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Monday, Dec 11, 2006


Slim, slim pickings this week. Unlike other release dates this holiday season, it’s mostly pointless past flops, lots of repackaged TV series, and just a couple of commendable titles on tap to turn your gift-giving head. Believe it or not, it was hard to find seven movies worth mentioning this week, what with all the reissues, double dips, and peculiar pairings. Things pick up a little next week – the last Tuesday before that jolly old elf makes with the philanthropic all nighter – but its clear that most of the good stuff, DVD wise, has already hit the teeming marketplace. Perhaps the best advice we here at SE&L can give you is to go back over past versions of “Who’s Minding the Store”, break out the pen and ink, and make your own list of what titles are naughty, and those that would be nice, especially sitting under the delightfully decorated artificial tree. If you’re still concerned about what awaits your slowly deteriorating dollars this 12 December, here’s the lean loot available:


Barnyard: The Original Party Animals

For starters – what’s up with the udders? Male cows do not have such suckling items, and their inclusion marks just how completely clueless this stale CGI mess really is. The product of the mangled mind of one Steve Oedekerk (responsible for the repugnant Kung Pow: Enter the Fist and those routinely dumb Thumb parodies), this lazy look at farm critters “after dark” is stylistically reminiscent of the man’s other computer generated venture – the far superior Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. What gets lost here amongst all the stunt casting, pop culture referencing rot is anything that would make this 3D effort stand out from the dozens of derivative efforts that seem to arrive in theaters every other month. While extremely young kids might find something to like – or nap over - during the film’s overlong 90 minute running time, adults will groan at yet another example of a newfound artform cannibalizing itself.



The Chronicles of Narnia: Extended Edition


As if the initial release wasn’t bad enough. When it arrived in theaters last year, Narnia did everything it could to poise itself as the next Lord of the Rings. Sadly, except for truly dedicated fans of the C. S. Lewis serial, the response was more tepid than titanic. Still, a sequel is in the works, and now, in full Peter Jackson form, Disney is dropping a holiday-timed “extended edition” of the film, complete with added footage and a ton of supplementary content. Does this make the otherwise earnest epic any better? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Can Disney count on a LOTR‘s like return on their digital investment? Oddly enough, the answer is probably yes. Fans love to look at differing versions of a favorite title, while the uninitiated may use such an opportunity to finally seek out this effort. Either way, DVDs will be flying off shelves, and for the House of Mouse, the bottom line is all that really matters (see below).


 


PopMatters Review


The Devil Wears Prada

*
It was Summer 2006’s most unlikely blockbuster, a satiric character comedy that put lots of repeat business butts in the seats week in and week out. While other major releases had their three days (or less) in the sun before slowly slinking off into that promotional abyss known as quick turnaround land, this adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s book had the acting chops to hold out and hang on. Part of Devil‘s success sits directly on the relationship between Anne Hathaway’s Andy Sachs and the magnificent Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. Anyone who thought this was pure chick flick territory obviously didn’t know the story’s underpinnings, and while much of the movie is a coming to terms between a New York neophyte and a big shot bitter design magazine diva, there is much more here than heart and chutzpah. Thanks to the perfect performances, and David Frankel’s nuanced direction, what appeared rather obvious actually ended up being very multifaceted and multi-layered.



PopMatters Review


The Doors: 15th Anniversary Edition

*
It was an incredibly odd project for director Oliver Stone. In between the antiwar vitriol of Born on the Fourth of July (which won the filmmaker his second Academy Award) and the monumental conspiracy theory screed of that epic masterpiece known as JFK, the controversial artist took on the story of one of rock’s most enigmatic offerings. With the inspired casting of Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison – he maintains the perfect combination of animal magnetism and self-destruction insensitivity – and Stone’s typical way with historic recreation, the late ‘60s on the Sunset Strip come to vivid, visionary life. No one except for Scorsese and Tarantino handles music as well as Stone, and the recreations of famous moments in the Doors’ legacy are superb. Only Meg Ryan sticks out as a far too post-modern mate for Morrison. Otherwise, this is a lost gem from a director who seems destined to constantly create same.



The Fox and the Hound 2
As mentioned before, Uncle Walt’s world definitely understands how to market its mythos – mostly to its own detriment. Recognized by many animation lovers as low rent cartooning to begin with, the original Fox and the Hound didn’t really require any more attention other than the dismal box office and middling home video viability it managed. Never one to pass by a chance to cash in on someone’s love of their legacy however, the Mickey merchandising machine has churned out yet another unnecessary sequel, a lamentable effort poised to join other dreary double dips like Return to Neverland and Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp’s Adventure. That collective groan you hear is the united consumer consciousness turning off to these obvious money making ploys. The other noise you’ll recognize – it’s parents ponying up for another digital babysitter for their entertainment starved wee ones.



Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby*
It’s funny…at one point in time, it looked like this film would be best remembered for its numbskulled NASCAR humor only (talk about shooting redneck fish in a barrel). Then a little film named Borat hit movie theaters, and suddenly everyone remembered that Sacha Baron Cohen also appeared here as the French racecar driver Jean Girard. Now, that’s all you see in the ads hyping the DVD release – star Will Ferrell and Cohen going toe to toe, trading trackside insults. While this second tier comedy from a fourth level SNLer was winning enough for most, it is clear that those in publicity recognized that a little Kazakhstan karma never hurt anyone. Oddly enough, as Cohen’s star is rising, Farrell failed to capture a comparative audience for his recent semi-serious outing, Stranger than Fiction. Even if his fans argue that such subtlety is not the comedian’s funny business forte, it’s possible that this may be Ferrell’s last legitimate hit for quite some time.


PopMatters Review


World Trade Center: Two Disc Commemorative Edition*
It’s so strange to think that this movie was made by the same man described in the Doors’ discussion above. For decades, Oliver Stone has been an aggressive agent provocateur, not a flag-waving jingoist. Yet here he is, the man responsible for calling into question almost every political power within the last three decades doing a nice, noble job of telling the true story of two Port Authority police officers during 9/11. In Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena, Stone found two actors capable of carrying off their scenes while buried under tons of art department rubble, and the initial scenes of the terrorist attack, all suggestion and subtle shifts in personnel and perspective, are expertly done. Towards the end, when the trapped men’s families start freaking out, the movie looses a little of its bearing, but overall, Stone taps into the national nightmare of that fateful day, and delivers a devastating drama.



PopMatters Review


And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to “Who’s Minding the Store”, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 5 December:


Babette/ Monique, My Love*
There is something incredibly surreal about smut when it tries to be serious. And no one understood the oddity of earnest Eros better than Roberta Findlay. While her husband concentrated on his perverted slasher storylines, movies mixing sexiness with sadism in ever harsher helpings, the Missus made softcore sagas involving women discovering their long lost inner lesbian. Both Babette and Monique feature Linda Boyce as an overly verbose narrator explaining – and exposing – the seedy underworld of New York’s numerous secret societies. Thanks to incredibly arcane descriptions that would have gloomy Goth girl poets blushing from an overabundance of flowery prose pleasantries, and your standard late ‘60s selection of barmaids, hippies and artist models, what we end up with is a men’s magazine come to life. If you like your fake fornication brazen, bawdy, and in black and white, this December release from Something Weird Video will definitely stir your subdued Sapphic sentiments.


 


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Monday, Dec 4, 2006


Wallet worn out yet? Credit card crying “Uncle” under the strain of your increasing personal penury? Well, too friggin’ bad! Tinsel Town is not done delivering potential materialistic mandates for your ever-growing list of compulsory consumer purchases. After all, with a pair of the summer’s biggest titles just now hitting B&M shelves (and many more on the way before 25 December) and a non-stop barrage of catalog and reissue content, your cash is guaranteed to be strapped for weeks to come. Hoping you believe in the otherwise noble sentiment that ‘giving is better than getting’, marketers are making it harder and harder to avoid the digital domain as a potential gift category. Even when the titles are less than tantalizing, the presentation and packaging can boost a forgettable effort into a full-blown blind buy. Here’s something to ponder, however. If it really is the thought that counts, what does it say about you when a loved one unwraps the collector’s edition of Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. You better have your excuses ready in advance. The other choices chasing your checkbook this 5 December include:


1900: Special Collector’s Edition

*
Bernardo Bertolucci’s follow-up to his international hit Last Tango in Paris turned out to be a five hour and eighteen minute epic spanning 45 years in a small Italian town. Centering on the rise of fascism and the role communism played within the populace, the Mediterranean maestro cast Frenchman Gerard Depardieu and American Robert DeNiro as his heroes and filled with screen with images both beautiful and baneful. Some of the content pushed the limits previously set by Tango even further, and to this day, several sequences involving young boys have never been shown in the United States. While more than a few film fans find it all rather rough going – it is a very long 318 minutes – there is no denying Bertolucci’s connection to the material – or his inherent artistry.



