Saturday, April 29, 2006

DVD Releases - April 25

Some more winter releases make their way to DVD this week, featuring some critically acclaimed films mixed in with one of last year’s biggest critical and box office disappointments. Oscar-winner Charlize Theron in spandex? How do you screw that up? Well, here’s some of the noteworthy releases for April 25:

“Aeon Flux: Special Edition” (PG-13) - The aforementioned Theron stars as the title character, based on the animated series that aired on MTV in the 1990s. The cartoon had earned a fairly passionate and devoted following over the years, who must have stayed away from the movie in droves. Yet Theron would certainly seem to be well cast as an assassin working with a group of rebels to overthrow the government.
Extras: Commentary with Theron, producer Gale Anne Hurd and more, multiple featurettes focusing on various production aspects such as stunts, costume design and locations.
Official Web site

“Casanova” (R) - In a clear departure from his Oscar-nominated role in “Brokeback Mountain,” Heath Ledger plays the title character in director Lasse Hallstrom’s romantic comedy. In this, Ledger is definitely a ladies man, who falls for the one woman who wants nothing to do with him. Let the wooing begin!
Extras: Commentary with Hallstrom, featurettes focusing on costume design and recreating 18th century Venice.
Official Web site

“Match Point” (R) - Writer-director Woody Allen stepped into a bit of new territory with a thriller involving a social climber (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) falling into a passionate affair with his brother-in-law’s fiancée (Scarlett Johansson). Allen actually chose to film this one in England, away from his typical and trademark New York locations. It was also widely considered a return to form of the quality films he did earlier in his career.
Extras: Woody’s not a fan of DVD extras, so you’ll get a big heaping help of nothing with this movie.
Official Web site

“Shopgirl” (R) - Never mind the unnecessary resurrection of “The Pink Panther” series, good critical marks were given for Steve Martin’s adaptation of his own novella in last fall’s romantic comedy. The film primarily focuses on Mirabelle (Claire Danes), an aspiring artist who finds herself the object of affections between two very disparate people (Martin and Jason Schwartzman).
Extras: Commentary by director Anand Tucker, deleted scenes and a making of featurette.
Official Web site

“The Wedding Singer: Totally Awesome Edition” (PG-13) - This re-release of a what amounts to a pretty darn good Adam Sandler film doesn’t give you much new to enjoy (see below). But if you don’t already own a version of the movie that trades on a heavy 1980s music soundtrack, not to mention a very likable performance from Drew Barrymore, you could do a lot worse.
Extras: Well, there’s some karaoke here, a featurette about an upcoming “Wedding Singer on Broadway” production, and more than five minutes of never-before-seen footage. So what are we talking about? Six, seven minutes? Not quite totally awesome.
Official Web site

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Summer 2006 Movie Preview

Wow, where in the world did the spring go?! Just a quick glance at the calendar and you’ll see May is just around the corner. And now that in recent years Hollywood has ditched the long standing tradition of kicking off the summer movie season over Memorial Day weekend, the big movies waste no time at making a play for your time and money as May begins. Movies like “The Mummy Returns” and “Van Helsing” have employed this strategy to largely successful results, despite the fact that their primary audience was still in school. Doing so also helps movies avoid the jam packed release schedules in the months of June and July, while getting a head start on the box office battle.

This year’s summer movie schedule has got a lot of promising looking and sounding films, mixed in with the usual overblown junk that is splattered on movie screens at this time of year. The aforementioned head start strategy will be launched on the very first Friday of next month with no less than a big-budget sequel starring Tom Cruise and helmed by “Alias” and “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams. As a side note, Paramount is obviously pleased with the job done by Abrams that they’ve entrusted their most profitable franchise to him. He’s just been tabbed to direct the 11th installment of the “Star Trek” movie series.

But back on the central subject, let’s take a look at what we’ll be seeing open in a theater near us for the next few months. With such a busy schedule to cover, you might want to go grab some refreshments before jumping in, as this could take a while.

