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Reviews: October 21

21 Oct, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews


Ratatouille


Ratatouille
Street 11/6
Disney, Animated, B.O. $204.4 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.'
Voices of Patton Oswalt, Brad Garrett, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O'Toole.

Here's an odd choice for a Disney movie. This latest effort from Pixar and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) tells the story of Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of smell and taste. Tired of eating garbage, Remy becomes obsessed with the art of fine dining and winds up in Paris in a fancy restaurant that has fallen on hard times. In the age of “Hell's Kitchen,” any movie about rats in a gourmet eatery might be a tough sell, but leave it to a studio built on a mouse to pull it off.

Remy is studious enough to know everything about cooking, but his only outlet is the kitchen garbage boy, who becomes a master chef by preparing Remy's recipes. This plot point is reminiscent of another Disney short involving a rodent, 1953's Ben and Me, which featured a mouse (not Mickey) guiding Ben Franklin through the founding of the United States.

The CG animation is lively and about what one would expect from a Pixar movie. While Ratatouille may not quite be at the level of earlier classics such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo, it still has a leg up over most other animated fare.

Three deleted sequences feature an interview with Bird, who discusses some of the difficulties of coming onto the project midway through production. A featurette contrasts the artistic processes of cooking and filmmaking.

The DVD also includes a couple of cute Easter eggs and two animated shorts. Your Friend the Rat is a companion piece to the main feature, a stylishly animated tutorial on the history of rats and human mistrust of them. Lifted is a hilarious send-up of alien abduction stories, about a rookie alien who can't quite figure out how to snatch a man out of his bed. John Latchem


Warner Home Video Director's Series: Stanley Kubrick
Street 10/23
Warner, Drama, $79.92 10-DVD set, NR.
Stars Jack Nicholson, Malcolm McDowell, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd.

Anyone looking to start a collection of Stanley Kubrick films should begin with this boxed set.

If there's a common thread to Kubrick's films, it is that he wasn't too concerned about blazing trails in any particular genre. He would see others make their movies, then he would try to top them. The films in this set are prime examples of this ethic: 2001: A Space Odyssey (sci-fi), Full Metal Jacket (Vietnam War), The Shining (horror), A Clockwork Orange (youth rebellion) and Eyes Wide Shut (erotic thriller).Whether he succeeded in bringing forth the definitive works in these categories is open to debate, but there is little doubt that the editions contained in this DVD collection are the definitive presentations of these films.

The remastered 2001 looks incredible and emphasizes Kubrick's visual style. The effects still hold up nearly 40 years later, and it's nice to see so many giants of the genre (James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas) praising Kubrick's influence on them, and discuss how this film elevated science-fiction cinema from the cheesy ‘B' movies of the 1950s to epics such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars.

All the special features are loaded with such interesting tidbits. The Shining features an insightful commentary from Kubrick biographer John Baxter and cinematographer Garrett Brown, who invented the steadicam. They discuss Kubrick's well-known hatred of flying, and how all the beautiful aerial shots in the film were conducted by a second-unit team in a helicopter.

A Clockwork Orange also is notable, with featurettes that place the film in its historical context. The level of violence in the film was so shocking to British sensibilities when it was released in 1971 that Kubrick voluntarily pulled the film from the market. While the film has been readily available on home video for more than two decades in the United States, most Britons were unable to see it until recently.

The individual titles also are available separately on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. In addition, Warner is re-promoting the Kubrick classics Barry Lyndon and Lolita. — John Latchem


The Tripper
Street 10/23
Fox, Horror, B.O. $0.02 million, $27.98 DVD, Unrated.
Stars Thomas Jane, Jason Mewes, Lukas Haas, Jaime King, Paul Reubens, David Arquette.

If you are at all politically minded (and know your U.S. history), the premise of The Tripper is sure to make you chuckle.

A group of contemporary hippies go to the Redwoods for a weekend music festival — free love, rock ‘n' roll and lots of drugs — only to end up stalked and killed by a serial killer impersonating Ronald Reagan.

And if the idea makes you giggle, then the execution by first-time director David Arquette will have you laughing out loud. I enjoy a funny horror movie, and although the cheesy special effects and ironic storyline make it almost impossible for the film to be truly scary, that doesn't detract from the entertainment value.

The political satire is continued throughout the film ... and the killings. Two particularly drugged-out hippies are killed while making love in a van, and are discovered with Reagan's famous antidrug slogan “Just Say No!” written in blood on their twisted bodies. Balthazar Getty (“Brothers & Sisters”) has my favorite line in the entire movie: As he is about to be slain by a suit-wearing, axe-wielding Reagan he yells, “But I'm a Republican!” This does not save him.