Grey Gardens/ The Beales of Grey Gardens: Criterion Collection

*
Documentaries don’t get more spellbinding than this look at wealth in decay and the lives of two women, both lost within their own insular universe of privilege and pain. Brothers Albert and David Maysles struck subject matter gold when they discovered Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale (cousins of famed First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) living in reclusive squalor in the title estate on the Hamptons. Eager for the attention they once held as members of high society, the pair were happy to “perform” for the directors, letting down their guard just enough to see the substantial sadness inside. The 1975 masterpiece is now supplemented with an amazing contemporary companion piece, arguing for the timelessness of both the Maysles moviemaking prowess and the Beale’s quiet desperation.



PopMatters Review


How to Eat Fried Worms


Based on Tom Rockwell’s classic kids novel, this story of bullies belittled and invertebrate guts digested should have been a fun family classic. But somewhere along the line, director Bob Dolman (whose only other credit, 2002’s The Banger Sisters, does not bode well for his filmmaking acumen) loses the lessons and overdoes the gross outs. Granted, in this post-millennial maelstrom of mixed juvenile messages – parents push safety while allowing questionable content to guide their wee ones – such an entertainment approach may be defendable. But silliness always needs to be balanced with substance, less the whole endeavor grow unruly. Dolman does have a good eye for underage talent, and there will be certain kids who could care less about a message. They’ll just want more of the sticky, slimy stuff. For them, the title tutorial will be sickeningly satisfying.



PopMatters Review


Idlewild


As Big Boi and Andre 3000 of Outkast went from multi-platinum recording sensations to disgruntled bandmates on the brink of imploding, the announcement that their next effort would be an old fashioned movie musical sent many of their fans reeling. How would these hip hop heavies, responsible for reinventing the genre with their style defying indifference to the rules, actually match up against the song and dance classics of Hollywood’s Golden era? The answer was…confusing. Idlewild‘s over the top flights of fancy, loaded with visual finesse and pop art poetry lacked the cohesive narrative that drives most song and dance showcases, and the aural element provided by the duo definitely lacks the sonic internalizing of a Broadway effort. But writer/director Bryan Barber, creator of many of the group’s classic videos, proves himself a fine filmmaker. He saves something that otherwise feels slightly self-indulgent.


 


PopMatters Review


Miami Vice*
It was an interesting idea on the part of writer/director Michael Mann: take his seminal TV series that seemed to define the ‘80s and strip it of every last iconic element. Then mix in heavy doses of star power (in the form of Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx), modern technology (cellphones, laptops) and illustrate the new 21st century version of the undying drug trade. The results should be realism reinvigorated. The only factor he left out was the fun. This is a deadly serious, almost expressionistic thriller, a movie where tone takes precedent over almost everything else on the big wide screen. Filmed in digital video for that Collateral-like look, and loaded with breathtaking imagery, there’s no denying that Mann has a flare for the epic. Sadly, the rest of the movie feels underdeveloped and superficial.



PopMatters Review


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest*
It’s hard to fathom why critics ganged up on this wonderful follow-up to the original seafaring adventure. It had so much more of everything that made the first movie great – more Johnny Depp, more insanely inventive villains, more tantalizing thespian eye candy (Mr. Bloom for the gals, Ms. Knightly for the guys). Still, reviewers treated it as some reprehensible pretender to the scallywag throne, condemning it to walk the pedestrian plank. We here at SE&L couldn’t disagree more. For us, this second portion of POTC is the reason why we anticipate the summer season year in and year out. It perfectly encompasses the best that blockbusters have to offer especially in this overly ironic age. Is it overlong, narratively convenient and piled high with occasionally contradictory concepts? Absolutely – and we wouldn’t want it any other way.


PopMatters Review


Pulse (2006)
Signaling the exact moment when the J-horror fad died in America, this reimagining of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2002 masterpiece Kairo forgets the first rule of any adaptation – try to keep what made the original so compelling in the first place. Instead, screenwriters Ray Wright and Wes Craven give filmmaking novice Jim Sonzero very little to work with outside the standard “technology is evil” idea (a minor part of Kurosawa’s creative conceit). Filmed in a manner that desaturates all the colors out of what is already a dour setting, this is the motion picture equivalent of mildew. Instead of mimicking the first film’s snowball approach, where small moments gather and build toward an apocalyptic ending avalanche, we get typical teens trapped in a sloppy spook show. While it can be visually arresting, Pulse pales in comparison to its source.



