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Reviews: September 24

24 Sep, 2006 By: Home Media Reviews

Pride and Prejudice: 10th Anniversary Limited Collector's Edition
Street 9/26
A&E, Drama, $59.95 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Colin Firth, Jennifer Ehle.

A&E went all out for the 10th anniversary release of this beloved BBC miniseries, with gorgeous packaging and a new bonus disc of extras.

It's been a perennial seller for the supplier and deserved some sprucing up, especially with the recent Kiera Knightly remake, not to mention that every year brings a new crop of teenage girls ripe for the romance between Darcy and Lizzie.

The centerpiece for the extras is a new making-of documentary, which features interviews with producer Sue Birtwistle, composer Carl Davis and several of the main characters, though lead actors Firth (Darcy) and Ehle (Elizabeth) are missing.

Everyone's got behind-the-scenes stories and memories to share, and they are all charming and, in true British fashion, rather cheeky.

For some reason, English actors talking about English literature seem to have a special connection to the characters. Benjamin Whitrow, who played Mr. Bennet, filmed his interview footage sitting in front of a bookcase and, at one point, actually opened up and read from a copy of Jane Austen's novel to illustrate a point.

There's also a Biography Channel documentary on Austen, which is both entertaining and informative.

The included commemorative booklet — with interviews, production notes and gorgeous photos from the set — reiterates some of what is in the bonus documentary. But it goes further and will delight the Austen acolyte or the BBC/History Channel crowd. Jessica Wolf

An American Haunting
Prebook 9/27; Street 10/24
Lionsgate, Horror, B.O. $16.3 million, $28.98 DVD, ‘PG-13' and Unrated versions available.
Stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek.

American Haunting failed to scare up much box office this past May, but that doesn't mean it won't generate business this Halloween. The film is inspired by events that occurred between 1818 and 1820 in Tennessee, as chronicled by Brent Monahan's novel The Bell Witch: An American Haunting.

This frenetically paced film uses every trick in the book to tell the tale of the Bell Witch, the only documented case in the United States that acknowledges a death by supernatural forces. That this story is supposedly true makes the hauntings even more intriguing.

Sutherland and Spacey add dramatic depth to the back story. The film opens in the present day with the Bell Witch haunting the new owners of a home. Viewers are then taken back to 1818, and the origin story of this ghost is gradually unveiled. While the dramatic hauntings are straight out of various exorcism movies, there are some unique new elements thrown in. And these occurrences happen regularly, day and night, which makes for a non-stop action ride for the film's brisk 90 minutes.

Ultimately, the film reveals the real reasons for the hauntings, which connects the based-on-a-true story back story to the modern-day wrap-around story.

This film is filled with excellent acting and great camera tricks and special effects that effectively evoke the supernatural experience.

The noteworthy cast should appeal to an older audience, while the “based on true events” aspect of the tale is always a good enticement, especially at Halloween. — John Gaudiosi

What's on DVD?

  • Alternate and deleted scenes
  • Director's video commentary
  • Interview with Sissy Spacek by director Courtney Solomon

Caracas: Love Unto Death
Prebook 9/26; Street 10/24
TLA Releasing, Thriller, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Luis Fernández, Iván Tamayo, Eliana L?pez.

Grim, gritty, and unapologetically bleak, Caracas: Love Unto Death is a stylized, somewhat hyperbolic peak into the lives of the poor and luckless living in the Venezuelan capital's slums. With its concern for society's more extreme margins, and its tendency to revel in the pathos of its subjects, it calls to mind both Kassovitz' La Haine and even Scorsese's Mean Streets.

Although the film has somewhat of an omnibus plot, its moral and emotional center is Aixa. She's an aimless teen living with her grandmother in one of Caracas' huge Orwellian project houses.

When Aixa discovers she is pregnant, she is conflicted about her options and quickly becomes the center of a complex struggle to determine the future — if any — of her child.

Her boyfriend, Ramon, is a derelict and petty criminal forever on the run. He's completely incapable of providing for her. Nevertheless, he wants her to keep the baby. Aixa's grandmother, not wanting the teen to endure the same difficulties she did as a young mother, advises her not to.

Within the local community, a doctor and a priest also weigh in, the former willing to perform an abortion if necessary, the latter willing to die to prevent such an operation.

Occasionally turgid and overblown, owing to an unsubtle score and some regrettable slow-mo sequences that are meant to be dramatically significant (but aren't), Caracas is still a worthy freshman effort from co-writer and director Gustavo Balza. While crafting what might, on the surface, appear to be a rote expos? on slum life, Balza simultaneously explores the various conflicting angles of a moral dilemma in a way that is smart without being patronizing, and opinionated without being preachy. — Eddie Mullins

Body Double: Special Edition
Street 10/3
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $8.8 million, $19.94 DVD. ‘R.'
Stars Melanie Griffith, Craig Wasson.

