries. The first is about Stenn's growing obsession with what he sees as the terrible injustice done to a woman that he imagines is long dead. The second is the story of how Stenn insinuates himself into the life of the initially reluctant Douglas, and how she slowly opens up about the terrible events that, she says, ruined her life.

Although it seems as if Stenn occasionally finds his own reactions to his story more interesting than the story itself, this is, nevertheless, a compelling film that details a disturbing miscarriage of justice. — Anne Sherber

Quick Take: ‘Life' Lessons

It lasted only 19 episodes, but it has become one of the more fondly remembered shows of the 1990s. The 1994-95 series “My So-Called Life” may go down as one of the best canceled TV shows of all time.

While a DVD set of the episodes has been floating around for a while, Shout! Factory is planning to re-release My So-Called Life: The Complete Series Oct. 30 with a new bonus disc and a souvenir booklet for $69.99.

The show is perhaps best known for launching the careers of Clare Danes and Jared Leto, and presenting a more realistic portrayal of teenage life than soapish contemporaries such as “Beverly Hills 90210.” John Latchem

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