PopMatters Review


And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 5 December:


Bleak Future*
As a standard maxim, certain cinematic elements just don’t mix. Perhaps the most obvious example is any attempt at mixing science fiction with comedy. It’s like oil and water. Luckily, Brian S. O’Malley never listened to this routine rule of thumb. If he had, we wouldn’t be blessed with the remarkably engaging, absolutely hilarious end of the world insanity known as Bleak Future. Like George Miller mashed with Peter Jackson, this satirical shape of things to come is simultaneously smart and stupid, realistic and retarded, inspired and insipid, wholly original and a complete and utter rip off. It is also one of the oddest, most endearing entertainments to come out of the outsider arena in quite a while. It’s a gangly geek fest just waiting for the right collection of nerf herders to embrace its cool cult craziness.


 


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Monday, Nov 27, 2006


It’s coming down to the wire, people. Christmas - or for those of a multi-cultural or diversity-oriented persuasion, winter holiday gift giving time – is just around the corner. Time to shore up your purchases, recalibrate your shopping list, and make that final push toward providing your loved ones with the materialistic means of showing how much you love them. The summer of 2006 continues to come home to roost, with four of the presented picks representing the best, the worst, and the least of the sunny season’s selections. For SE&L‘s scratch, nothing beats a double dose of Silent Bob’s brand of intellectualized idiocy (including a second serving of the man’s manic lecture series) and Criterion comes calling again with another mandatory motion picture for fans of pre-sound cinema. Still, there is a lot to look into this week, including numerous box sets and collections – none perhaps as intriguing as the Ultimate Collector’s Edition compendium of Krypton’s favorite son. All five feature films, an earlier George Reeves effort, 14 discs, a documentary and a chance to see Richard Donner’s original version of Superman II. For purists and completists, it’s a treasure trove of material. For everyone else, the optional offerings clamoring for your credit card on 28 November are:


The Ant Bully


In CGI’s continuing effort to eat itself whole, yet another summer flop arrives on DVD, just in time to give your bitmap weary children another reason to whine aimlessly when you visit the nearest video store. Though its premise sounds perfectly potty – a group of insects miniaturize a young boy to teach him a lesson in responsibility and consideration – many critics complimented the film on its imagination and narrative invention. Still, the same stagnant issues that are destroying the animation category are abundant here – silly stunt casting (Julia Roberts, Nicholas Cage), far too many pop culture references, a hyperstylized approach to keeping the frame full of activity - and with the recently released Pixar prize Cars poised for rediscovery, this may be a title best left for a rental, not a purchase.



PopMatters Review


Clerks II

*
One of 2006’s best finally bows on DVD, and it still shocks SE&L that more film fans aren’t salivating over Kevin Smith’s superb sequel. For anyone who thinks this is just more of the original’s intellectually realized dialogue laced with lewd and crude gross out humor – well, you may have a point. But the truth is, Smith has something significant to say about aging and expectations here, and he does so in a way that resonates long after the donkey show jokes and the profanity peppered tirades. Besides, Clerks II contains one of the most uplifting moments of the entire year – a sensational sequence where series newcomer Rosario Dawson leads the gang in a glorious celebration of life set to the Jackson 5’s “ABC”.



PopMatters Review


Monster in a Box

*
Before his untimely death by suicide in 2004, Spalding Gray was seen as an iconic, idiosyncratic performance artist who worked wonderfully within the lost art of communication. A monologist by trade, and an actor on the side, he first came to the fore with his brilliant deconstruction of life, Swimming to Cambodia. This follow-up, focusing on his attempts to write a novel and deal with the memories of his mentally unsound mother, is a little less focused, but just as powerful. Perhaps the most shocking thing, in retrospect, about this presentation is how sound and secure Gray appeared to be. Who knew that the same demons driving him to masterful expressions and considerations of existence were also leading down a path of eventual self-destruction. His is a voice that is truly missed.



Pandora’s Box: The Criterion Collection

*
Criterion uncovers yet another gem with the release of this legendary Louis Brooks vehicle. The tragic story of a prostitute and performer named Lulu, this is the film that made Miss Brooks a star, and the toast of the jumping jive jazz age. Director Georg Wilhelm Pabst combined his acclaimed insight into actors with the inherent artistry of German Expressionism to forge an epic dissection of the human spirit. With many of Hollywood’s silent stars forgotten or forced into post-modern pigeonholes, it’s important for preservationists like Criterion to keep their true memory alive. And nothing guarantees immortality better than a perfect DVD package providing the proper balance between entertainment and context. As they do with all their products, Criterion proves the possibilities – and the pleasures – that can be achieved within the digital medium.


