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Reviews: September 17

17 Sep, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

San Franpsycho
Street 10/10
Image, Horror, $24.99 DVD, ‘R' for violence, language and brief sexuality.
Stars Joe Estevez, Todd Bridges, Jose Rosete.

The title of this film is one of the most amusing monikers to come down the pike in a while.

When the most creative thing about a film is the title, something has gone dramatically wrong. Of course, something has gone dramatically wrong in the case of this film, which is virtually drama free.

A serial killer (Rosette) prowls the streets of San Francisco, taking pictures of his victims and sending them to the police. The killer also fixates on a local anchorwoman and sends letters about his crime to her. Detectives Culp (Estevez, younger brother of Martin Sheen, not Emilio Estevez as the box reports) and Alva (Victor Zaragoza) tackle the case and, along with the newscaster (Eleni C. Krimitsos) figure out that there is a pattern to the seemingly random killings.

The murderer is singling out victims who he feels are committing sins against God. Sound familiar?

It is unfortunate that Bay Area writing-directing brothers Jose and Eduardo Quiroz have chosen the theme of sinning for their film because they commit the greatest sin against audiences: being boring. The directors spend far too much time in one particular stalking sequence; scenes of “intense” police banter and other “plot” elements go nowhere.

The identity of the killer is never in question, but the detective skills of the men handling the case should be up for serious review. The unfortunate element here is that the directors show some technical prowess, making a relatively good-looking film with a presumably low budget.

Selling Points: The punny title and involvment of Bridges (best known for playing Willis on “Diff'rent Strokes”) should attract some attention, and the Quiroz Brothers and Pumpkin Patch Films have something of a following. — David Greenberg

Kiss Me Again
Prebook 10/2; Street 10/24
Monarch, Drama, $26.95 DVD, Rating Pending.
Stars Jeremy London, Katheryn Winnick.

The lead trio in Kiss Me Again are smart, bohemian types who are somehow unaware of one of the biggest sexual clich?s of film: Threesomes will ruin your life.

College professor Julian (London) and his wife, the terribly named Chalice (Winnick), are gentrifying hipsters living in Brooklyn. Julian finds himself attracted to a student (Mirelly Taylor). Rather than cheating on his wife, he instead convinces Chalice and the student to participate in a m?nage a trois with him. Of course, such sexual fun and games only ends well in late-night cable softcore flicks. For these characters, we get tears, confessions and general life upheaval.

London, though likeable, isn't dynamic enough to pull off this lothario role. He works the liberal intelligentsia angle well, but when the story calls for waterworks and passion, his acting wears thin.

The surprise standout is “Saturday Night Live's” Darrell Hammond as Julian's best friend. His wry and caring counsel of Julian through his multiple acts of stupidity hearken well for Hammond's future as a character actor. And a very particular slice of New York City — creative, stylish, educated, earnest and living in Williamsburg — is portrayed well.

Kiss Me Again isn't a bad film. It has moments that are both sexy and funny. But it lacks the raw sexuality expected from a drama such as this and ultimately fails in the predictable punishment for sexual experimentation.

Selling Points: The film's sexy cover should sell some copies for those filmgoers looking for spicy indie fare. — Laura Tiffany

Little Athens
Prebook 10/12; Street 11/21
ThinkFilm, Thriller, $29.99 DVD, ‘R' for drug and sexual content, pervasive language and some violence.
Stars Jorge Garcia, D.J. Qualls, Rachel Miner.

Little Athens is a small, working-class community where even the kids who do manage to graduate from high school are still going nowhere. Here, a group of loosely connected, aimless kids spend one day slouching toward a big house party that's scheduled for that evening.

Four separate storylines parallel each other, with characters from one trajectory occasionally dropping into the other narratives. A central story involves one slacker who, finding another slacker dead, reacts by stealing the dead boy's drugs and then trying to line up a buyer.

Another of the plot lines focuses on a girl who may or may not have given her boyfriend what was once called a social disease, and who spends the day trying to find someone who will defend her from him.

Little Athens is a sort of Slackers 2.0, populated by characters who are not even aware of their hopelessness. John Patrick Amedori is convincing as the depressed delivery boy who finds his drug dealer dead on a couch. And “Lost's” Garcia effectively captures his character's very existential attitude toward life.

