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Reviews: October 29

29 Oct, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Keeping Up With the Steins

Keeping Up With the Steins
Street 10/31
BV/Miramax, Comedy, B.O. $4.3 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘PG-13' for some crude language, nudity and brief drug references.
Stars Jeremy Piven, Jami Gertz, Daryl Sabara.

Keeping Up With the Steins is doubly disappointing. Not only does it fail to find the gimme laughs in the Jewish bar mitzvah — a coming-of-age ceremony whose post-party extravagance can be obscene — but the director and the screenwriter can't keep up with the film's comic stars.

Red-headed, 14-year-old Sabara (from the “Spy Kids” movies) plays 13-year-old Benjamin Fiedler, who's just weeks from having to sing Hebrew to a synagogue full of Jews. Sabara does some narrating here, dealing with terrible stage fright, a first crush and his parents' obsession with throwing a big party.

That would make for a good film, but Sabara is shoved aside by louder performances from the adults. The film is torn between Benjamin and a decades-long conflict between dad and grand-dad. Piven plays the Hollywood talent agent dad a lot like the agent Piven plays on HBO's “Entourage,” but he's reined in so much it just seems like a cheap imitation of his Emmy-winning greatness.

Also largely wasted is “Everybody Loves Raymond's” Doris Roberts, who plays another grandmother, but this time the passive and largely unfunny kind. Other disappointing turns include storied actor-director Garry Marshall (father of the film's director, Scott Marshall) and Daryl Hannah.

Scott Marshall — the man behind the camera — does a poor job of cutting the film, for instance, moving from a Piven-style tirade to an easygoing talk with grandpa. It's disorienting and amateurish. Those mistakes probably don't matter much, though, because the humor penned by “The L Word” writer Mark Zakarin mostly falls as flat as his and Scott Marshall's DVD commentary.

Keeping Up With the Steins fills a niche for feel-good family comedies about bar mitzvahs, but it certainly isn't a pinnacle of the genre. — Brendan Howard

Totally Awesome
Street 11/7
Paramount, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Chris Kattan, Tracy Morgan, Dominique Swain, Mikey Day, Nicki Clyne, Brittany Daniel.

Have you been thinking lately that no matter what people say, maybe the 1980s weren't so bad after all?

Totally Awesome might allow you a return to reality.

This comic spoof, which airs Nov. 4 on VH1, spares no '80s cliche, from the feathered hair to the tight clothes to the lip gloss and beyond. And that's just the men.

The story follows an Arizona family with two high-school kids who move to California, where the teens must attend a new school.

On the first day, senior Charlie (Day) is chosen as least cool in the class, only minutes after walking through the door. His sister Lori (Swain) is a would-be dancer prone to psychotic screaming episodes.

One big problem: The town has outlawed dancing, since several dancing teens recently lost their feet — literally — while dancing, a play on Footloose.

Lori must dance on the sly, and joins a secret dance class taught by the school's former dance teacher (Kattan), who is now the janitor, and a truly awful dancer. While this is going on, Charlie challenges the school bully, a preening golden boy sporting the aforementioned feathered hair, to a decathlon competition.

This action is interrupted on occasion by Ben Stein, who plays the host of this film, and who repeatedly mentions Ferris Bueller's Day Off as the ultimate landmark film of the genre.

Occasionally gross and unafraid to offend, Totally Awesome is both low-standards funny and a stinging indictment of an era, while hugging that era with tender affection at the same time. — Dan Bennett

Chasing Christmas
Prebook 11/1; Street 11/28
Lionsgate, Comedy, $26.98 DVD, ‘PG' for some language, sensuality, thematic elements and violence.
Stars Tom Arnold, Andrea Roth, Jed Rees.

Producers will never stop pumping out Christmas movies, regardless of attention to quality or whether or not they are contributing to the health of the genre.

As unlikely as it is to think that people will stop making Christmas movies, it is even less likely to imagine Tom Arnold as an actor in not one, but two recent holiday films. With this ABC Family film and the recent Three Wise Guys, Arnold finds himself in two solid outings that should find audiences for years to come.

In yet another variation on Charles Dickens' Ebeneezer Scrooge tale, Arnold stars as Jack Cameron, a workaholic single dad with a serious distaste for Christmas. Jack is this year's target of the agency that has the task of refreshing the memory of people who have forgotten the meaning of Christmas.

Charged with the monumental challenge to reprogram Jack are (The Ghost of Christmas) Past (Leslie Jordan) and (The Ghost Of Christmas) Present (Roth of TV's “Rescue Me”). The film takes a number of interesting twists, beginning with Past's decision to follow Jack's hedonistic impulses and attempt to engage in some distinctly earthbound human pleasures. At the same time, Jack and Present develop a romantic interest in each other — two situations with dramatic implications for Jack's future.

Sure, the film is reminiscent of countless other films, but it also plays with some of the established conventions of the genre, and a time-travel element allows the production to take journeys back to the 1940s, '60s and '70s.

Chasing Christmas is not going to make anyone forget It's Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, but much like the goals of the ghost characters, it really does capture, demonstrate and make a case for the spirit of the holiday. — David Greenberg

Un Coeur en Hiver (A Heart in Winter)
Street 11/7
Koch Lorber, Romance, $29.98 DVD, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Emmanuelle B?art, Daniel Auteuil.

If music is the language of love, then Un Coeur en Hiver lets us in on a very private conversation.