 


See No Evil
Be warned – though it may seem like every other horror film from the ‘70s is being remade today, this is not a new version of the 1971 shocker starring Mia Farrow as a hapless blind woman being stalked by a deranged psychopath. No, this is further proof that WW(F)E founder Vince McMahon has too much disposable cash on hand. Having proven that people will watch just about anything with his seemingly never-ending homoerotic grapple-a-thon, otherwise known as professional wrestling, he’s now trying to apply his demographically deft touch to making movies, in this case, subpar slasher efforts. Featuring singlet superstar Kane as the resident evil of a rotting hotel and a group of interchangeable Hollywood hopefuls as the delinquents sentenced to clean the place (and play victims), neither hi-jinx, nor horror, ensues.



PopMatters Review


Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut*
Decades from now, when DVD is remembered fondly as the medium which introduced the notion of “alternate versions” as viable motion picture marketability, a disc like this one will be the historical precedent. Many fans of the series were unaware that Donner, the original director of the Christopher Reeve Superman, was hired to helm TWO films. Created concurrently, the filmmaker was later dropped by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind who, apparently, objected to his fiscal freewheeling. Salkind friend Richard Lester was brought in to complete the project, even though Donner had shot over 75% of the sequel. For ages, the “Donner Version” was more or less an urban legend. Now, with Warners Brothers’ full permission, the fired filmmaker gets a chance to have his original vision seen by the viewing public. Talk about your digital redemptions.


Superman Returns*
This post-millennial update by the shockingly overrated Bryan Singer has two strikes against it going in – it decides to follow-up on events derived directly from Richard Donner’s original film, and it features an abysmally out of place Kate Bosworth as the lamest Lois Lane in history. Surprisingly, Brandon Routh makes an excellent Man of Steel. While a little young (the entire cast suffers from some surreal age issues throughout), he is commanding and compassionate, the perfect superhero for an era undecided on the whole “truth, justice and the American way” of doing things. While the action sequences are sensational – especially a mid-air rescue of a crashing space shuttle - the quieter moments between our champion, his ex-flame, and their ‘married with children’ complications just don’t work. Singer’s signed up for a sequel. Here’s hoping he keeps the pizzazz and ditches the personal.



And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 28 November:


A Polish Vampire in Burbank*
For a long time, Marc Piro’s 1985 home movie got by on its terrifically tacky title alone. Consumers craving something unusual during their weekly trip to the Mom and Pop consistently rented this retardation based on its nifty name along. Little did they know they were headed toward an evening in the company of a crappy Super 8mm spoof. Granted, this is a Hell of a lot better than Mel Brooks’ completely awful vampire vileness, 1985’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It, but neither is a match for 1974’s Vampira, which was later re-labeled Old Dracula to trade on the Borsht Belt comedian’s classic Young Frankenstein. In any case, Piro plays a reluctant neckbiter who falls for his first victim. Featuring a ‘queerwolf” and gratuitous Eddie Deezan this is either a classic, or crap, depending on your bad movie acumen.


 


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Monday, Nov 20, 2006


This week starts the hit or miss hodge podge that seems to signal the start of true holiday splurge spending. While you won’t see sunlight-lacking losers camping out to get any of these new releases, here’s SE&L‘s guarantee that at least a couple of the titles will be around a lot longer than some bug-filled video gaming fad gadget. So while you’re waiting for your Wii or wondering why you stood in line for 72 hours just to get another Sony product that requires tech support moments after it’s unwrapped, perhaps the purchase of a new digital product or two will cure that nagging buyer’s remorse. Criterion provides yet another stellar example of fine foreign filmmaking, and a former Presidential candidate argues for a more environmentally friendly approach to our destructive self-centered lifestyle (guess he’s happy about all that Styrofoam and cardboard packaging heading toward municipal landfills nationwide, huh?). Granted, there’s another example of microprocessor mediocrity posing as animation, and a couple of clunky comedies on tap, so beware. Specifically, the slapdash collection of titles for 21 November include:


The Double Life of Veronique: Criterion Collection

*
After his epic TV series based on the Ten Commandments (1989’s Dekalog), Polish director Krsysztof Kieslowski was looking for another way to explore spirituality and its place in the world. He decided to craft a complex exploration of duality and parallelism featuring two identical women living similar lives in different parts of the planet. Veronique/Weronika both have magical singing voices. They are also both burdened with a biological birth defect that eventually turns fatal. What follows is a mysterious meditation on the connectivity between human beings and the possibility of unlinked lives still being inseparable and intertwined. Though he followed up this film with his remarkable Red/Blue/White trilogy, many consider this to be Kieslowski’s crowning achievement. Criterion obviously believes so, considering the solid special edition treatment it gives the title.