“Mission: Impossible 3”

Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup, Keri Russell and Michelle Monaghan
You would be hard pressed to find a better looking cast than this one for the third installment of the “Mission: Impossible” series, featuring a newly named Oscar winner (Hoffman) to boot. Hoffman plays the baddie in this one, making life rough for secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team. J.J. Abrams directs from a script by himself, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who have collaborated on many TV episodes of “Alias” and “Lost.” The first two films in the series were both big money makers and there’s certainly a buzz that this one should be the biggest and best of them all. No pressure or anything. (May 5)
Official Web site

Starring Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum, Jacinda Barrett, Mike Vogel, Jimmy Bennett, Mia Maestro, Andre Braugher and Richard Dreyfuss
A luxury cruise ship runs into big trouble (no, Kathy Lee Gifford isn’t on board) when a huge wave capsizes it, turning the journey into a struggle for survival for the passengers, which includes a veritable cornucopia of characters. Hope the ship is reinforced for possible scenery chewing. Of course, this film is a remake of the 1972 disaster classic, although this film evidently doesn’t want to call itself an “adventure.” To each his own. Director Wolfgang Petersen is back in the water with his third movie to center around boats (“Das Boot,” “The Perfect Storm”). Is this a fetish or what? (May 12)
Official Web site

“The Da Vinci Code”
Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jurgen Prochnow, Paul Bettany and Jean Reno
The big screen adaptation of the seemingly unstoppable best-selling novel by Dan Brown, “The Da Vinci Code” reunites star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard (both of whom met with great success on “Apollo 13”). Hanks plays Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (somebody that badly needed to see a barber, evidently) who is called to the scene of a murder, only to find clues in the works of Da Vinci that point to a conspiracy and secret society within the Catholic church. I’m willing to give Hanks and Howard the benefit of the doubt here, but let’s go easy on the Catholic-bashing. (May 19)
Official Web site

“Over the Hedge”
Starring the voices of Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, William Shatner, Avril Lavigne, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy and Wanda Sykes
The suburbs meets the woods when a group of woodland animals find their land being infringed on by a housing development. Rather than run away, the animals find their own way to deal with their new neighbors. This certainly has got some good talent involved, but have audiences seen one too many animated animal movies lately? There seems to be a new one every other week. (May 19)
Official Web site

“X-Men: The Last Stand”
Starring Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammer, Rebecca Romijn, James Marsden and Patrick Stewart
Director Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour”) takes over for Bryan Singer in this third (and stressed, final) installment of the “X-Men” series. Although that can’t be completely believed, as a Wolverine spin-off, starring Hugh Jackman, has already been announced. But as for this one, the gang’s all back, even adding Kelsey Grammer as a superstrong blue-furred mutant. (Way to go, Frazier!) Some of the hardcore fans have been critical of Ratner as the director, but maybe they should at least reserve judgment until they’ve seen it. Radical concept, I know. (May 26)
Official Web site

“The Break Up”

Starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, John Michael Higgins, Vincent D’Onofrio
A couple buys an expensive condo, only to later decide to split up, with both stubbornly hoping the other will move out. That’s a simple enough premise and as far as comedians go, Vince Vaughn is “so money” right now, to snag one of his catchphrases from “Swingers.” Incidentally, his co-star and friend in that movie, Jon Favreau, is also in this one. Oh, and so is some girl named Jennifer Aniston. I think she and Vaughn might kind of like each other. I haven’t really heard much, so I can’t be sure. (June 2)
Official Web site

“The Omen”
Starring Julia Stiles, Liev Schreiber, Mia Farrow, David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Gambon and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Amazingly, it’s been 30 years since the original “Omen” was released and evidently, that’s long enough of a wait before doing a remake. Why leave generally good horror movies well enough alone when there’s more money to be made? At any rate, Damien (Davey-Fitzpatrick) is back and his parents aren’t going to get much guidance from parenting books about how to deal with your child when he’s the Antichrist. (June 6 – 06/06/06 – Get it?)
Official Web site

Starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Richard Petty, Bonnie Hunt, Dan Whitney, John Ratzenberger, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, George Carlin
Before the very expensive buyout of Pixar by Disney, this was to be the last film that the two animation giants would be involved in together. But now, the collaboration that delivered “Toy Story 1 & 2,” “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.” should continue – and that’s good news for those looking for good quality family entertainment. That said, can “Cars” deliver what would be the seventh straight box office smash for Pixar? This one could be a challenge. (June 9)
Official Web site

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”
Starring Bow Wow, Lucas Black, Brian Tee, Nikki Griffin, Sung Kang, Jason Tobin, Nathalie Kelley
A sequel basically in name only, as no stars remain from the first two films, and the series has its third different director. However, it does still have cars going really fast, and one would assume spectacular driving stunts and crashes. And isn’t that the only real reason the first two movies were successful in the first place? No one was going to those to witness outstanding acting and stories that engaged the mind, were they? For what it’s worth, this one is set in the underground world of Japanese drift racing and speed limits are likely to be exceeded. (June 16)
Official Web site