Body Double is a salacious movie that pushed the envelope in its time and still offers some fine talent in a high-concept mystery.

The film garnered a best supporting actress Golden Globe nomination and National Society of Film Critics award for Griffith, the secret focal point of the film. But the film also got a Razzie nomination for Brian De Palma as worst director. Could that have been because of the over-the-top, through-the-floor power-augur murder scene?

The film has its moments, but never even tries to be believable. It's more of a voyeuristic satire, an illustration of the adage that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The neighbor's nightly striptease viewed from the window of an impossibly extravagant temporary home, the hero's claustrophobia — all a little too pat.

The movie's hipper-than-thou smugness comes across in the bonus featurettes, built entirely of interviews with De Palma and some of the players against clips from the film. It devolves into the kind of minutiae and praise that only filmmakers can appreciate.

Four featurettes are packaged separately, but are obviously sliced and diced from the same set of interviews. It's telling that the film's star, Wasson, is here only in clips from the film. Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton and Dennis Franz — a highlight in a bit part — join De Palma in talking about the movie.

In all, this is not bonus feature director Laurent Bouzereau's best work, but then again it seems he didn't have much to work with. History has treated the film more kindly than contemporary critics, but it's still more of a study of 1984 than an enduring classic. — Holly J. Wagner

American Blackout
Street 10/3
Disinformation, Documentary, $14.95 DVD, NR.

A lot of Americans still have questions about how votes were cast and counted in the past two elections, and American Blackout examines the events that gave rise to those concerns.

The documentary hopes to show the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters in America, and makes some valid points about election and racial politics. It also traces the campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney and her comeback campaign in the following election cycle.

It's hard not to believe something was amiss when some of the interviews in the film are with Republican strategists gloating about their “Anyone But Cynthia!” campaign, and how they forced McKinney out in 2002 by getting Republicans to fragment the Democratic vote in Georgia's open primaries.

The film also paints a picture of character assassination against McKinney, stemming from her vocal opposition to the Iraq war and how it's being waged. While it does draw the line from African-American voters to Democratic votes, the movie might reach more people if the focus worked back from party to race, instead of from race to party affiliation.

It's the kind of film that will strengthen the beliefs of both believers and their political opponents, who contend all is well with American elections. And that may be its greatest strength: putting the issue before the public in an election year and, hopefully, raising the level of debate.

In the run-up to this year's elections, lots of people will be interested in the electoral process. This release has timing and timeliness on its side. — Holly J. Wagner

Going Back
Prebook 9/27; Street 10/17
Bifrost, Drama, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Bruce Campbell, Christopher Howe.

Before Bruce Campbell became a cult hero of the horror genre, he made a friendly, quiet character drama that relied more on compassion and nostalgia than the evil dead to entice film viewers.

The little-seen 1984 film Going Back has never been released on DVD until now. It's the story of two buddies in northern Michigan in 1964 who take a hitchhiking road trip before their first year of college. In a small farm town, they meet a lonely old handyman who invites the boys to stay on his property.

The boys enjoy a quiet, reflective summer, meeting new friends and enjoying their first extended time away from home. One of the boys falls in love with a local girl.

The summer passes, and the boys return home. We next see them four years later, when they return to the small town and find that much has changed.

Blending a coming-of-age story with talk of 1960s cultural changes happening far away, the film uses realistic dialogue and genuine feelings more so than big-event drama to make its points about time passing.

Extras include a feature-length audio commentary with Campbell. There also is commentary from director Ron Teachworth, a making-of featurette and the original promotional trailer. These elements serve to elevate the nostalgia level.

Going Back is an opportunity for Campbell fans to see what their hero did immediately after filming The Evil Dead. Cinematographer John Prusak went on to do the same job for Michigan native Michael Moore in his breakthrough documentary, Roger & Me. — Dan Bennett

Street 10/3
Anchor Bay, Horror, $19.98 DVD, ‘R' for monster violence and gore, language and some nudity.
Stars Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, Paul Gleason.

Abominable is a pleasantly surprising low-budget movie that brings the legend of Bigfoot to life with effective tension.

The setup blends elements of Rear Window with a classic slasher flick, although the slasher in this case is a sasquatch that kills every human it encounters.

McCoy plays a paraplegic who, after a mountain-climbing accident, lives in a home in the mountains, watching the girls next door through binoculars as they are terrorized and devoured by Bigfoot.