The female characters fare less well in a script that occasionally tips toward the misogynistic.

Selling Points: Garcia's involvement should attract some attention from “Lost” fans. The film features a very “Generation-Y” soundtrack, with cuts by Radiohead, The Plebz, Poets and Pornstars, Ima Robot and The Walkmen, which will certainly appeal to the movie's target demographic. — Anne Sherber

Street 9/26
Acorn, Documentary, $39.99 two-DVD set, NR.
Narrated by Dr. David Starkey.

Steeped in overdramatic rhetoric, Monarchy is a six-episode look at English royalty from 400 to 1400 A.D.

While Starkey's passionate storytelling may keep the lengthy tale entertaining, it also blurs the line between historical opinion and fact, favoring drama over objectivity.

Those seeking a cursory but well-researched overview of the English monarchy in pre-Elizabethan England should look no further, but those hoping for more historical depth might be better rewarded elsewhere.

Much of the series' weight rests on Starkey's shoulders, and while he is a capable narrator, his inflections are not quite enough to cover up the program's flaws. One can sit through only so many poorly shot dramatic re-creations and photo montages before beginning to long for something more concrete.

The almost ethereal nature of the footage seems all too in tune with Starkey's meanderings; perhaps 1,000 years is just too much to chew — even in six sittings — but the historical anecdotes begin to pile up so quickly that they lose meaning.

Audiences are presented with a single view, an English view, that forges on through its history as though it were set in stone rather than reinvented a thousand times over and recorded on now incomplete pages.

Selling Points: An effective way of brushing up on the British monarchy without a considerable investment of time, Monarchy should engage most with an interest in the topic. — J.R. Wick

Connors' War
Street 9/26
Sony, Action, $24.96 DVD, ‘R' for violence and language.
Stars Anthony “Treach” Criss, Nia Peeples.

A pumped-up, bullets-flying twist on the old saying that the blind shall lead the way, Connors' War sees non-stop action as its main agenda.

Criss plays Connors, a special agent who is blinded during a rescue mission involving the kidnapping of the First Lady. Now retired and bitter while living in a small dockside town, Connors is called back into action by his old boss, who makes Connors a promise: If he will steal an important item from a military base, he not only will be doing his country a great service, he also can get his eyesight back through an experimental operation.

Connors has the operation, and finds he can see very well, maybe as good as Superman. But his excellent eyesight is tempered by frequent, agonizing headaches.

Connors does the job, but soon discovers the item he stole will actually be used for nefarious purposes. Now he must reclaim the stolen item, this time with the help of a medical assistant (Peeples) involved in his eye surgery.

The task is enormous, but it's up to Connors to get the work done before he is assassinated, and before thousands in Washington, D.C., die at the hands of a revenge-minded former military man.

Connors' War is all action, all the time, combining free-for-all shootouts with hand-to-hand combat sequences. There isn't much room for deep human drama or meaningful dialogue.

The film crosses from actioner to urban thriller easily, delivering a no-nonsense story that entertains with some occasional deadpan humor.

Selling Points: Rapper Criss (Today You Die) should have a fan following from his musical career, and the film also boasts the relative star power of Peeples (Half Past Dead). — Dan Bennett

Street 10/3
Lifesize, Documentary, $24.98 DVD, NR.

Chiefs follows the highs and lows of a high-school basketball team, offering a rare glimpse into the hardships encountered by Native American teenagers in rural America.

Filmmaker Daniel Junge profiles the wins and losses of the Wyoming Indian High School Chiefs, a team of Native American kids trying to capture a state championship after a seven-year drought at the school.

Though basketball provides the players a healthy outlet, it also seems to dictate the course they take after high school.

“This is where their glory was,” says a Chiefs coach, as two of his former players peek in on a practice. “They don't want to leave their glory.”

For some, glory on and off the court is mixed with splendor. But for most, the choices for success are limited. Success means leaving “the rez,” but some can't leave it behind. This isn't unusual. Many kids across the country experience similar anxieties.

But Native American kids sometimes are forced to deal with some harsher realities. If there's one drawback of Chiefs, its Junge's failure to focus more on these plights.

