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Reviews: September 2

2 Sep, 2007 By: Home Media Reviews

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Street 9/11
HBO Video, Western, $26.98 two-DVD set, NR.
Stars Aidan Quinn, Adam Beach, Anna Paquin, August Schellenberg, J.K. Simmons.

Based on the Dee Brown book that caused a stir and prompted Marlon Brando to send a Native American to accept his Oscar for The Godfather (creating quite a stir), a screen version of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is long overdue.

The film is a competent telling of the other side of Manifest Destiny, with solid performances from Quinn, Anna Paquin, Simmons and a number of other familiar faces. For someone unfamiliar with this period in history, it could be a revelation.

The film takes a strange turn early, however, with a high-level discussion of who's to blame for the American/Indian violence that's an obvious parallel for Iraq, right down to General Sherman (Colm Feore) asking Senator Henry Dawes (Quinn, in a nod to Colin Powell), “What would you have us do, Dawes, cut and run?” The fact that undeclared GOP candidate Fred Dalton Thompson plays the hard-headed President Ulysses Grant in this case makes the scene all the more surreal.

The book and film are the story of the subjugation of a people, from the losing side. When the book was released, it was the first time that story had been told in a popular format.

So 30 years later we crave depth; we want to know more of the story than just the now-familiar series of brutal events. While this film fills in some of the blanks, it spends too much time covering what we know.

One nice bonus feature that seems aimed at addressing that is an option to display historical information to provide context while you watch the scene.

Other bonus materials include behind-the-scenes featurettes “The Heart of a People,” focusing on the Sioux participants and why the film is important to them, and “Telling the Story,” which explains the artistic process of the script.

The program received 17 Emmy nominations, including best made- for-TV movie, directing, writing, supporting actor (Quinn and Schellenberg) and supporting actress (Paquin). — Holly J. Wagner

Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!
Street 9/4
Warner, Animated, $19.98 DVD, NR.

Scooby-Doo is a tricky mutt. For those raised on the mystery-solving adventures of Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Fred and Velma, the recent live-action films, the new animated series “What's New Scooby-Doo” and the many straight-to-DVD animated flicks are travesties. Heck, we're still mad about that whole Scrappy-Doo thing.

But it's hard to determine if the new renditions of Scooby-Doo are actually unbearable or if we're just too old to have patience for mysteries where it's obvious whodunit in the first five minutes. In Chill Out, Scooby-Doo!, the 11th DTV Scooby-Doo feature since 1998, all the original elements are present, including Casey Kasem's still-perfect vocal stylings for Shaggy.

Sure, Fred awkwardly pokes at a cell phone that has a magic GPS feature showing where the caller is, but at least the Mystery Machine hasn't turned into a hybrid.

The film is reminiscent of a handful of classic episodes that involved snow monsters. This time, Scooby and Shaggy find themselves shanghaied on Mount Everest with one very angry yeti.

The animation is crisp, and the vocal talent (including Rene Auberjonois and Alfred Molina), impressive. There are a few extras, including a deleted scene and a music video for “Pirates Song,” which, notably, has nothing to do with the film. The game “Scooby-Doo's Shangri-La Showdown” is a mild diversion but won't impress kids who are used to more reactive video games — this one actually tells you when to push the buttons, rather than letting a child figure it out for himself.

For all its slapstick humor, groan-worthy jokes and formulaic mysteries, “Scooby-Doo” is still an iconic franchise that hasn't lost its charm for both parents and their children. — Laura Tiffany

Elf Bowling: The Movie
Street 10/2
Universal/Screen Media, Animated, $14.98 DVD, ‘PG' for some language and rude humor.

Christmas has inspired some certifiably insane kid flicks that, with the gift of time, have become kitsch classics — Santa Claus Conquers the Martians comes to mind.

It's with this thought that I'd love to flash forward in a time machine 50 years to see if Elf Bowling: The Movie becomes a kitschy reminder of the turn of the century. It's based on one of the first viral phenomena of the Internet, the computer game Elf Bowling from 1999.

In the Elf Bowling story of Christmas, Santa (voice of Joe Alaskey) is a pirate and victim of a mutiny. He and his evil half-brother, Dingle Kringle (comedian Tom Kenny) end up at the North Pole, fulfilling a prophecy that someday a white-bearded fellow will lead the toymakers … somewhere.

In this case, it ends up being Fiji after Santa's nefarious brother stages a coup. And yes, there is elf bowling, shoved in among a magic orb, a gold-digger, a strudel-cooking Mrs. Claus and Easter Island statues that come to life.

There is some talent behind the film. Animation director Rick Farmiloe has worked on such films as The Simpsons Movie, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. And Kenny is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants

However, the humor may be too crude for many parents — though to be fair, it's true to the original video game with the butt references, armpit farts and fake swearing (“What the cranberries!?”).

