Friday, March 31, 2006

Attack of the Sequels

Aside from adaptations of popular comic books, sequels are the security blanket of the movie business. If a movie is successful (sometimes even mildly so), the likelihood of a sequel is very strong. If such a movie had a relatively small budget and stars without huge salaries, then the sequel chances grow exponentially. But how many sequels out there are really necessary? With the possible exception of sequels based on multiple books in a series, the number is undeniably low. Horror movies are probably the biggest offender, as they're relatively cheap to produce, rarely have big name stars attached and the scripts are, let's just say less than Oscar-worthy.

That said, Entertainment Weekly recently released its list of the 25 worst sequels ever made. Its list used criteria that measured the sequels' drop-off in quality from the original, but left off movies that were deemed "so bad they're good." Not really sure what that means, but you'll find only three horror movie sequels on the list – a rather shocking outcome. Heck, you could make a 25 worst list in that genre alone.

So here's the list, accompanied by my brief comments on them. Admittedly, a number of them I've never seen – and I'm sure my life is all the better for it. Feel free to interject your comments too, including any you might think are missing from the list.

25. "The Matrix Reloaded" - OK, so this is clearly inferior to the 1999 original, but I thought it was still pretty good overall. Plus, it's not even the weakest movie of the trilogy, as "The Matrix Revolutions" seems to run out of creativity about halfway through, going into special effects overload.

24. "The Next Karate Kid" - Once I heard Ralph Macchio wasn't returning for the third "Karate Kid" movie, I was outta there. So I've never seen this alleged hunk of junk starring some nobody named Hilary Swank. I wonder whatever happened to her?

23. "Porky's II: The Next Day" - I've seen this, but would have a difficult time distinguishing it from the first one. As I recall, the first one pretty much stunk too. Somehow, this sequel would somehow spawn another with "Porky's Revenge."

22. "Teen Wolf Too" - The original one, starring Michael J. Fox, was barely passable as far as teen comedies went, but at least was cleaner than "Porky's." But without Fox returning for a sequel, did the filmmakers really think they had a potential hit on their hands? Pity poor Jason Bateman for getting involved with this, as well as any viewers who actually watched it.

21. "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" - Reese Witherspoon proved her ability to carry a film with the first "Legally Blonde," as she was clearly the best part of what was a likable, but slight film. Critics and audiences weren't too kind on the sequel, however, meaning all concerned would probably have been better off leaving well enough alone.

20. "The Godfather Part III" - The only reason I can think this film is on here is that the first two films in the series won best picture Oscars and the third is a fair drop off. But it also got nominated for best picture and should not be on this list. Did they really think Sofia Coppola's acting was that bad? Granted, she was definitely the weakest acting link in the film, but I guess this is seen as a failure due to its lofty aspirations and expectations.

19. "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise" - I'm sure "The Godfather" is thrilled to be in company with those lovable nerds, making their unnecessary return to the big screen. I mean, they already had their revenge at the end of the first film. How much more did they need? I've actually lost count of how many sequels this series has spawned, with the last one a made-for-TV one, if memory serves. Then again, it's probably best I don't remember.

18. "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" - Damn you! Damn you all to hell for making this sequel! Actually, Charlton Heston had nothing to do with this, the fifth film in what had become a tired franchise by this point.

17. "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" - If you've ever desired to see Kirk, Spock and "Bones" McCoy sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" around a campfire, then you're in luck. For the rest of us, it's a painful sight indeed. And that's not even counting the barely competent directing job done by William Shatner, his first and only foray into movie directing. This one makes the first "Star Trek" movie look like an Oscar-winner. And I hated the first movie.

16. "Ocean's Twelve" - Frankly, I don't believe this one belongs here either, as it was fairly entertaining, in my opinion. Sure, it's a bit too pleased with itself and just isn't as fun as the first one. But you can do a whole lot worse than this. Maybe some people think that a cast this talented shouldn't be allowed to have more fun than the audience.

15. "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd" - So, you've got no Jim Carrey and no Jeff Daniels, or any of the original cast, for that matter in this movie. No problem, just move them to high school and cast younger actors in the roles. Does that work for you? No, me neither.

14. "Conan the Destroyer" - Cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones and Wilt Chamberlain in a film together and you have comic gold. Of course, this wasn't a comedy, so that's kind of a problem. And with that trio, Schwarzenegger is clearly the closest to a seasoned thespian and that spells trouble.