H6: Diary of a Serial Killer

Here’s an unusual twist on the whole insane spree killer genre – a Spanish style Psycho. Antonio inherits a hotel from an unknown relative, and decides to use the place to “purify” his guests. Many critics call what follows a hacienda Hostel, with excessive bloodletting and vivisected body parts taking the place of cinematic subtlety and character development. First time director Martín Garrido Barón obviously believes that imitation is the sincerest form of cinematic flattery since he patently rips off several better known horror films. Gorehounds may groove on all the excess vein vodka tossed at the camera, and some may cotton to the overall atmosphere of dread, depravity and darkness. Still, this is a very one note nod to the worst parts of post-modern macabre.



Ice Age: The Meltdown

Just what sugared-up kids, already cranky over the impending holidays, need – more of Fox’s famously fussy (and unfunny) CGI candy. When we last left the characters in this quasi-clever take on prehistory, Manfred, Sid and Diego had just delivered the Eskimo brat to his beleaguered parents and all was right with the frozen tundra. This time around, the ice is melting and a massive wall of water is threatening the indigenous anthropomorphic population. Under-age aimed hi-jinx supposedly ensue. Responsible for the rash of clever creatures with famous voices phase of 3-D animation, Fox must feel really good about the bountiful box office receipts each installment of this franchise creates (yep – Part Three is on the way). But good cash flow does not a classic make. Instead, this is more of the same crude, crass commercialism that is more or less destroying the entire cartoon category.



An Inconvenient Truth

*
All jokes about former Vice President Al Gore, big screen idol aside (Futurama already confirmed his star power, after all) this intriguing documentary – really nothing more than Gore’s multimedia lecture presentation fleshed out for film – is a wake-up call for anyone on the fence about global warming. Showing how hurricanes like Katrina will become the norm, not the aberration, in coming years, as well as arguing for the flooding of major US cities should the polar ice caps continue to melt, this may be the most frightening cinematic experience of the year.  The scariest thing, of course, is that it all is scientifically provable. Argue over the man’s previous record as a member of Clinton’s clan, or challenge his way with words, but the plain fact is we humans are killing the planet in the name of our own sense of entitlement. It’s a thought that makes the title even more apropos.


 


A Miracle on 34th Street: Special Edition*
Hold up – don’t worry. This isn’t the irritating John Hughes remake from 1994, or the baffling TV version featuring David Hartman and Sebastian Cabot from the mid-‘70s. No siree, this is it – the resplendent real deal. Perhaps one of the best holiday films of all time, the original Miracle mixes the magic of the holiday season with the cynicism already creeping into the cultural mindset to create a classic comic entertainment. Edmund Gwenn is so convincing as the mystery man who professes to being the real Santa that he’ll even have you believing in his benevolent bowl full of jelly-ness. Thankfully, Oscar acknowledged his efforts with a much deserved Best Supporting Actor trophy. The rest of the cast ain’t too shabby either – especially little Natalie Wood as the precious little pessimist that eventually melts under St. Nick’s spell.



Scoop
When Match Point came out last year, you could hear Woody Allen fans worldwide exhale, releasing a significant sigh of relief. After a string of subpar films (Hollywood Ending, Melinda and Melinda, etc.) he seemed to have turned the corner and was back making important motion pictures again. Unfortunately, Scoop indicates that it may be time to take that deep breath back. Even with an amazing pair of leads (humans beings don’t get anymore attractive than Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson) and the familiar Allen setting of a murder mystery, the frequently inconsistent auteur created another creaky, stilted effort. Some fear that Allen, now in his fifth decade of filmmaking, has lost his artistic edge. Others feel that his “one film a year” schedule is responsible for his slumps. Whatever the case, there’s no need to stop the presses over this lame effort.


PopMatters Review


You, Me and Dupree
If there were such a thing as crudeness copyright infringement, the Farrelly Brothers would be up to their necks in proactive litigation right about now. Still milking the There’s Something About Mary school of basic bodily humor, the siblings Russo (Joe and Anthony) use the overdone concepts of non-erotic male bonding and arrested development to create another crass, humorless entry in the worn-out ‘wild and crazy guy’ cinematic sub-category. Heck, even Mary‘s Matt Dillion is along for the redundant ride. Instead of finding inventive ways to have title slacker Dupree interact with his old buddy (Dillion) and his newlywed wife (the completely lost Kate Hudson), the Russo’s rely on cliché and formula to find the funny. All they manage to uncover is the continuing funeral march that is the sound of big screen wit in creative freefall.