The “trickle-down effect” jokes abound, and the best lines are oft delivered by Thomas Jane (The Punisher), who plays the beleaguered Sheriff Buzz Hall.

The film also boasts notable performances by Jaime King (Sin City), Jason Mewes (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman himself) and appearances by both David and Courtney Cox Arquette.

The DVD special features are the general staples we have come to expect. There is a commentary option with Arquette, a “Behind the Spleens” featurette, deleted scenes, a blooper reel, etc. Also included is the featurette “The Tripper presidential campaign tour” which follows David Arquette across the country as he promotes the film at festivals. Possibly the most entertaining bonus feature is the short about one of the production assistants finding a severed finger in the woods while shooting. Fact or fiction? Who knows, but it's a good bonus to a funny horror movie. Kyra Kudick


Stir of Echoes 2: The Homecoming
Prebook 10/24; Street 11/20
Lionsgate, Horror, $26.98 DVD, ‘R' for strong violent content, disturbing images and language.
Stars Rob Lowe, Marnie McPhail, Katya Gardner, Zachary Bennet, Ben Lewis.

Stir of Echoes 2 skillfully weaves together a haunting supernatural thriller with the horrific repercussions of war.

The made-for-TV sequel opens in current-day Iraq as a U.S. Army unit led by Capt. Ted Cogan (Lowe) erroneously opens fire on a van of innocent people that fails to stop at a roadblock. The gunfire brings the van to a halt in a violent explosion, which sparks a full-scale insurgent attack that injures Cogan and kills another soldier who happens to be a close friend.

By the time Ted returns home to his friends and family — wife Molly (McPhail) and son Max (Lewis) — he already is experiencing disturbing flashbacks related to that ill-fated day in Iraq, including visions of ghosts that seem to be trying to communicate with him.

As Ted tries to make sense of the hallucinations without losing his mind, his family is falling apart around him, especially Max, whose destructive behavior and increasing aggression continue to spiral out of control.

Driven to the brink of insanity, Ted's only salvation is to delve into the world of the paranormal to discern why the dead are singling him out.

But the more he uncovers, the more he realizes that the spirits aren't after him. They're actually leading Ted directly to the perpetrators of a heinous crime, and he doesn't have to look far to find them.

Stir of Echoes 2 is far from a continuation of the original 1999 film starring Kevin Bacon. Instead, the Sci Fi Channel original movie expands on the concept of a person being contacted from beyond to help solve a murder that would have otherwise gone undetected.

The sequel is just as frightening as the original and a lot more gruesome. Lowe is always a solid lead actor and gets great support from McPhail, Lewis and the rest of the cast.

The film also manages to include a bold, provocative undertone about not only the war in Iraq, but also the perception of Arab-Americans living in the United States. — Matt Miller


Study Hell
Street 10/30
MTI, Horror, $24.95 DVD, ‘R' for violence and language.
Stars Steve McDougall, Lindsay Dell, Brian Austin Jr., Shaylyn Doyle, Michael Henry, Ryan Fisher.

Recipe for a hit: Take two of the most popular films of the 1980s and adapt the plot to the style of choice. This is basically the concept of Study Hell.

Producer/director Mark McNabb borrows elements from Rambo, mixes them up with the premise of The Breakfast Club, and the result somehow evolves into another genre that became popular during the same era: the teen slasher film.

McDougall stars as disturbed veteran Don Keller, a high-school teacher haunted by the memories of a bloody incident during combat in which most of his platoon was wiped out under mysterious circumstances.

Keller now works in a school where a fellow member of his platoon is the custodian, and another one of their brothers-in-arms had been a teacher until he was, perhaps wrongly, convicted of the mass killing of a squad of cheerleaders. With flashbacks of the war becoming more frequent and the indelible image of the school's recently murdered students plaguing him, Keller's grip on sanity hits a breaking point just as his poor performance as a teacher lands him in the undesirable position of monitoring an evening session of detention for a quintet of naughty teenagers.

It is here where the “homage” to John Hughes becomes blatant, even paraphrasing lines directly from the classic film.

Oddly enough, in the end, from a commercial perspective, McNabb seems to know what he is doing and where he is going with his film in a way that Hughes did not. After all, there really is only one Breakfast Club, but there are scores and scores of films about teens being stalked by psychotic killers. — David Greenberg


Outing Riley
Street 10/30
Wolfe, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Pete Jones, Nathan Fillion, Michael McDonald, Julie Pearl, Stoney Westmoreland, Dev Kennedy.

Pete Jones' first film, Stolen Summer, couldn't have been released in a more ironically difficult environment. As the first winner of Project Greenlight, he should've had the opening to die for (all that free publicity!). But after a volatile first season, Jones film was set up to fail, regardless of its quality. And fail it did.