He soft-peddles the frequent racism these kids face, the supposedly high-rate of substance abuse on reservations, the lack of opportunities and the sometimes lack of preparation from peers and educators.

Still, this documentary stands on its own merits for what it does address, a sometimes-compelling look into a group of kids frequently overlooked by society, and ones facing tough odds to succeed.

Selling Points: Chiefs will appeal to some sports fans, particularly ones of basketball. It also will appeal to individuals who share similar experiences growing up — life in rural America and the sometimes limited alternatives it holds. — Benny Lopez

Dog Park Blues
Prebook 9/22; Street 10/24
Pro-Active, Animated, $12.95 DVD, NR.

Criticizing Dog Park Blues feels a bit like kicking the puppies that star in it. The film is so obviously well-intended — a true labor of love by its creator, Rosemary Cotnoir. But there are many problems with this indie animated film.

First, it's not actually animated. Cotnoir tells the story of a motley group of dogs who must band together to save their beloved dog park through a series of watercolor paintings. The paintings are sweet and lively, but Dog Park Blues is 50 minutes long. That's 50 minutes of static paintings fading in and out — with many paintings actually repeated — while a narrator tells the story.

As a child, I had a hard time sitting through the similar and much shorter storybook segments on “Reading Rainbow.” It's hard to imagine a small child having the patience to watch this entire video.

Cotnoir does segment the story in chapters. As an adult viewer, it's disruptive and reinforces the feeling that this video should've been a picture book. For children, though, it may help them digest the story in small doses.

The story itself is cute, though overly long and a bit repetitive. And Cotnoir is good at differentiating the many canines starring in the film. There's even a particularly snotty, know-it-all cat that deserves a bigger role.

Unfortunately, what's missing is a good editor who could have whittled this cartoon down to a more-appropriate length.

Selling Points: Dog-loving parents might pick up this title for their kids, and it's a nice alternative to the merchandise-heavy titles of Disney, Nickelodeon and PBS. — Laura Tiffany

Mongolian Ping Pong
Prebook 9/19; Street 10/24
First Run Features, Adventure, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.95 DVD, NR. In Mongolian with English subtitles.

Can breathtaking scenery, folksy charm and an endearing trio of Mongolian boys on a quest for meaning draw American viewers into a society that's literally half a world remote?

The landscape is the first clue to what lies ahead in Mongolian Ping Pong. Families on the Mongolian steppes live like American pioneers 100 years ago, in relative isolation, relying on traveling vendors and performers for most of their contact with the outside world.

Western tentacles extend from these transient relationships.

So when a young boy named Bilike finds a ping pong ball in the river, even the traveling trader doesn't know what it is. His revered grandmother thinks it's a spirit-blessed pearl.

When Bilike and his pals, Dawa and Ergoutou, see a ping pong match on a briefly-owned TV and learn it's the national game of China, Bilike comes to see his stewardship of the national ball as a higher responsibility.

The story's universality lies in the struggle between generations, as children try to find their place in a world where their only context is family, but they know what lies beyond is so much bigger.

The film demonstrates that some things about the human condition are the same anywhere, regardless of circumstances or technology, and what really drives people comes from inside.

Unexpected juxtapositions of Western culture with the solitary lifestyle of Outer Mongolia produce some subtle funny moments.

Selling Points: The film unfolds as a slow awakening, not a sudden realization, so action-hungry American viewers may struggle with the pace. It's a charming, quality production for film aficionados who appreciate the experience of seeing the world through a child's eyes. — Holly J. Wagner

QUICK TAKE: By the Power!
BCI's terrific “He-Man” sets continue Sept. 19 with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Season Two Vol. Two ($49.98), containing the final 32 episodes of the 1983-84 series. Adults might find the shows silly, but the cartoons are great for kids and those nostalgic for the entertainment of their youth. Completists won't want to miss the fourth part of the behind-the-scenes of “He-Man” feature, plus there's an animation featurette and three commentaries.
Those who can't get enough “He-Man” action can look forward to the first volume of the Filmation spinoff “She-Ra: Princess of Power” Nov. 7, and the non-Filmation follow-up “The New Adventures of He-Man” later this year. John Latchem

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