And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 21 November:


Grand Theft Auto: Tricked Out Edition*
Desperate to break into directing after years as a well-considered child star, little Ronny Howard struck a deal with Indie icon Roger Corman. If he starred in the producer’s car wreck actioner Eat My Dust, the mogul would give the kid a chance behind the camera. The result was a sequel of sorts, the vehicular quickie Grand Theft Auto. Typical of the mid-‘70s drive-in diversions that relied on stunts more than story to draw heavy petters to the passion pits, Howard actually showed some inventive cinematic style here, experimenting with shot selection and scene length to keep his narrative on maximum overdrive. While he’s now earned an Oscar and some critical kudos for his big budget Hollywood histrionics, GTA will always be a favored starting point. And this new DVD even features a Corman/Howard commentary – how cool is that?



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Monday, Nov 13, 2006


It should, perhaps, be added to the list of the certain signs of seasonal change: days getting shorter; leaves turning colors and finally falling; DVD companies retrofitting previous releases and turning them into those dreaded double dip “special editions”. This week at the old B&M, the vast majority of the pickings are pimped out titles that have already been available on the digital domain in standard, sell-through form. But with the holiday buying avalanche just a few short shopping days away, studios sense a need to positively position themselves with potential gift givers – and in their mind, the best way to do that is slap on some heretofore unavailable extras on an already desirable disc. There are still a few interesting first time efforts out there, including a weird sci-fi experiment from one of cinema’s more daring auteurs, and a mediocre thriller based on one of the biggest bestsellers of all time. Still, if you need to know what happens in the extra 13 minutes added into Peter Jackson’s already elephantine remake of a known great ape classic, or what Chan-wook Park thinks of the attention his seminal revenge flick received around the world, then the second times the added content charm. In general, the possible rewards desperate for your dosh on 14 November are:


49 Up

*
The latest installment in Michael Apted’s brilliant five decades old documentary series proves that a good idea can survive shifts in personal and cultural climes to make a universal statement about the real nature of human beings. Some suggest that class and privilege have as much to do with the shocking individual transformations as inner elements like drive and determination, and of course they have a point. But this also doesn’t explain away the effect that years have on hopes, dreams, and perspective. One of the most telling attributes of all the Up films is highlighting how that age old missive “don’t dream it, be it” really doesn’t apply. Resolve can only take you so far, especially when a camera comes along every seven years and measures out your progress. With 12 of the 14 original subjects still participating, and middle age ebbing toward the twilight years, it will be interesting to see where 56 finds the cast. The paths seem awful dark right about now.



The Da Vinci Code: 2 Disc Special Edition

There are those who defend this dull, derivative cat and mouse mess as a fairly faithful adaptation of Dan Brown’s religion tweaking title. But in SE&L‘s opinion, that’s like arguing that a perfume that accurately recreates the smell of dog feces is aesthetically successful. Thanks to Ron Howard’s routine, journeyman direction, Akiva Goldsman’s atrocity of a script (someone, please stop this man before he scribes again) and the complete lack of capable characterization from leads Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, what could have been a capable thriller with a scandalous secret at the center became a vapid visualization of an already ponderous pulp novel. Let’s face it – any movie that must resort to using the excellent Ian McKellan as a guest lecturer on the obvious expositional elements of the plot is gasping for every last entertainment breath. Toss in the staid action scenes, the lack of any real surprise (the heralded “twist” was talked to death before the film even opened) and you’ve got a major misfire. For devotees and the self-flagellating only.



PopMatters Review


Forbidden Planet: 2 Disc Special Edition

*
Poised precariously between sci-fi and silliness, this imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is often considered one of speculative fiction’s cinematic classics. Featuring a stellar old school cast – Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Richard Anderson and Earl Holliman – and the still impressive presence of one Robbie the Robot, the narrative weight given the project by director Fred Wilcox more than makes up for the limited success of the ‘50s era effects. Besides, the fabulous set designs and inventive electronic musical score helps sell the otherworldly elements exceptionally well. While previous DVD editions have been faulted for their lack of visual clarity, added context or just plain respect for the project, this new multi-disc package promises to provide a wealth of extra goodies. You will find deleted scenes, a documentary about the science fiction genre, and a featurette on the film’s creation. It’s enough to make even the most strident film geek jump for joy.