13. "The Sting II" - Substitute Paul Newman and Robert Redford with Jackie Gleason and Mac Davis for the sequel to the 1973 best picture winner and you just know something stinks. Plus, this movie is 10 years after the original. Was there an audience clamoring for it? If so, why?

12. "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" - Yes, Jar Jar Binks was a horrible idea and one that George Lucas may never live down. But this film is not that bad. It just happens to be the one forced to introduce most of the characters and wade through a lot of exposition. Still, it had some great light saber duels and a great looking villain in Darth Maul. And little Jake Lloyd (who played young Anakin) has never been heard from again ...

11. "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" - I thought the first film was stupid, so imagine my complete indifference to its sequel. This one was filmed about 17 years after the original and has really no connection other than the catering. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that isn't even the same. Patrick Swayze does have a brief cameo and if you look hard enough, you'll see him reach for his paycheck before the scene's conclusion.

10. "Jaws: The Revenge" - Michael Caine actually missed picking up his Oscar for "Hannah and Her Sisters" to film this piece of crap. This one makes "Jaws 3" (actually filmed in 3-D) look decent in comparison. You'll be rooting for the shark this time around.

9. "Speed 2: Cruise Control" - Keanu Reeves opted out of the movie, leaving "Speed" co-star Sandra Bullock to sink on her own in this waterlogged sequel. It quickly flopped at the box office, leaving the future of "Speed 3: Deaf Children at Play" in serious jeopardy.

8. "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan" - Having stopped watching the "Friday the 13th" movies around Part III, I'd have to imagine this must really suck to be the lone film in the series to make the list. It amazes me that there was still a demand for this series to even reach Part VIII, since there was barely an original idea in all the films that preceded it.

7. "The Fly II" - What was Eric Stoltz doing in this way inferior sequel to the Jeff Goldblum - Geena Davis 1986 remake? This film has the distinction of having even more gross out sequences than the first one. And with David Cronenberg having directed the original, that's really saying something.

6. "Weekend at Bernie's II" - This guy died in the first film and should be stiff as a board and stink something awful by the time of the sequel. This time, the two morons (Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy) bring their dead boss to the Virgin Islands. So it's not really a weekend or at Bernie's this time. If only that was the lone thing to fault with this unfunny movie.

5. "Batman & Robin" - Star George Clooney seems to joke about this movie at every opportunity and director Joel Schumacher actually apologized for it in his commentary on the DVD. So that should say it all about this movie that almost ended the franchise.

4. "Blues Brothers 2000" - A "Blues Brothers" sequel without John Belushi and nearly 20 years after the original? Where do I sign up? For that matter, I hardly think the flawed original was even deserving of a sequel. Belushi would probably be spinning in his grave, but is probably too busy partying to care.

3. "Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha' Hood" - Having never seen any of the "Leprechaun" movies, I'd have to think, judging by the title alone, that this one has got offensively God-awful written all over it. This is actually the sixth in the series. The sixth?! Who out there can actually admit to having seen the previous five?

2. "Caddyshack II" - Casting Jackie Mason as your lead actor is trouble sign number one. The fact that from the original cast, only Chevy Chase reappears (in a cameo), and you've got trouble sign number two. Plus, this movie actually seems to have less of a plot than the original – a true dubious accomplishment.

1. "Staying Alive" - For future reference, if you're a film producer and you have Sylvester Stallone and Frank Stallone signed on to direct and provide music for your movie, run away. Quickly. And no matter what you do, don't look back. I thought "Saturday Night Fever" was great, with its opening sequence of John Travolta walking the street to the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive." You get to relive that moment in the sequel. Unfortunately, you have to suffer through a veritable cinematic hell to get there, as it takes place in the last scene. I'm pretty sure you can't put Travolta and Stallone together in a room together anymore, as it would certainly be hazardous to the health of anyone else in there.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

DVD Releases - April 4

The top winners at this year’s Oscars highlight a fairly light release week, as one makes its debut, while the other predictably capitalizes on its best picture win with a rerelease. After all, when an extra buck can be made, why not? Oh yeah, I know why not. Because some people just shelled out money for the original DVD release just a few months ago and aren’t happy that there’s a new version coming already. Setting aside that bitterness, here’s some of the releases for April 4:

“9 to 5: Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot Edition” (PG) - Possibly qualifying as the longest special edition title in DVD history, the 1980 workplace comedy is quite outdated in many aspects. But with a cast of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman, the humor still holds up quite well.
Extras: Commentary from Fonda, Parton, Coleman and producer Bruce Gilbert, a featurette, gag reel, deleted scenes and “9 to 5” karaoke (now you can sing just like Dolly!).