“Nacho Libre”
Starring Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Héctor Jimenez, Richard Montoya and Peter Stormare
From the creators of “Napoleon Dynamite” comes this comedy starring Jack Black as Ignacio (nicknamed “Nacho”), a priest who decides to become a wrestler to raise money for his Mexican orphanage. It’s hard to tell which is more of a stretch, Black as a priest or as a Mexican, but for anyone who’s seen “Napoleon Dynamite” and/or the trailer for this, expect a lot of that same odd sense of humor to reign. (June 16)
Official Web site

“Garfield’s A Tale of Two Kitties”
Starring Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Billy Connolly, Lucy Davis, Ian Abercrombie, and the voice of Bill Murray
As if once wasn’t enough, here comes the kind of creepy animated feline back for more in this sequel that no one asked for. Garfield (voiced by Murray) tags along with his owner Jon (Meyer) to England, where the cat is promptly mistaken for a look-alike who has inherited a castle. Naturally, there’s a villain (Connolly) looking to do away with him, as he has designs on turning the castle into a resort. (June 16)
No official Web site yet.

Starring Adam Sandler, Kate Beckinsale, Christopher Walken, Blake Heron, David Hasselhoff, Henry Winkler, Julie Kavner and Sean Astin
Adam Sandler finally portrays somebody in a movie that isn’t in a state of arrested development, as he’s Michael Newman, a family man that has too many demands for his time. He goes shopping for a remote control one day and is given one with magical powers that allow him to better control his life. Do they sell those at Best Buy? If so, I need to get me one. Maybe this is the sign of a more mature Sandler comedy. Then again, that just may be wishful thinking. (June 23)
Official Web site

“Superman Returns”
Starring Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, Sam Hunington, Kal Penn and Kevin Spacey
Relative unknown Brandon Routh dons the tights of the Man of Steel in this fifth big screen film of Superman. (Of course, most would be better off forgetting the previous two efforts.) This one takes place chronologically a couple years after the events of “Superman II,” as Superman takes an extended break only to find many things have changed in his absence. One thing that hasn’t is the nefarious scheming of archenemy Lex Luthor (Spacey), who has hatched another evil plan. Director Bryan Singer left the helm of “X-Men” to take on his childhood dream job, and the early buzz is good. (June 30)
Official Web site

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”

Starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Kevin R. McNally and Jonathan Pryce
After the huge success of the first “Pirates,” Disney green-lighted not one, but two sequels. So in this first one, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is racing against time to find a way out of a debt to the legendary Davy Jones (not the Monkee) or face eternal damnation. He once again enlists the reluctant help of Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) to save his hide. Director Gore Verbinski is also back on board in what should be one of the summer’s biggest hits. (July 7)
Official Web site

“You, Me and Dupree”
Starring Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, Matt Dillon and Michael Douglas
Wilson stars as Dupree, a perpetual bachelor and slacker who is invited to stay at his best friend’s place for a few days, as he attempts to get his life back on track. But his friend (Dillon) and his new wife (Hudson) find starting their new life together a challenge with Dupree around. Wilson could probably do this kind of role in his sleep by now, but hopefully, he’ll bring something new to the table here. There is reason for hope, as directors Joe and Anthony Russo were both quite involved in TV’s late, great “Arrested Development.” (July 14)
Official Web site

“Lady in the Water”
Starring Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffery Wright, Bob Balaban, Freddy Rodriguez, Sarita Choudury, Jared Harris, Bill Irwin
A building superintendent (Giamiatti) finds his life transformed after finding a sea nymph (Howard) swimming in his apartment complex’s pool. Hopefully, M. Night Shyamalan can get back on track after the disappointing taste left behind by “The Village.” Howard, who was the best part of that film, reunites with the writer-director, while Giamatti gets a chance to once again take on a bit of a romantic lead. (July 21)
Official Web site

“Miami Vice”
Starring Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Gong Li, Naomie Harris, Ciaran Hinds, Justin Theroux
The hit 1980s cop drama gets an updated makeover as it makes a trip to the big screen, with Farrell and Foxx portraying Detectives Crockett and Tubbs. No word on whether the cool theme music will make the cut, but writer-director Michael Mann knows a little bit about the series – he was its executive producer when it aired on NBC. (July 28)
Official Web site