For Jones' second outing (no pun intended), he continues to stick close to his Chicago Catholic roots. Jones, as a triple-threat director, screenwriter and star, has created a warm-hearted film that proves his reality-TV 15 minutes of fame should last longer.

Jones plays Bobby, a nice Irish-Catholic guy from Chicago who is close with his three brothers and one sister. After his father dies, his sister Maggie (Pearl) urges Bobby to finally come out of the closet. But two of his brothers — pothead Luke (Fillion of “Firefly”) and Internet-porn-addicted Connor (Westmoreland) — are loutish goofs who can't have a good time without beer and sexist jokes. The eldest brother, Jack (Kennedy), is a Catholic priest. Suffice it to say, coming out to these traditionalists isn't an easy move.

Jones turns the coming-out story on its head by recognizing that coming out is about relationships, family and acceptance as much as it's about sexuality. By playing Bobby as a man whose homosexuality shocks everyone not because they're in denial but because he exhibits no stereotypical behavior, Jones makes the excellent point that Bobby IS a regular guy, regardless of his sexual orientation. He takes the “us vs. them” out of the homophobia equation.

And while this film is extremely easygoing, Jones doesn't shy away from the fact that there aren't easy solutions to life's problems.

Outing Riley is an accomplishment Jones can be proud of. It's a coming-out film for fans of gay cinema or anyone just in the mood for a quirky family film along the lines of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Family Stone or The Daytrippers. — Laura Tiffany


I Don't Want to Sleep Alone
Street 11/6
Strand, Drama, B.O. $0.02 million, $27.99 DVD, Unrated. In Chinese, Mandarin, Malay and Bengali with English subtitles.

As a first-time introduction to renowned Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone is perhaps not the best choice; it's not as celebrated as What Time Is It There? or Vive L'Amour. But it is shot in Ming-liang's signature style: It's a snail's-pace, poetic film that takes patience and inspires daydreaming that isn't conducive to following the slim plot, but it does reward those who stay with it.

In a dire neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur, a Bangladeshi worker takes pity on a homeless man who has been beaten by street gamblers. He takes him home — a mattress pulled from a dump, covered in mosquito netting — and nurses him back to health. Nearby, a young waitress also plays nurse to her boss's comatose son.

As the homeless man returns to health, he and the waitress begin a silent flirtation. Their relationship places the isolation, hunger and desire of the other characters, such as the foreign worker, the waitress' boss, in sharp relief.

The first half of the film sometimes feels like a long slog to nowhere, the action almost solely the juxtaposition between the near sensual care the homeless man receives and the rough, workaday care of the comatose man. But for patient viewers, the second half features some startlingly beautiful shots and an ending both enigmatic and satisfying.

Ming-liang's hallmark style of long shots, minimal dialogue and gorgeous framing works best after you know and care for the characters. It begins to feel natural to let Mandarin melodies on a radio do the talking, and be swept away by the decaying beauty of Ming-liang's Malaysia — particularly an abandoned, half-constructed building full of Escher-like stairways made all the more otherworldly by an ash storm engulfing the city.

For fans of Ming-liang's work or those who like their foreign cinema on the meditative, starkly beautiful side, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone will sate their appetite and leave them discussing the implications of the film for days to come. Ming-liang's imagery and themes are the stuff that film student theses are made of. — Laura Tiffany


Ghosts of Cit? Soleil
Prebook 10/25; Street 11/20
ThinkFilm, Documentary, B.O. $0.05 million, $27.98 DVD, Unrated.

Cit? Soleil is a ramshackle slum outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with the distinction of having been cited by the United Nations as “the most dangerous place in the world.”

No one, after seeing Asger Leth's documentary Ghosts of Cit? Soleil is likely to contest that assertion. The film is not so much a work of reportage as it is a field report from hell.

Blighted by poverty, disease and rampant gang violence, it is a ghetto of the worst imaginable variety, and it is something of a miracle — given the dangers of even visiting — that Leth's intimate, first-hand depiction exists at all.

The focus of the picture is on two brothers, 2Pac and Bily, both of whom are leaders of so-called “Chimere” gangs — loose organizations of thugs ostensibly employed by Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to suppress opposition.

Cocky, heavily-armed and in love with American gangster-rap, they move like trash-talking royalty through the streets of Cit? Soleil. But when opposition forces manage to drive Aristide out of office, suddenly the Chimeres find themselves targeted as enemies of the state.

Leth is only marginally concerned with exploring the causes of Cit? Soleil's volatile atmosphere, but very interested in its symptoms. Most of the film is devoted to showing the day-in, day-out of slum life: Babies are birthed in the street, gun play is commonplace, and life is very, very cheap.