“Brokeback Mountain” (R) - Winner of three Academy Awards (but not best picture, as picked by many), the drama depicting the friendship and concealed romance between two cowboys (played by Oscar nominees Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) makes its DVD debut. The movie was critically acclaimed, won lots of awards and did remarkably well at the box office, yet has had more cornball gay jokes lobbed its direction than one could count.
Extras: Multiple featurettes, including ones focusing on Oscar-winning director Ang Lee and the adaptation of the script to the screen.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (PG) - The first big screen adaptation of the popular C.S. Lewis novel, “Chronicles” was a huge hit over the holiday season. And with several other books in Lewis’ series available for adaptation, count on Disney studios to fast track a new franchise, much in the vein of the “Harry Potter” series.
Extras: The two-disc special edition features lots of goodies, including a pair of commentaries, bloopers, numerous featurettes, such as a director’s diary and the secrets behind the creation of many of the film’s creatures.

“Crash: Director’s Cut” (R) - Coincidentally (or not), the recently crowned best picture at this year’s Oscars is back in its second incarnation on DVD. The two-disc set gives consumers more bang for their buck over the suckers who went and spent money on the first release several months ago. Those poor, poor fools.
Extras: Director Paul Haggis includes deleted scenes with commentary, as well as a commentary track with himself, co-screenwriter Bobby Moresco and star Don Cheadle. Also included are several featurettes and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.

“Magnum P.I.: Season 4” - Tom Selleck fans rejoice! The actor and his mustache are back for the fourth season of the private detective’s exploits in Hawaii. All 21 episodes of the season are featured, as are many shots of a shirtless Magnum and bikini-clad women. Heck, he’ll even occasionally solve cases.
Extras: Not much, save for “The Great ‘80s TV Flashback,” whatever that is. Although I imagine that would beat a drug-induced flashback. Also included is a bonus episode of season 5 of “Magnum,” which will hardly be a bonus once fans go and buy season 5. Thanks a lot, MCA Home Video!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Movie Review: "V for Vendetta"

Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt
Directed by James McTeigue

After the completion of "The Matrix" trilogy, a movie series that ultimately suffered from diminishing returns, there was probably more than a healthy dose of skepticism from the moviegoing public about whatever the Wachowski brothers' next project would be. But those skeptics can breathe a bit easier now, as "V for Vendetta," while not an absolute return to greatness, is a big step forward from the overblown messiness of "The Matrix Revolutions."

Based on Alan Moore's graphic novel of almost 25 years ago, the screenplay by the Wachowskis focuses on Britain in 2020, as the country is governed under a totalitarian regime. Sutler (John Hurt), the government's leader, is that nation's version of Big Brother, ruling the land with an iron fist through fear and intimidation. As most of his communication with the citizens, and even his own government officers, takes place on televisions or giant video screens, there is an obvious disconnect between Britain's leaders and the people. In short, it's a place that's ripe for rebellion.

Thus enters a mysterious freedom fighter named V (Hugo Weaving). Enshrouded in a black cape and mask patterned after Guy Fawkes, a true-life rebel who attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605, he quickly becomes a thorn in Sutler's side. V's initial appearance in the movie plays out almost like he's a superhero, saving Evey (Natalie Portman), an employee at a television station, from assailants. Then again, most superheroes aren't nearly as eloquent with a propensity for quoting Shakespeare. But V quickly shows he has more on his agenda than saving damsels in distress by escorting Evey to a rooftop to witness the destruction of the Old Bailey (where British courts are housed).

The government tries to put a positive spin on what they see as a terrorist act, only to have V quickly claim responsibility and announce plans for his next major action to take place in exactly one year. Evey is reluctantly drawn into V's revolutionary agenda, making her and her friends targets of the state. Drawing on some parallels to "The Phantom of the Opera," V and Evey's relationship is one of curious fascination to each other, as they both reveal their troubled past and come to realize they each have legitimate and understandable reasons to rebel against their government.