“The Ant Bully”

Starring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Lily Tomlin, Cheri Oteri, Alan Cumming, Regina King, Ricardo Montalban, Zach Tyler Eisen
Tired of being picked on by a school bully, a 10-year-old decides to take it out on an ant hill in his yard. But the ants get revenge through a magic potion that shrinks him to their size and put him to work for them. This one’s from the director of “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. The voice talent ain’t too shabby, either. (Aug. 4)
Official Web site

“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”
Starring Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sascha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan, Leslie Bibb, Jane Lynch
From the slightly twisted minds behind “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy” comes this equally wordy and overstated tale of an intelligence-deficient guy (again played by Ferrell) trying to stay on top in his profession. This time, it's the world of NASCAR, as a flamboyant French racer (Cohen) challenges Ricky Bobby’s status as the sport’s top racer. Anyone who’s seen “Anchorman” should be prepared for this film’s likely anything for a laugh mentality. (Aug. 4)
Official Web site

“Flags of Our Fathers”
Starring Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell, Barry Pepper, John Benjamin Hickey
Taking a significant departure from many of the season’s movies that preceded it, comes a true World War II story based on the book by James Bradley that focuses on the Battle of Iwo Jima. Before you dismiss this as yet another war movie, keep this in mind: It’s directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay by Paul Haggis, the same combo that struck Oscar gold in 2004 with “Million Dollar Baby,” also a late summer release. You might want to start placing some Oscar bets on this one for 2007. (Aug. 4)
No official Web site yet.

“World Trade Center”
Starring Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay Hernandez
OK, it has to be said that the combination of director Oliver Stone and anything to do with 9/11 probably has many people a bit uneasy. This is, after all, the director of “JFK” and “Nixon.” But on the other hand, this story mostly focuses on the true story of two Port Authority policeman John McLoughlin (Cage) and Will Jimeno (Peña), who got trapped in the WTC rubble and their subsequent rescue. The strong cast is another plus, so we’ll see what kind of controversy follows. (Aug. 9)
Official Web site

“Snakes on a Plane”
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Nathan Phillips, Benjamin McKenzie, Julianna Margulies
In what may be a first for a studio, New Line Cinema recently had the makers of this action pic go back for reshoots to make the movie more violent, as it’s now aiming to move the rating from a PG-13 to R. The movie centers on an FBI agent (Jackson) trying to keep a witness on a plane alive after an assassin has unleashed hundreds of reptiles on board. There’s already a ravenous fan following of this movie, months before it’s set to open. But will this be a case of too much attention, too early? (Aug. 18)
Official Web site

“Clerks 2: The Passion of the Clerks”
Starring Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Rosario Dawson, Trevor Fehrman, Jennifer Schwalbach, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Kevin Weisman, Wanda Sykes
It’s 12 years after the original “Clerks” and Dante (O’Halloran) and Randall (Anderson) have still not really grown up, nor have Jay (Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith). But will a fire that destroys the stores where they work and hang out change all that? Writer-director Smith returns to the scene of his first film, presumably to finally put these characters to bed. Expect lots of cameos from some of his friends, including Ben Affleck and Jason Lee, both of whom have appeared in most, if not all of his films. (Aug. 18)
Official Web site

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

DVD Releases - April 18

Only a couple limited appeal movies represent those recently in theaters for this week’s releases, and it’s safe to say they couldn’t be more different in their appeal. Other than that, it’s pretty quiet on the new release front. Here are some of the notables for April 18, coming a bit later than usual for me, due to a recent excursion out of town.

“Hostel” (Unrated) - As if the movie doesn’t already appeal to horror movie aficionados, this release is the unrated version of the film, likely meaning more violence. But when you’re dealing with a movie that centers around two Americans (played by Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson) who go to Europe to party, only to find themselves lured into a torture-for-profit business, how much more do you need?
Extras: Multiple commentaries, including one with director Eli Roth and executive producer Quentin Tarantino, behind-the-scenes featurette, and a multi-angle interactive feature.

“Laurel and Hardy Collection: TCM Archives” - Two of the classic comedy team’s feature films are included in the Turner Classic Movies collection, “The Devil’s Brother” and “Bonnie Scotland.” Both were released more than 70 years ago, but thank goodness for a format such as DVD to preserve the duo’s wonderful work.
Extras: Commentaries on both films from L&H aficionados Richard W. Bann and Leonard Maltin, a feature-length TCM documentary on the pair, and several excerpts from other L&H films.