It is clear that the filmmaker developed a special rapport with his subjects — he even documents an unlikely love triangle between the two bothers and a French relief worker — and this is what gives Ghosts of Cit? Soleil its strength.

While the film may lack a great deal in terms of providing a balanced overview of Haiti's social and political problems, it more than makes up for it with the rawness and immediacy of its footage. — Eddie Mullins


Marv: The Soul of Five Star Basketball
Street 10/23
Victory Multimedia, Sports, $19.99 DVD, NR.

Despite the cerebral activity required to compete on an elevated level, the skills of basketball players are often attributed to size and athletic ability. As much as the latter factors into the equation, anyone involved with the game surely knows better.

Basketball mastermind Marv Kessler offers proof in this documentary. Kessler, a legendary New York prep and college coach, has received much applause for his intellectual approach, and his methods have been copied and instituted in high-school and college programs. As founder of Marv Kessler's All Pro Basketball School, Kessler offers insight to some of the nuances of the game and how to overcome them.

Taught with the simplicity of a Dale Carnegie sales course, Kessler shows players how to stay a step ahead of their opponents by stressing the fundamentals. He also knows when to mix in some occasional humor to break up the repetition of his teaching sessions.

Like any good sports tale, there also are poignant recollections. Kessler and some of his former players emotionally recall the tragic death of one of their own, former Adelphi University center Marshall Williams, who collapsed and died during a game in 1977. Kessler was the team's coach at the time.

The special features also add value to this DVD. One worthy addition is “Integration,” which is the best of the bonus features even if it is too short. In it, players talk candidly about some of the taboos and controversial topics surrounding race in the 1960s and '70s and how they overcame these issues.

There also are additional interviews featuring more of Kessler's former players stressing one of the coach's major themes and the bottom line of the game: teamwork. — Benny Lopez


High-Def Spotlight: Jailhouse Rock
Warner, Musical, $28.99 HD DVD, Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Elvis Presley, Dean Jones, Mickey Shaughnessy, Jennifer Holden.
HDTV: Panasonic 42-inch

With handlers not mesmerized by his voice and looks, Elvis Presley might have also evolved into a quality actor. Jailhouse Rock — released two years after Rebel Without a Cause catapulted James Dean to cult status — showcases Elvis' successful portrayal as a directionless young man who learns how to belt out tunes while in jail for manslaughter.

The 1957 release includes the songs “Treat Me Nice,” “I Wanna Be Free” and the scene-stealing title tune.Under the high-def microscope of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc, Jailhouse Rock underscores Presley's considerable cinematic presence (those piercing eyes), even in black and white and with a limited script.

The bonus material, in standard-definition, includes commentary by Steve Pond, author of Elvis in Hollywood, a theatrical trailer and the featurette “The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock.”

As Elvis remains largely defined by his music, it is only appropriate that Warner Home Video digitally remastered the soundtrack in Dolby HD.

The choreographed “Jailhouse Rock” dance sequence, which Elvis apparently had reservations doing, was so physically demanding it was filmed in installments and spliced together in post-production. In a time before music videos and digital voice-overs, the musical numbers hold their own, thanks to The King. Erik Gruenwedel


Editor's Pick: From Dusk Till Dawn
1996, Disney/Dimension, ‘R' for strong violence and gore, language and nudity.
Stars George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, Earnest Liu, Michael Parks, Kelly Preston.

Scaring Up Laughs

In general, I despise holiday movies. I simply cannot stomach the sentimentality of holiday fare where angels get their friggin' wings and mean old misers learn the meaning of Christmas. Whatever. But there is one holiday where the movie choices are excellent: Halloween.

Many top horror lists that abound as the holiday approaches are dedicated to the classics. One of my personal favorites doesn't usually make a list.

From Dusk Till Dawn is the 1996 collaboration of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. It begins with the Gecko brothers (Clooney and Tarantino) on the run for robbing a bank. To escape across the Mexican border, the brothers kidnap an ex-minister (Keitel) and his family in their RV, and take refuge in a strip joint in the middle of the desert to await the local crime boss. Just when you think the plot can't get any crazier, the strippers and patrons of the joint turn into vampires. Yes, vampires.

It is hard to say what I love most about the movie, but it is likely the sheer ridiculousness of the story and the brilliance with which it is executed. The film makes an almost seamless transition from action to horror, made even more amazing by the characters mirroring the audience's incredulity of the situation. You can't help but cheer the characters as they disbelievingly fight for their lives.

For my money From Dusk Till Dawn is a stellar horror flick. It is fast-paced and witty, with a refusal to take itself seriously … and that makes it seriously fun to watch. Kyra Kudick


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