Sci-fi fans won't get to enjoy much of veterans Henriksen (Aliens) or Combs (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”). It's fun to watch them on screen, but it would have been nice to see them get more screen time with an expanded side story.

Writer and director Ryan Schifrin has added a shower scene and some additional gore to spice up this ‘R'-rated version of the made-for-TV movie. The film moves swiftly and manages to keep its tension, even when the monster looks like a guy in a suit.

Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman are legends everyone is familiar with, which bodes well for this movie. The number of recognizable faces in the cast also helps. The film marks one of the last roles of The Breakfast Club's Gleason, who died this past May. — John Gaudiosi

What's on DVD?

  • Commentary with Schifrin, McCoy and Combs
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • Outtakes and bloopers
  • Making-of featurette
  • Poster and still gallery
  • Storyboard gallery
  • DVD-ROM screenplay
  • Shadows, Schifrin's USC student film

The Covenant: Brotherhood of Evil
Street 10/3
Allumination, Horror, $29.98 DVD, Rating Pending.
Stars Edward Furlong, Michael Madsen, Chandra West.

Not to be confused with the current theatrical release The Covenant — or maybe the producers are hoping to drum up some business from mistaken customers — this film was originally called Canes because walking sticks figure prominently in the plot.

In fact, the ability to create really cool CGI animated canes might have even inspired the producers to come up with a story that would feature their new invention in a central role. If they had merely wanted to spin a yarn about good, evil and the fate of one man's soul, they probably could have come up with a story that did not rely on such an odd device.

The years have not been kind to Furlong (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) who, sickly looking and appearing uncomfortable in his ill-fitting wardrobe, appears as David Goodman, a hotshot political media strategist whose great life crashes down when he is blinded in an attack by a mysterious assailant. Like many people who have suffered a sudden life-changing event that leaves them handicapped, Goodman is desperate for anything that could magically return him to his previous state.

The enigmatic Guillermo List (Madsen, sporting quite possibly the worst facial hair in movie history) offers to restore Goodman's sight in exchange for becoming an agent of the Devil and using a magic cane.

For such an apparently modestly budgeted film, the special effects are uniformly of high quality, despite the lackluster story.

The cast is well known and Furlong, coming off The Crow: Wicked Prayer, is making a habit of these Halloween-timed releases. Good vs. evil in the context of religious-themed horror films also have their niche. — David Greenberg

ThingamaKid: Toddler Toons/Action Bible Toons
Street 9/26
ThingamaKid, Animated, $9.99 DVD each, NR.

These two programs resemble MTV for the 3-and-younger set. Familiar childhood songs are sung by brightly colored, simply animated characters in what amounts to preschool music videos.

Both discs include a karaoke function that provides “follow the bouncing ball” words that can help promote word recognition and literacy among very young children.

Toddler Toons features animated videos of many of childhood's most familiar songs, including “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “This Old Man,” “Eensy, Weensy Spider” and “Old MacDonald.” There also are interstitial animations that promote counting, shape-recognition and color-recognition.

Action Bible Toons uses the same approach with the most familiar songs from Sunday School, all of which touch on well-known Bible stories. Songs include “Rise and Shine,” “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” and “Peter, James and John in a Sailboat.” Interstitial segments include an animation that illustrates a proverb from Isaiah, and a clip that helps children learn some basic, rhyming prayers.

These programs are appropriate for toddlers and are optimally suited for 2- and 3-year-olds. The animation is uncomplicated and vivid, without shading or subtlety, like a basic picture book come to life; young children will feel comfortable with the style.

The karaoke function allows children to either sing along with the existing soundtrack or sing, following the words, without the soundtrack. All of the songs are included in both English- and Spanish-language versions.

Small children love familiar songs and stories and these discs capitalize on that love. Although 4- and 5-year-olds may balk at the very simple style, their younger siblings will enjoy the programs very much. — Anne Sherber

QUICK TAKE: Coonskin Cap Not Included
Having perfected the role of the frontier hero in Disney's “Davy Crockett” series of movies and television specials in the 1950s, Fess Parker was a natural choice to play the title character in NBC's “Daniel Boone” series in the 1960s.

So iconic was Parker in Crockett's coonskin cap that the feature was kept for “Boone,” though there is no evidence the historic character ever wore one.

Now, fans of the classic adventure series who might feel nostalgic for a bygone era of entertainment can share those memories with a new generation, thanks to Goldhil and Liberation Entertainment's Sept. 26 release of the first two seasons of “Daniel Boone” ($49.98 each eight-DVD set).

The governor of Kentucky recently issued a proclamation celebrating the DVD release and Boone's place in history. In addition to a total of 57 episodes, the sets include commentaries, new interviews, photo galleries and other featurettes. John Latchem

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