Confidently directed by James McTeigue (a former assistant director under the Wachowskis), "V for Vendetta" is one of those rare action movies that can equally flex its muscles while still stimulating the mind. Granted, some of its characters are a bit thinly veiled (Cutler's political rallies resemble Hitler's, a corrupted priest has a fetish for young girls), yet its depiction of V is thankfully a bit more gray. His hatred of the government is born primarily out of deeply personal reasons, and his actions are elaborately staged, yet are sometimes morally questionable.

The movie mostly avoids a heavy handed approach with the presentation of its terrorist themes, even as today's "war on terrorism" continues. Some of that credit has to go to the game cast, headed up by Portman, who has to do most of the emotional heavy lifting in the film, not to mention the sacrifice of her hair after her character is imprisoned. Weaving is also very good in what had to be a terribly difficult role, as his face remains hidden behind a mask for the film's duration. (Weaving was actually brought on board after James Purefoy dropped out, due to the difficulty of acting in a mask.)

With numerous action set pieces that carry some of the same visceral thrills of "The Matrix," people looking for escapist popcorn fare can generally get their fill with "V for Vendetta." But those looking for a little story with their fights and explosions are likely to find some challenging ideas being bandied about here. And in today's Hollywood, where the practice of dumbing down movies for mass consumption is more the norm, such an approach seems pretty revolutionary.
Grade: B+
(Rated R for strong violence and some language.)

DVD Releases - March 28

It’s a rather eclectic collection of new releases I’ve gathered together for you this week, as King Kong, 50 Cent and some French schoolchildren mix it up. If this group got into a fight, I’m thinking three words: Pay Per View. In this corner are some of the notable releases for March 28:

“Au Revoir Les Enfants: Criterion Collection” (PG) - French writer-director Louis Malle uses some events from his own childhood to frame the story of a 12-year-old French boy who befriends a new classmate at a Catholic boarding school in World War II-era France. Yeah, this is a foreign flick with subtitles, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing this wonderfully shot and performed film.
Extras: Essays by film critic Phillip Kemp and historian Francis J. Murphy (yeah, I’ve never heard of them either), and more.

“Get Rich or Die Tryin’” (R) - Certainly an odd combination on paper, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and director Jim Sheridan teamed up for last fall’s drama based on parts of Jackson’s life. In “Get Rich,” Jackson is an inner city drug dealer who sees a way out of the life by becoming a rap star. Likely hoping to capitalize on the success that Enimen’s similarly themed film debut had, 50 Cent’s movie wasn’t nearly as successful with critics or audiences.
Extras: A making of featurette and that’s about it. What, no videos?!

“King Kong: Special Edition” (PG-13) - Coming off the gigantic success of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the success of director Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” almost seems to pale in comparison. But with a large worldwide box office haul and three Oscars, the big ape didn’t do too shabby. Just don’t go expecting a sequel. Although seeing Jackson attempt to remake “Son of Kong” would be quite amusing.
Extras: Numerous featurettes on the two-disc release, including some on the recreation of 1930s New York, as well as Skull Island. Plus, Jackson’s extensive post-production diaries make up almost three hours of footage.

“Knots Landing: Season 1” - Billed as the second longest running TV drama in history, this glorified nighttime soap opera makes its debut on DVD. Following the lives of five suburban families in southern California, this release features all 13 of the first season’s episodes and more back stabbing and scheming than you can shake a stick at. Not that doing so would be recommended in the presence of star Joan Van Ark in the first place.
Extras: Interviews with Van Ark and co-star Ted Shackleford, cast commentary on a couple of episodes.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” (PG-13) - Winner of three Academy Awards, “Memoirs,” an adaptation of a best-selling book by Arthur Golden, seemed to be generally liked, but hardly loved by critics or audiences upon its release last December. Having a Chinese cast of Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li, among others in the lead roles, was a sticking point with some. The film is labeled as an historical and romantic epic, but it looks like there could be some awesome geisha catfights. A kick from one of those wooden shoes would hurt, I tell ya.
Extras: Commentary from director Rob Marshall and John DeLuca, commentary from several on the production crew, tons and tons of featurettes on just about every aspect of the production, including geisha bootcamp and a history of sumo wrestling (cool!).

