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Reviews: October 15

15 Oct, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Monster House

Monster House
Street 10/24
Sony Pictures, Animated, B.O. $72.6 million, $28.95 DVD/UMD, $38.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG' for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.
Voices of Steve Buscemi, Jason Lee, Maggie Gyllenhall, Nick Cannon, Fred Willard, Jon Heder.

In the animated onslaught this past summer, Monster House stands out not only for its darker tone and dearth of wisecracking, talking animals, but also for its animation technique.

Like The Polar Express, also produced by Robert Zemeckis, Monster House, which he co-produced with Steven Spielberg, uses motion-capture technology to meld live-action performances to animated characters. In this case, the actors don't even resemble themselves in the animated world, making the film a unique melding of animator and actor talent.

All this techno-magic makes for some very interesting extra features. Segments “Inside Monster House,” “Evolution of a Scene” and “The Art of Monster House” do a superb job of illustrating how the process works. To create performances, the actors wore 80 markers on their bodies and 72 markers on their faces to provide reference points for the computer to graft the characters to their movements.

Then, 200 cameras recorded their performances. That was only part of a process that included storyboarding, animating and adding other layers to create the final movie.

There also is a nice segment on creating the sound. Filmmakers tore down an actual building to simulate the creaking and crashing of the animated house. The commentary offers further education on the complicated process.

The extras are almost a film class in themselves — an excellent complement to a smart and entertaining movie about that creepy house on the block familiar to most kids.

Monster House is a perfect, family-friendly release for Halloween. A word of caution, though: younger kids may find it a bit too scary. Stephanie Prange

The Omen
Street 10/17
Fox, Horror, B.O. $54.6 million, $29.98 DVD, ‘R' for disturbing violent content, graphic images and some language.
Stars Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow, Pete Postlethwaite.

Why remake a classic starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick? Director John Moore explains he had a target release date of 6/6/06 before filming even began. All of the film's theatrical marketing focused on that date, which was a Tuesday. The $25 million film managed to bring in $118 million worldwide, so there's definitely still interest in the devil.

A whole generation may not have seen the 30-year-old original, which deals with a young boy who turns out to be the AntiChrist.

The 1976 film was released recently as a two-disc special edition, so comparing the two versions shouldn't be too difficult.

Aside from some slight updates that add terrorism, 9/11 and other recent events to the end-of-days concept of Satan's return, this remake is very faithful to the original.

Extras on the disc include commentary, three featurettes and three extended scenes. These unrated scenes and an alternate ending add some extra gore to the table.

The interesting and entertaining documentary “Revelation: 666” explores the history and significance of those three satanic numbers from the bible with a collection of scholars, authors and religious folk (including a warlock from the church of Satan). — John Gaudiosi

Street 10/17
Genius Products, Horror, $28.95 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Balthazar Getty, Henry Rollins, Krista Allen.

Fans of Matt Damon's and Ben Affleck's “Project Greenlight” show will be happy to know that the entertaining making-of-a-movie series has finally resulted in an excellent product. Horror fans will get a real kick out of this fast-paced, blood-soaked romp.

Set in a desert tavern called the Beer Tap in the middle of nowhere, all hell breaks loose one night when a couple accidentally runs over and kills a vicious monster. The rest of the creature's family wants to even the score by feasting on every human being they can find.

One of the coolest things about this film, which definitely doesn't take itself too seriously, is that no actor is too high on the marquee to bite it in a gruesome death. The film introduces the many regulars at the bar (more humans to feast on) by still-framing the screen and offering tidbits such as “Jason Mewes, actor, life expectancy — already exceeded expectations” (yes, the Clerks II star makes an appearance playing himself). Even the characters called Hero and Heroine aren't invincible, which is refreshing. There are plenty of recognizable faces, at least before they're soaked in gore.

This film is not for the squeamish. The unrated director's cut allows for buckets of blood and slime to be dumped on the actors before they meet their grisly demises. Everything from maggots to ripped-out eyeballs has been thrown into this tight-paced film, which has an excellent pace.

There are a few quiet moments between the brutal attacks as the creatures plan their way into the boarded-up bar where the surviving humans are huddled. Although armed, these monstrosities don't go down easily, and bullets don't have much effect.

The DVD includes five deleted scenes, two featurettes on the making of the film and commentary from the filmmakers. In addition to the excellent box art, which features one of the creatures up close, Wes Craven, Damon and Affleck are all given top billing as executive producers, which should lure in an audience beyond those who watched the Bravo TV series last year. — John Gaudiosi

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
Prebook 10/18; Street 11/14
Lionsgate, Music, B.O. $1 million, $27.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some sex-related material.

Leonard Cohen is far from a household name, but his legions of fans would walk miles to hear someone sing his songs.

The prolific Canadian songwriter, now 72, is a bona fide cult hero, known for his moody, intimate ruminations on love and loneliness. Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man celebrates Cohen's lifetime of hypnotic, offbeat musical poetry, with several acclaimed musicians bowing in reverence by offering their takes on Cohen's work.

These performances are interspersed between talking sessions, with the usually reclusive Cohen giving more than usual, offering insight into his upbringing and his early career. Cohen discusses his move from Montreal to become a figure of awe in the 1960s Manhattan music scene, and his eventual chucking of fame to become a monk in a monastery.

Cohen has returned from that phase, though he rarely works and maintains a quiet calm that serves him well.

Bono, The Edge, Nick Cave and Rufus Wainwright, among others, pay tribute to Cohen in words and song. The maestro himself even joins U2 on stage in a New York City club to sing his own work.

This DVD version includes musical performances not seen in the theatrical version, along with a Cohen interview and commentary with director Lian Lunson.