The computer animation may be too ugly for kids who expect elves and penguins to be cute. Here, they mostly look like ugly, middle-aged men. Add that to a plot that is pretty weird.

The good news is that while this DVD seems extremely late to cash in on the original Elf Bowling phenomena, it's actually perfect timing. Those office slackers of the '90s, the twentysomethings who truly got a kick out of elf bowling, are now the people who have kids just the right age to watch this Bad Santa-for-kids 'toon. — Laura Tiffany

Sun Dogs
Street 10/2
Palm, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.

Jamaica has contributed significantly to world culture. Take Bob Marley, for instance, the king of reggae music. He took it to new heights, with foot-tapping and head-bobbing grooves matched by some catchy political lyrics that still resonate today.

The Jamaican bobsled team is another story, and it's a good one, at that. They, like Marley, captured the world by storm, becoming the hottest thing on ice with their escapades at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary before shocking the world by finishing 14th in the Winter games in France. The '88 team even inspired a movie — the 1993 film Cool Runnings, starring John Candy.

Now comes this documentary that adds another chapter to Jamaican lore: In it, a dogsled team tries to bark its way to a place among the big dogs.

Producer Jimmy Buffet — yes, that Jimmy Buffet — is among the group chasing this dream.

“I don't know anything about racing dogsleds,” Buffet jokes during one of his cameos in the documentary. “But it sounds like fun.”

Sun Dogs is sometimes amusing, sometimes sad and sometimes heavy-handed. It also offers a reality check of the disturbing politics that slide for business-as-usual in a country where catering to tourists becomes more important than caring for its own people.

This documentary touches on Jamaica's poverty, crime, lack of education and the resources unavailable to natives.

But the main thrust of Sun Dogs is in tracking the Jamaican dogsled team on the road to the 2006 U.K. Championships in Scotland and the many obstacles presented along the way. It's a compelling story and one that adds more flavor to the beauty of Jamaica and the diversity of its people. — Benny Lopez

Ham & Cheese
Street 9/18
Cinequest, Comedy, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Mike Beaver, Jason Jones, Jennifer Baxter, Samantha Bee, Scott Thompson, Dave Foley.

For anyone who is an actor, an aspiring actor or simply interested in the world of professional acting, Ham & Cheese is an absolute must-see.

Employing low-key, understated Canadian humor and a dead-pan zaniness similar to the Christopher Guest mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, Ham & Cheese is a genuinely side-splitting exercise in comedy that might cure even the most dedicated would-be thespians of any notions of pursuing a career in show business.

Co-writers Beaver and Jones star as two guys who want nothing more than to become successful actors, and they will stop at nothing to hold onto their particularly unrealistic dreams. Becoming a successful actor is hard enough, but attempting to do so with absolutely no talent is really asking for a slap in the face from Mr. Hard Facts.

Taking a semi-documentary approach to following the plight of the two characters — Richard Wolanski, a pitiful, overweight man-child, and Barry Goodson (Jones), who is married, gainfully employed, cocky and every bit as delusional and untalented as Richard.

The film traces their various paths around the idea of “making it” without ever getting there. Barry has a terminally ill agent who has been trying to get him jobs since he was a teenager. Richard has a sadistic, narcissistic acting teacher (“Kids in the Hall” alumnus Foley in a hilarious performance).

Highlights of the film include Barry's stint as an officer on a cop show and Richard's one-man adaptation of “Happy Days.” Really, the whole film is just one funny bit after another, although it is hard to ignore the genuine pathos of these truly pathetic characters, and there is enough gravitas in the real lives of these guys to fill several dramas. — David Greenberg

Do or Die
Street 9/11
BFS, Drama, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Tom Long, Kate Ashfield, Hugo Speer.

Do or Die, its title getting straight to the point, is not for the easily rattled. The thrill-a-minute Aussie drama is a whirlwind action piece, comparable in style to such outings as Run Lola Run.

Kate Ashfield plays a British doctor whose young son is suffering from leukemia. He needs a bone-marrow transplant, but there's a problem when her husband volunteers his own: He's not the real father, a fact previously unknown to him.

Instead, the real father is a cunning Australian criminal with whom the mother had a vacation fling long ago, before she met her current husband. She needs the con to save her son, but big complications ensue when the guy escapes prison at just about the same time.

The two end up on the run together, chased by an obsessed detective with an agenda of his own.

That chase and the accompanying danger make up the bulk of the action in Do or Die, and that action is relentless, interrupted by the occasional spirited, if overwrought, dramatic monologue.

So it's a sociopath on the run, an obsessed cop chasing him, a desperate mother struggling to save her child and her emotionally wrecked husband tending to the boy back home.