“Quantum Leap: Season 4” - Scientist Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) keeps “leaping” around, getting transported into the lives of various people, trying to make their lives not suck so much. His only help, if you can call it that, comes from Al, a holographic image played by Dean Stockwell. Originally aired on NBC, this was one of the better shows from the 1980s, helped in no small part from the likable performances from Bakula and Stockwell.
Extras: The Great ‘80s Flashback (whatever that is), and the truly novel idea of a bonus episode of “Quantum Leap.”

“Stay” (R) - Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and Ryan Gosling star in what is billed as a horror movie (?!) about a psychologist (McGregor) who attempts to stop a deeply troubled patient (Gosling) from killing himself. In doing so, he becomes wrapped up in trying to unlock the screwed up psyche of the patient. (Good luck trying to get that guy to pay his medical bill.) This film did the exact opposite of its title upon hitting theaters last year. (Umm, that is, it left – and quickly.)
Extras: Commentary from director Marc Forster, Gosling and various crew members, featurettes.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

DVD Releases - March 21

This week features some more Oscar-nominated fare along with multiple TV season releases. There’s quite a bit of variety in this week’s offerings overall, so here are some highlights (maybe a matter of opinion) for March 21:

“Bewitched: Season 3” - The popular sitcom’s first color season features 33 episodes on four discs. Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), Darrin (Dick York) and Endora (Agnes Moorehead) are back, with new baby Tabitha showing off witchcraft powers of her own.
Extras: Evidently, Samantha made them all disappear, as there are none.

“Capote” (R) - Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a sensational performance as the title character in this examination of author Truman Capote’s research and subsequent writing of the classic non-fiction book “In Cold Blood.” Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr. and Chris Cooper co-star in the drama nominated for five Academy Awards.
Extras: Commentary with Hoffman and director Bennett Miller, commentary with Miller and cinematographer Adam Kimmel, a Truman Capote documentary, and two behind the scenes documentaries.

“Chicken Little” (G) - Disney made its first significant foray into computer animation without Pixar in this fairly popular movie about the chicken who thought the sky was falling. However, critical response to it was mixed, at best, and the box office receipts weren’t as strong as hoped by the studio. Their recent expensive buyout of Pixar means the studio should likely stay solidly on top of the computer animation heap for a long time.
Extras: Making of featurette, deleted scenes, an interactive game and music videos.

“Derailed” (Unrated) - Jennifer Aniston takes a dark turn away from “Friends” by starring in a thriller with Clive Owen. The two stars play strangers who meet on a commuter train and have a one-night stand that leads to dangerous consequences for both. The movie didn’t seem to make an impact on critics or audiences, and is one that Aniston and Owen will probably quickly put behind them.
Extras: Deleted scenes and a making of featurette.

“Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story” (PG) - Dakota Fanning continues her career ascension to becoming the most powerful pre-teen in America, co-starring in this family drama about the bonding between a father and daughter, thanks to an inspiring horse. There’s likely few surprises in the movie, co-starring Kurt Russell and Elizabeth Shue, but those who can’t get enough out of Fanning (who seems intelligent and poised well beyond her 11 years of age) should be satisfied.
Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes and multiple featurettes.

“Paradise Now” (PG-13) - Two Palestinian friends are recruited for a suicide bombing strike against Tel Aviv and spend their last days together, comtemplating their past and seemingly short future. Oscar-nominated for best foreign film, “Paradise Now” examines the Palestinian/Israeli conflict on a very small scale, written and directed by Hany Abu-Assad.
Extras: None.

“Roseanne: Season 3” - The third season of the Conner family’s exploits features 25 episodes and numerous guest stars, including Martin Mull, Ned Beatty, Shelley Winters and some guy named Leonardo DiCaprio.
Extras: Interviews with cast members Laurie Metcalf and Lecy Goranson, best of season clips.

“The Squid and the Whale: Special Edition” (R) - A two-time winner at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Noah Baumbach’s independent comedy-drama snagged a best original screenplay Oscar nomination, not to mention lots of critical praise. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney star as a couple whose marriage is falling apart and their two children are inevitably drawn into the conflict.
Extras: Commentary with Baumbach, behind-the-scenes featurette.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Movie Review: "The Weather Man"

Starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine, Hope Davis, Gemmenne de la Pena, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Rispoli, Gil Bellows
Directed by Gore Verbinski

With a release date delayed by its studio for several months last year, it’s clear that Paramount executives weren’t really sure about what to make of “The Weather Man.” The movie’s trailer and ads make it look like an unconventional comedy about a dysfunctional family, when in fact it’s much more of a drama with comedic elements about a man struggling to find his true identity amidst a series of family crises.