Fans of Cohen will delight in this homage to their hero, while the uninitiated will likely fall under the spell of Cohen's often mesmerizing and deeply personal songs. — Dan Bennett

Prebook 10/17; Street 11/7
MTI, Thriller, $19.95 DVD, ‘R' for violence and some language.
Stars Daniel Craig.

James Bond, history professor? Considering Craig's upcoming turn as the famous superspy, it's hard to watch Archangel — a mystery thriller in the vein of The Da Vinci Code — without such pretext.

With his all-knowing smirk and arrogant glint in his eye, Craig shows all the typical Bondian traits, other than the need for gratuitous violence and sexual release.

Archangel is based on Robert Harris' 1998 novel, adapted for British television in 2005.

Craig plays Fluke Kelso, a British professor of Soviet history, who is drawn into a political plot with tales of a secret diary hidden the night Josef Stalin died in 1953. Kelso is told Stalin had little regard for his potential successors, believing they would make Russia weak in relation to the West. More than 50 years later, the hidden document could pave the way for the return of Stalinist rule, and some Communist hardliners would like nothing better.

The believability of such a dynastic return is another matter, especially considering the widespread knowledge of Stalin's domestic atrocities. Hence the introduction of Mamantov, who has been fostering a movement favoring the return of the old ways, which he believes are better suited to deal with world problems such as terrorism.

The plot eventually resolves itself, but the mystery in the first half of the film, surrounding the contents of the diary, is certainly more effective than the tension of the second half of the film, after the notebook is opened and the plot is set in motion.

Craig has a strong presence throughout, and Archangel — along with Munich, Layer Cake and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — should provide a good preview of his Bond debut in Casino Royale. — John Latchem

Big Love: The Complete First Season
Street 10/17
HBO Video, Drama, $99.98 five-DVD set, NR.
Stars Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin.

Not since “Six Feet Under” has dysfunction been so … functional.

Like the vast majority of recent HBO original series, “Big Love” brims with great acting, sparkling dialogue and juicy scripting. Starring Bill Paxton as a polygamist businessman with three wives and seven children, the series continues down the strange social and psychological byways that “Six Feet Under” tread so smoothly.

In contrast to the diverging trajectories of “Six Feet Under's” characters, “Big Love” is more about holding family and love together than tearing it asunder.

The release of the first season on DVD sees little in the way of special features, but most fans will simply hunt the episodes they missed.

There is a handy episode summary listed on each disc, allowing for a quick lookup of the particular show you might have missed, and a few of the episodes include audio commentary.

The last disc also includes a deeper look at the fragile balancing act that is “Big Love,” which will feed the most ravenous viewers with some much-needed additional content. Otherwise, the “Big Love” set is all about the show, and for most that will be plenty big enough.

With an all-star cast, a volatile subject and the HBO brand, “Big Love” should meet with solid success. Like most shows, even classics such as “The Sopranos,” “Big Love” may take a season or two to really catch on, making early season DVD sets that much more desired. — J.R. Wick

Christmas in the Clouds
Prebook 10/17; Street 11/7
Hannover House, Comedy, B.O. $0.3 million, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG.'
Stars Graham Greene, M. Emmet Walsh.

A new entry for the holidays, Christmas in the Clouds is all about folksy charm, romantic chance and a little Christmas magic.

The new Native American-owned Sky Mountain ski resort is having trouble attracting customers against its more-established corporate rivals. With a dry season and shortage of snow hurting business, the management learns a popular guidebook is sending a reviewer.

Meanwhile, the resort manager's father is corresponding with a widow on a distant reservation, not knowing she's much younger. She decides to visit unannounced to scope out her pen pal, and thinks it's the manager when she gets there.

Even though the outcomes are predictable, the journey is enough fun to keep viewers watching. It's family fare (one scene starts with a kiss, but unfolds so you know much more has happened) but generally suitable for most ages, and there's no foul language. Much of it is old-fashioned farce, framed in a new setting.

This is a great movie for the heartland, where everyone knows everyone in town, but it also could push the “warm fuzzy” button for big-city dwellers. Some of the humor will be funnier to people who live near a reservation, but anyone can enjoy this film.

Set at a mountain resort, the scenery alone could bring in some viewers. But the movie need not rely on that. It has a cute, but not cutesy, storyline full of romance, Midsummer Night's Dream-style mixups, good production values, a quality soundtrack and a solid cast of bankable character actors. Greene turns in a deadpan comic performance as a native chef who wants to eliminate meat from the menu.

Christmas in the Clouds is about love and, especially around the holidays, who can argue with that? — Holly J. Wagner

The Beauty of Paris
Prebook 10/17; Street 11/7
Victory Multimedia, SI, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Rose Marie Marcel, Arthur Abraham.

Considerate driving might make good fare for a real estate video, but it's hardly the stuff to support a travelogue.

That's the first disappointment of The Beauty of Paris, from Abraham and Marcel Productions.

Our hosts, who appear to be a wealthy tourist and a newscaster, take us past many Paris landmarks, but spend more time on the mundane elements than the monuments that entice most visitors.

People who are dying to go to Paris and are hungry for any tidbit of information might enjoy seeing this.

While chapters are split by those monuments, the hosts have an obsession with traffic flows and spend more time on present-day trade than history.

The purported fashion elements of the film are more salesmanship, promoting French cosmetics, fragrances and fashions. The movie's title seems to come more from its promotion of fashion and beauty shopping than the country's famed landscapes.

Once we hit one of those backdrops, the Moulin Rouge, we're primed for an evening of excitement, but run into yet another sales pitch with no sample of the goods. The closest we get is a brief account of famed singer Edith Piaf. — Holly J. Wagner

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