The Green Mile: 2 Disc Special Edition

*
Many felt that Frank Darabont stumbled a bit with this, his third adaptation of material by celebrated author Stephen King (his first two attempts being The Woman in the Room and the universally adored The Shawshank Redemption). But the truth is that the detail-oriented director got everything just right in this story of fate, faith, and fulfillment. Michael Clark Duncan, rejected as being reduced to a racially insensitive stereotype as the hulking black healer at the center of the story, actually gives an amazingly nuanced performance, providing the powerful center to what could have been a ponderous prison allegory. Add in the talented turns by Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell and Sam Rockwell and you’ve got a great ensemble cast successfully selling a truly remarkable movie. Fans have been waiting a long time for this supplement loaded DVD, with Darabont present and accounted for, ready to argue his decisions as a director in a full length audio commentary. Hurray!


 


PopMatters Review


King Kong: Extended Edition*
Now that it has had almost a year to reconfigure its relevance in the realm of cinema, Peter Jackson’s drop dead brilliant reimagining of the Giant Ape epic finally gets the full blown LOTR‘s treatment the filmmaker is famous for. While you can opt for the full blown Collector’s Edition, complete with a reproduction statue of Kong climbing the Empire State Building, this new version has so many captivating bells and whistles that fans will be hard pressed to pass this by. They include 13 minutes of new footage, including an intriguingly described “Skull Island underwater creature attack” (!), another 38 minutes of deleted scenes, and an always compelling commentary from the director himself. Some may still feel that Jackson let his love of the movie overwhelm his ambitions, providing this relatively simply story with way too much cinematic pomp and circumstance, but for SE&L’s scratch, no one makes mega-blockbusters like this confirmed Kiwi genius. Our main man did this massive monkey proud.



PopMatters Review


Maniac Cop*
Frequently dismissed as derivative of the arch ‘80s ideal of terror, William Lustig’s ode to a crazed killer peace officer is actually one of the best b-movies the era ever produced. Thanks to a stellar script by genre giant Larry “It’s Alive” Cohen, and fine performances by a cast including Robert Z’Dar, Tom Akins, Sheree North, Laurene Landon, William Smith and a baby-faced Bruce Campbell, what starts out like a standard revenge motivated slasher film becomes an intriguing thriller with plot twists and action scenes o’plenty. Making the most out of his limited locations, and a budget that keeps things on the low end of the cinematic spectacle, Lustig still gets a great deal of mileage out of this material. If you originally dismissed this movie as nothing more than another sloppy slice and dice, now’s your chance to give it another try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how solid it really is.


The Wild Blue Yonder*
Leave it to German auteur Werner Herzog to create a science fiction fantasy out of actual empirical fact. Combining found footage with a personally propagated narrative, the fascinating filmmaker is trying something completely new and experimental with this specious speculative mock up. As much about the poetry and beauty of nature as the mystery and wonder of the unexplored realms of the universe, Herzog’s message is one of inner as well as external examination. Taking NASA training films and combining them with underwater images from beneath the Antarctic ice flows, and an arcane sci-fi monologue from actor Brad Dourif (as a failed, fatalistic alien), this director hopes to combine the fantastical with the pragmatic to envision a spectacle with nothing but known quantities before the camera. For Herzog, the ocean floor is an extraterrestrial plane loaded with undiscovered delights, while the image of man conquering nature to send astronauts into orbit is as astounding an achievement as the vastness of the universe itself.



And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 14 November:


Christmas Evil*
Sometimes, a sensational movie gets overlooked because of its lack of distribution. Other times, it’s the perceived problems inherent in the subject matter that causes eventual audience ignorance. Thus is the case with Lewis Jackson’s minor masterpiece, You Better Watch Out. Audiences were stunned when they learned this holiday horror film – later re-titled with the far more lurid Christmas Evil label – featured an unstable man who took the notion of “playing” Santa to uncomfortable extremes. Already angry at the mixing of the festive with the frightening, the seedy subtext involving children and random carnage made even the most magnanimous macabre fan a tad queasy. Too bad, since their ready dismissal prevented them from appreciating a truly remarkable movie. More a character study than a standard slice and dice, Jackson’s journey into the mind of a morally misguided man is an unusual artistic triumph. Besides, it’s John Waters’ favorite holiday film. You can’t ask for a better vote of creative confidence than that.



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