Nicolas Cage captures just the right amount of inner turmoil as Dave Spritz, a Chicago weather man, who sees his professional star rise, even as the star in his personal life is sinking rapidly. Dave desperately wants the potential career high of the former (a weatherman job on a New York morning show, hosted by Bryant Gumbel) to turn things around in what’s failing in the latter.

However, what’s failing is something that a new job can do little to fix, what with a failed marriage and two troubled children to contend with. Misery just seems to follow Dave around, and is occasionally hurled at him, as passersby pelt the poor sap with a variety of fast foods – presumably because they’re upset about his forecasts.

Dave’s father Robert (Michael Caine) meets his son right after one such drive-by incident and questions why anyone would want to do this. After all, Dave just tells the weather and doesn’t even have a degree in meteorology, Robert not-so-helpfully points out.

Little character jabs like that from his father are also dealt with on a regular basis from Dave, who desperately wants the admiration and respect from Robert, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Caine gives a very good performance by capturing the essence of a disappointed father in just a few scenes. He doesn’t inherently see his son as a failure (although Dave has a way of feeding into that possible perception), just as someone who needs to “knuckle down” to improve his life.

While he also gets good supporting performances from Hope Davis as his frustrated ex-wife, and Gemmenne de la Pena and Nicholas Hoult as his sullen, yet likable children, the majority of the film rests on Cage’s shoulders. Cage has shown the ability to carry pictures playing characters that are difficult to like, such as his Oscar-winning turn in “Leaving Las Vegas.” His portrayal as Dave captures some of that same vibe, as he carries a sad hangdog look through much of the film. Moments where he seems happy come across almost as a force of will, such as his smile as he gets ready for work at the movie’s start. The smile he gives for the mirror simply can’t last for long, before his more natural propensity for sadness overtakes him.

Having such a character as the movie’s center provides a challenge for director Gore Verbinski, as audiences are asked to spend time with a man that few in the movie itself even seem to like or respect. There are certainly moments when you might feel like chucking some food at him yourself, or glove slapping him, as he embarrassingly does to a character in one scene.

But for those who can hang with the movie through some of its more turbulent moments and tonal shifts might just find a man discovering the warm sunshine lies just behind those storm clouds in the sky.
Grade: B
(Rated R for for strong language and sexual content.)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

DVD Releases - March 14

After such a deep offering from the first week of March, what can March 14 releases hold for us? Press on, intrepid reader ...

“Basic Instinct: Ultimate Unrated Director’s Cut” - Marking at least the third different version of this movie to come on DVD, this one is clearly meant to capitalize on the release of the movie’s sequel that next to no one has been anticipating. Sharon Stone will be the lone link from the original, released 14 years ago. In this DVD release, Stone will still not get charged with smoking in the police department and Michael Douglas still plays a too close variation on his cop character from “Black Rain.”
Extras: Features an introduction and conversation from Stone, commentary from director Paul Verhoeven and director of photography Jan De Bont, screen tests and more.

“Good Night, and Good Luck” (PG) - The 1950s period that focused on reporter Edward R. Murrow’s decision to take on the Communist witch-hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy through his CBS-TV show is dramatized in director George Clooney’s Oscar-nominated film. David Strathairn, Frank Langella, Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Daniels and Patricia Clarkson (what a cast!) star, along with actual footage of McCarthy.
Extras: Commentary with Clooney and his co-screenwriter Grant Heslov.

“A History of Violence” (R) - The seemingly ideal life of an Indiana man, played by Viggo Mortensen, is thrown into conflict when a heroic act he performs has undesired consequences. Mario Bello, Ed Harris and Oscar-nominated William Hurt co-star in this intense, but involving movie by director David Cronenberg.
Extras: Commentary by Cronenberg, a deleted scene with commentary, an “Acts of Violence” documentary and multiple featurettes.