“Moonstruck: Deluxe Edition” (PG) - The seemingly odd pairing of Cher and Nicolas Cage sure worked for this popular romantic comedy that snagged three Oscars, including one for Cher. Oscar-winner Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Vincent Gardenia and John Mahoney co-star for director Norman Jewison.
Extras: Audio commentary with Cher, Jewison and writer John Patrick Shanley, a making-of documentary, featurette on the music, interactive map of Little Italy and collectible Italian recipe cards (trade with your friends – collect them all!).

“Mrs. Henderson Presents” (R) - Snagging her fifth Oscar nomination, Judi Dench stars with Bob Hoskins as a World War II-era widow in London who decides to support the fighting soldiers with a theater production that’s not afraid to show a bit (OK, a lot) of skin. The blitz-bombing in England sets the scene for this crowd-pleasing British comedy.
Extras: Commentary with director Stephen Frears and a making-of featurette.

“Remington Steele: Season 3” - It was right around this time that James Bond producers expressed interest in “Remington Steele” star Pierce Brosnan to become 007, but he was stuck in his contract with the show. Wonder what would have happened had he got to play Bond. (Oh yeah, he did. Never mind.) Well, viewers also got to see a younger Brosnan play the title character, a former thief who partners with a private eye (Stephanie Zimbalist) to solve crimes.
Extras: All 22 episodes are here, with commentary from various people on three episodes, several featurettes and character profiles.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Movie Review: "Good Night, and Good Luck"

Starring David Strathairn, Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr. and Frank Langella
Directed by George Clooney

When it comes to the field of broadcast journalism, few, if any, are held in as high regard as Edward R. Murrow. With a broadcasting career that spanned over 25 years, all with CBS, Murrow was known for his hard-hitting style and integrity. Nowhere was that better demonstrated with his CBS show, "See It Now," which tackled numerous controversial topics, including the activities of Sen. Joseph McCartney and his relentless, highly controversial crusade against Communism.

Primarily focusing on Murrow and producer Fred Friendly's decision in the mid-1950s to challenge the junior senator's intimidating tactics, director George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" is a smart, earnestly acted drama. Without resorting to melodrama or grandstanding theatrics, the movie clearly demonstrates the dedication of a small group of reporters and producers, and their desire to show people that McCarthy's mission to expose Communists is an errant one.

Anchored by a straightforward and focused performance by David Straithairn as Murrow, the film essentially covers three episodes of "See It Now," and their subsequent aftermath. In one of the episodes, the show, predictably unable to get the participation of McCarthy, decides to use past footage of him, highlighting some of the inflammatory and contradictory statements he had made over the years. McCarthy would eventually appear on an episode to present a speech, in which he would criticize Murrow, even making untrue statements about the newsman's supposed "un-American" activities. But by then, the damage against Sen. McCarthy was already done, and the public made it clear in overwhelming numbers that they supported Murrow, thus signaling the beginning of the end for McCarthy's political career.

Clooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov, certainly knows his way around a newsroom, as his father was a longtime newsman himself. The almost claustrophobic and smoke-filled CBS studios are captured flawlessly, aided in large part to the smart decision to use wonderful-looking black and white cinematography by Robert Elswitt.

There was obviously a clear decision to keep the focus of the movie squarely inside CBS, as only a handful of scenes are even set outside of the network's building. And while Murrow is the central character in the film, this is by no means a biopic. Next to nothing is revealed about Murrow's personal life, and the same can be said for practically all the supporting cast, save for a brief and rather underdeveloped subplot involving the secretive marriage of Joe and Shirley Wershba (played by Robert Downey Jr. and Patricia Clarkson). Back then, CBS corporate policy forbid the employment of married couples.

While the cast, which also includes Clooney, Jeff Daniels and Frank Langella, can certainly not be faulted for any shortcomings in their performances, several of them aren't really utilized much. That decision undermines some of the narrative thrust of the film. The running time is a sleek 93 minutes, but it leaves a feeling of wanting a bit more. In fact, the movie is bookended with a 1958 appearance at a banquet honoring Murrow that ultimately adds little to the movie, except the chance for Murrow to chide the television industry on its leanings towards insignificance. There's certainly truth to his statements today, but they seem tacked on as more of a commentary on the television industry in general – a medium that Clooney has certainly had some conflicts with in recent years.