Philandering violin-maker Maxime (Andre Dussollier) finally has fallen for a beauty whom he admires as well as loves — something he's not used to. The woman truly expresses herself when she plays her violin, he tells his younger business partner, Stephane (Auteuil). Maxime has asked his wife for a divorce and is taking an apartment to share with young Camille (B?art).

Camille thinks she is in love with Maxime, but finds herself drawn to Stephane. He seems cold at first, but we gradually realize his disaffection is self-defense. He tries to avoid his feelings for Camille, but can't deny them for long — even at the risk of jeopardizing his friendship and business relationship with Maxime.

Stephane and Camille communicate through her violin — her with virtuoso playing and him with accomplished craftsmanship. But relationships are complicated, and in the end we're left with Stephane's self-inflicted isolation.

It's a classic French love triangle, revealed subtly and in close quarters. But it's also a study in the self-destructive properties of denial.

The film has great production values and some of the finest talent in modern French cinema. Classical music fans can enjoy the movie for the music scenes (mostly Ravel compositions), but Camille's violin is more than an instrument. It is the voice that expresses the nuances of the relationships.

This is a deep and brooding film built on emotion and intimacy. Students of the human condition and those who appreciate the delicate tension of tragic love will be grabbing for the hankies. — Holly J. Wagner

Hard Rock Treasures
Street 10/31
MPI, Music, $24.98 DVD, NR.

The Hard Rock Caf? has become something of a clich? — a touristy destination housed in cities that offer infinitely better cuisine and atmosphere.

Still, it's also something of an American staple after all these years, and it's still a place to gape at music artifacts and gobble mediocre burgers and fries.

Hard Rock Treasures shines a spotlight on one of the restaurant's gimmicks as it follows the company's director of acquisitions, Don Bernstine, on a hunt for rock-and-roll memorabilia to showcase.

Bernstine has a fascination for and love of rock music, the people who make it and the instruments they make it with. He's not incredibly entertaining, but it is interesting to watch him scour the memorabilia stashes of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page and Peter Frampton for keepsakes to put on display in the restaurants.

The film doesn't delve into the details of how Bernstine actually gets the guitars and knick-knacks he's seeking, but it's cool to see him interacting with some rock legends as they rifle through prized — and some not-so-prized — possessions. Big scores Bernstine makes in the documentary are a pair of pants owned and worn by Freddie Mercury, the keys to Metallica's James Hetfield's '67 Camero and Iommi's Gibson SG he played when recording Black Sabbath and Paranoid.

He also grabs a pair of masks from the very sweaty members of Slipknot.

The program also takes viewers into the Hard Rock warehouse in Orlando, Fla., where it seems there are more rock goodies stashed away than line the walls at the restaurants across the country.

Extras include extended footage of Bernstine negotiating with Darrel “Dimebag” Abbott; backstage interviews with Judas Priest and Slayer's Kerry King (after which Bernstine snags the guitar King played on the “Reign In Blood” video); and an extended tour of the Hard Rock's private vault. Jessica Wolf

Hungry For Monsters
Street 10/31
Facets, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, NR.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then Hungry for Monsters shows the 10-car pileup that can happen when seemingly good intentions take a turn that goes horribly wrong.

It begins with teacher Priscilla Zappa leaving the door open for students to learn about and discuss domestic-abuse issues. But it becomes a fishing expedition that resulted from Zappa projecting her own issues onto attention-starved teen Nicole Althaus.

In Hungry for Monsters, members of the Althaus family and other case participants (Zappa and Nicole's therapist, Judith Cohen, are the glaring exceptions) retrace the steps that led to accusations that Nicole's parents were molesting her and the devastation that followed.

Rick Althaus was arrested, and Nicole was placed in foster care with Zappa. In her care, Nicole's “memories” festered and grew into allegations of ritual satanic torture, violent sex and murder — later revealed as the result of a constant barrage of conversation and images of sexual violence.

What emerges is a sort of Munchausen-by-proxy in which Zappa expresses her own abuse trauma through Nicole, traumatizing her, her family and another family of complete strangers in the process.

Nicole's claims were so bizarre that one has to wonder why no one, including a therapist, red-flagged her case sooner. She claimed to have had three babies that were killed, yet doctors found no evidence of sexual activity or pregnancy. She even claimed to have witnessed a murder and to have seen her grandmother flying on a broom. She eventually recanted everything.

The subject is timely. The Althaus family's minister says on film that the family's social and church standing made Nicole's accusations difficult to believe, but scandals in the Catholic church and the Congressional page program teach us that pedophilia knows no social or religious barriers.

This family's story is sad. But perhaps the greater damage is the doubt such cases cast on those with genuine abuse memories buried in post-traumatic stress disorder. They add to abusers' power in telling victims no one will believe them, and make it harder for true victims to step forward and get help. — Holly J. Wagner

Quick Take: Don't Forget the Marble Rye
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment‘s top-notch “Seinfeld” DVD releases continue Nov. 21 with Seinfeld: Season 7 (four-DVD set $49.95).

The 1995-96 season birthed several classic television moments, introducing the world to the Soup Nazi and the catchphrases “spongeworthy” and “no soup for you!”

The DVD is loaded with deleted scenes, factoid tracks and episode commentaries, plus in-depth featurettes anchored by all-new interviews with the cast. One feature spotlights co-creator Larry David's several cameos during the run of the show. John Latchem

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