“I Dream of Jeanie - The Complete First Season” - More than 40 years after its debut, “I Dream of Jeanie” finally makes it to DVD with this collection of all 30 episodes of its first season. Larry Hagman, Barbara Eden and Bill Daily starred in this slightly unrealistic portrayal of an astronaut and a genie from a bottle falling in love. These guys never even had one scene of drinking Tang!
Extras: Commentary on the pilot episode from the show’s stars, as well as interviews with Hagman, Eden and Daily.

“Murder, She Wrote - The Complete Third Season” - Its another season of that intrepid, yet snoopy mystery writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) making the local law enforcement look stupid by solving crime after crime. Somehow, murders just keep following her around. Surely it’s just coincidence, right?
Extras: A featurette called “The Great 80s Flashback” and a bonus “Magnum, P.I.” episode – a logical addition as I’m sure these shows shared lots of the same viewers. I mean the two shows are pratically interchangable.

“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” (PG-13) - Julianne Moore stars as a mother of 10 children who overcomes household financial struggles by becoming a successful writer for jingle contests. Woody Harrelson co-stars as her alcoholic husband in a movie that barely made a dent at the box office.
Extras: Commentary with Moore and director Jane Anderson.

“The Year of the Yao” (PG) - A documentary focusing on the NBA arrival of Yao Ming, a 7’6” center for the Houston Rockets, the tallest player in the league. A superstar in his native China, the film follows Yao in his first season as he learns the language, customs and lifestyle of playing as a high profile athlete in America.
Extras: More than an hour of deleted scenes.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"Crash" Climbs Over "Mountain"

Hollywood’s annual gala to celebrate the finest in film concluded Sunday night as the Oscars went off with little surprise, until the final award in the broadcast. “Crash” upset “Brokeback Mountain” for best picture, taking home its third Academy Award of the night.
“Brokeback Mountain,” generally considered the front-runner for the Oscar, based on its strong showing at other award shows leading up to the Oscars, received a total of three awards.
In fact, three seemed to be a popular number during the solid, but unspectacular broadcast, as “King Kong” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” also took home three Oscars each – all in technical categories. Neither of those films managed nominations in any of the major categories.
Among the acting categories, all four were first-time winners. Phillip Seymour Hoffman won for his portrayal of author Truman Capote in “Capote,” while Reese Witherspoon received a best actress Oscar for her performance as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line.” Supporting actor and actress nods went to George Clooney for “Syriana” and Rachel Weisz for “The Constant Gardener.”
“Crash” and “Brokeback Mountain” each garnered screenplay Oscars, while Ang Lee was honored as best director. However, other best picture hopefuls, “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Munich” both were shut out in the five categories for which they received nominations.
Jon Stewart from TV’s “The Daily Show” made his debut as Oscar host, with middling results. The popular comedian had his moments, but the telecast was missing much of the irreverent humor that he and his staff bring to the typical “Daily Show” episode. Perhaps the show’s producers restricted Stewart’s freedom, but where were any reports from his show’s correspondents? Plus, a golden opportunity to have Stewart reunite with former correspondent Steve Carell was lost, as he appeared as a presenter with Will Ferrell.
One segment that featured a humorous faux negative campaign ad from one of the nominees for sound editing hinted at the funnier direction the show could have gone.
Among the more interesting portions of the evening was the performance from Three 6 Mafia for best original song for the hip-hop number “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow.” The song won the Oscar, but was a real departure from the normally stoic and generally boring performances trotted out on stage in that category. Still, Stewart made a funny, yet pointed observation shortly after the group grabbed their Oscar – noting that for those keeping score, it’s Three 6 Mafia - 1, Martin Scorsese - 0.
Other observations from the 3-hour and 33-minute broadcast:
• Was it just me or did Charlize Theron’s bow on the shoulder of her dress look to be getting bigger as the evening went on?
• It's starting to feel like only the host of the show gets more screen time than Jack Nicholson these days. I mean, he hasn't even been in a movie since 2003. And was that just coincidental seating, or was Keira Knightley Jack's date?
• It’s good to encourage award winners to keep their acceptance speeches short, but having the band practically playing the people off the stage the moment they got up there seemed a bit rash. Not to mention it had to be a bit distracting for the winners.
• Two categories that were weakened for their lack of nominees were best visual effects (where was “Star Wars: Episode III”?) and best makeup (how does “Sin City” miss out here?). For that matter, “Star Wars” only got one nomination total, while “Sin City” was shut out entirely. Regardless of what you thought of those films’ overall quality, they were pretty amazing on the technical level.
• George Clooney’s acceptance speech that mentions his pride at being a part of the Academy seemed to be a bit self-congratulatory – especially for mentioning the 1939 Oscar going to Hattie McDaniel for “Gone with the Wind.” He referenced how bold that was of the Academy, as blacks were still forced to sit in the back at the time.
Yeah, but George, how long did it take for the Academy to honor a black woman for best actress? Answer: 2002, when Halle Berry won. That’s pretty slow progress. To my knowledge, no black woman has even been nominated in that category since then.
Don’t get me wrong – I like George Clooney. But let’s face it: The Academy has a long ways to go to seem truly progressive. Maybe finding a way to break up the predictability of the annual broadcast would be a good step. Then again, giving an Oscar for a song about a pimp doesn’t happen every year.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Return of the DVD Releases