Do or Die starts out big and stays that way, with frenetic camera movements, car chases and non-stop danger, rarely slowing down. Even if it lacks the minimalist craft that makes something like Run Lola Run so compelling, its eager action sequences keep things intense. — Dan Bennett

Tara Road
Street 10/9
First Look, Drama, $26.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Andie MacDowell, Olivia Williams, Stephen Rea, Brenda Fricker, Iain Glen, Jean-Marc Barr.

Based on the best-selling novel by Maeve Binchy (who appears briefly in the film as a restaurant patron), Tara Road is the story of two women. They each have reached a terrible crossroads in life and escape from their respective sad realities by switching houses.

MacDowell is Marilyn, bereft because she watched as her 15-year-old son was killed in a motorbike accident. She finds that she is unable to recover from the loss, and through a series of coincidences, she agrees to trade her Los Angeles home with a woman in Ireland whose husband has announced his intention to leave her and marry is pregnant girlfriend.

Each woman, while ensconced in the other's home, is able to untangle some of the messy details of the other's life. At the same time, each begins to mend her own broken heart.

Both MacDowell and, especially, Williams are very good as women trying to endure the unendurable. Rea exudes a subtle sexiness as a local Irish innkeeper. Glen is Danny, the straying husband whose business is failing at the same time as he is leaving his wife. He projects a charming sliminess and is a perfect domestic villain. And the always-delightful Fricker is wonderful as a blowsy L.A. pal.

Binchy (Circle of Friends) has a huge and fanatical following in the United States and the United Kingdom, and her readers are always interested in film adaptations of her popular novels. — Anne Sherber

The Invisible
Street 10/16
Disney/Hollywood, Thriller, B.O. $20.6 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13' for violence, criminality, sensuality and language, all involving teens.
Stars Justin Chatwin, Margarita Levieva, Marcia Gay Harden, Chris Marquette, Callum Keith Rennie.

Acrobatic camerawork, moody atmosphere, an inventive plot and buckets of teen angst are the highlights of writer-director-producer David S. Goyer's creepy, effective remake of the Swedish film Den Osynlige.

Goyer, who had a hand in the writing, producing and/or directing of stylish films such as Batman Begins, Dark City and the “Blade” movies, leaves his distinctive prints all over this film, which instantly sucks the viewer into a maze-like story that unfolds in wildly unpredictable directions.

Chatwin (War of the Worlds) stars as a moody, intellectual teenager who aspires to become a writer, enrolling in a British writing program against the wishes of his domineering, ice cold mother (Oscar winner Harden), but winds up the victim of a savage beating by uber mean girl Annie (Levieva), who suspects him of ratting on her. Caught in the netherworld between life and death, Nick has to race against time to both catch his killer and save his own life.

While The Invisible is, on the surface, a ghost story, it does not take much digging to find the exploration of adolescent alienation and the feeling of being misunderstood that is at the heart of the film.

The DVD includes 11 deleted scenes, most notably the “Creepy Old Man” sequence that was in the trailers but edited from the final cut of the film. — David Greenberg

Street 10/2
Arts Alliance America, Horror, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Kathryn Merry, Ernest Dancy, Joshua Macuga, Raine Brown.

First there was Leatherface; then came Jason with his infamous hockey mask. Now, here's the latest masked slasher incarnation, Plasterhead — a black former truck driver who hides in the backwoods of West Virginia, hunting the redneck locals who beat him within an inch of his life and left him for dead in a cornfield several years ago.

Just when the desolate town of Rolling Glen had attained a certain level of normalcy, its murderous past resurfaces when four college students on their way to Miami for winter break take one wrong turn they'll never forget.

The unwelcoming townspeople try to hurry the coeds along. Without enough gas to get to the next town, they end up hiding out in a secluded farmhouse, which happens to be in Plasterhead's backyard. Their presence is enough to drive the faceless monster out of hiding and rekindle his passion for bloody revenge. And this time, no one is safe from his wrath.

An official selection of the Atlanta Horror and Evil City film festivals, Plasterhead is a gritty take on classic slasher films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, which relied on good old-fashioned, low-tech blood and horror to terrify the audience (the upcoming Hatchet promises a similar premise).

But don't let the lackluster title keep you away; Plasterhead is a gory tale that is just as suspenseful as its predecessors. Its story is simple and the filmmakers go out of their way to create some unique, grotesque techniques of torture and murder. Plasterhead isn't your average chainsaw-wielding, gun-toting killer; he's a blood-thirsty slayer out for vengeance.

The film's young, energetic cast, which includes rising scream queen Brown, helps to keep the tension high, while the makeup and effects are remarkable for such a low-budget horror film. — Matt Miller

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