OK, seeing as how I started with the idea of posting weekly updates on the latest (and not necessarily greatest) coming out on DVD several months ago, you’d think I’d have been able to produce more than one by now.
Alas, I allowed myself to be distracted – but I shan’t let that happen so easily again. (Nor use the word shan’t again.)
These weekly lists will include mentions of movies, TV show collections, and occasionally, the just plain odd releases of the week. So, once again, here comes my plan to offer weekly rundowns of upcoming DVDs, beginning with some of the notable releases for March 7:

“The Brady Bunch: Season 5” - Here’s the story of the final season from the Brady clan. By now, storylines were becoming even more of a stretch (if that seems possible), and the kids weren’t quite as cute and lovable as they were when the show started. So enters the Notorious Cousin Oliver (nephew to Carol), who proceeds to stay with the family while his parents are in South America – presumably to keep him from screwing up their major drug deal. (I kid!) Anyway, this marked the beginning of the end for the series. That is unless you count the bazillion TV movies they’ve had since then.
Extras: None (but you get plenty of Oliver, so what do you want?)

“The Cosby Show: Season 2” - The Huxtable clan just started to pick up steam in its second season, becoming a #1 hit show for NBC. It was with this show (along with “Cheers”) that NBC built its Must See Thursday ratings powerhouse. Oh, but how they would gladly sell their soul to have that strength back now. Thank you very much, “Joey.” Sorry, I digress.
Extras: Audio commentary from director Jay Sandrich, bloopers and a featurette.

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Special Edition” (PG-13) - A two-disc special edition also offered as a single disc, the latest in the “Harry Potter” movies makes its first foray into PG-13 territory. In this one, Harry is entered into a grueling competition known as the Triwizard Tournament. This one was another huge hit in theaters and should do equally well on DVD.
Extras: Interview with the cast, multiple featurettes, additional scenes, and DVD-ROM interactive games (Special Edition only).

“Howl’s Moving Castle” (PG) - A teenager is cursed by a witch into the body of an old woman and embarks on an adventure with a magician named Hauru, his fire demon and a moving castle. Yeah, that’s pretty weird, but this movie, from director Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”) is Oscar-nominated for best animated film. It was a huge hit overseas, yet made next to no impact in America. Go figure.
Extras: Interview, featurettes and storyboards.

“Jarhead” (R) - Initially thought to be a serious contender at the Oscars, this Gulf War-set drama based on the book by Anthony Swofford didn’t even garner any nominations. It did get quite a few good reviews; it just wasn’t seen as a consensus great movie. But it does feature a topnotch cast, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard and Chris Cooper included.
Extras: Two commentary tracks, deleted scenes with optional commentary. (Also available in Collector’s Edition with additional behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with cast and former Marines.)

“Prime” (PG-13) - Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman star in this box-office dud about an older single woman (Thurman) falling in love with the son of her therapist (Streep). Naturally, neither woman knows his connection to the other. It’s good to see Streep in a comedy, a genre she’s just as adept at as drama, when given the chance. But this sounds like a case where the actors probably outshine the material.
Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes and outtakes.

“Three’s Company: Season 6” - During the course of this season, Jenilee Harrison (the first Chrissy replacement) moves out and Priscilla Barnes (the next replacement) moves in. Cue the misinterpreted and partially overheard conversations and let the hilarity ensue! But for those Don Knotts fans out there, this is a chance to see him in fine comic form as landlord Mr. Furley.
Extras: Commentary from director Dave Powers, a presentation from Lucille Ball (?!)