What the film does get exactly right is the power that the medium and journalism in general can have. The fearful and distrustful atmosphere that McCarthy helped create in 1950s America was challenged and eventually overcome by people like Murrow. But the movie also makes it clear that we as a society must be ever vigilant, as it can easily happen again.

Grade: B
(Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

DVD Releases - April 11

After several weeks in a row of Oscar-winning and award nominated films taking up the release schedule, this week’s highlights are a decidedly different bunch of DVDs. Two are clearly meant to generate some interest in an upcoming sequel next month, while the rest ... well, they’re not Oscar winners, that’s for sure. Here’s some of the releases heading your way April 11:

“Fun with Dick and Jane” (PG-13) - A remake of the 1977 film starring George Segal and Jane Fonda, Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni take the leads in this comedy about a couple who turn to crime when both find themselves out of work. There’s probably a good, but depressing drama that could be made of this same concept. And that title would certainly be a bit of a stretch in that case. Then again, it’s probably a bit of a stretch with this particular comedy too.
Extras: Audio commentary with director Dean Parisot and screenwriters Judd Apatow and Nicholas Stoller, deleted scenes, and a gag reel (see Jim Carrey become unhinged, over and over!).

“In Living Color: Season 5” - Speaking of Jim Carrey, here he is again, in what would be the final season of the sketch comedy show. This is the one that doesn’t have any of the Wayans family involved, but does include a more visible Carrey and Jamie Foxx, as well as Chris Rock. Still, if memory serves, this season was pretty weak overall.
Extras: A big, fat nada, unless you consider it providing all 26 episodes of the season an extra.

“Mission: Impossible - 10th Anniversary Edition” (PG-13) - It’s been 10 years already? Well, for those of you who can’t remember that far back, Tom Cruise starred as super agent Ethan Hunt in this adaptation of the 1960s TV show. The character of Jim Phelps is in the film, but is portrayed by Jon Voight, not Peter Graves. What gives? Graves was great. I loved it when he asked the kid in the plane’s cockpit if he’d ever seen a grown man naked. Umm, I think I might have mixed up my movies.
Extras: Lots of featurettes, as well as a teaser trailer for M:I-3 (how generous of them).

“Mission: Impossible 2 - Special Edition” (PG-13) - The sequel brings on director John Woo, co-stars Thandie Newton and Dougray Scott, as well as a lot of shots of people looking cool shooting guns and blowing stuff up. Oh, and you get to see Cruise do some extreme rock climbing, just because he can.
Extras: Commentary from Woo, several featurettes, a Metallica video and a funny M:I-2 parody featuring Cruise and Ben Stiller.

“An Unfinished Life” (PG-13) - Despite a strong cast of Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lopez and Josh Lucas, this film directed by Lasse Hallstrom, quietly went in and out of theaters last year, after sitting on Miramax’s shelf for a while. However, I will say making Redford and Lopez father and daughter seems a bit of a stretch. Maybe they should have tried Freeman and Lopez.
Extras: Commentary featuring Hallstrom, producer Leslie Holleran and editor Andrew Mondshein, a making of featurette and a featurette on training Bart the Bear (he’s appeared in several movies, most of which have been better than J. Lo’s recent offerings).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Movie Review: "Inside Man"

Starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Christopher Plummer
Directed by Spike Lee

Having built his career over the past 20 years largely focusing on passion projects, its a bit surprising to see Spike Lee directing what, at first glance, seems to be a straightforward genre picture. And to be certain, "Inside Man" is undoubtedly the most commercial film that Lee has ever made. But thanks to a smart script and strong performances, this crime caper is able to bring a freshness to the proceedings.

Demonstrating a strong focus, Russell Gewirtz, in his first produced screenplay, wastes no time getting to the central focus of the movie, as a Manhattan bank robbery is swiftly executed. Disguised as painters, the four-person gang of thieves, led by Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), quickly show they've come prepared, as they have all the hostages in the bank strip down and put on identical uniforms to theirs. Demonstrating a calm, yet very serious demeanor, Russell and his gang would seem to have ample time to take money and make their escape. However, their goals extend beyond a simple cash grab.

Before long, the authorities surround the bank and a standoff fraught with danger and risks ensues. This leads to a cat-and-mouse battle of wills between Russell and Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington). Frazier, a headstrong and stubborn detective, gets this huge assignment, even as he and partner Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are in the doghouse for the mysterious disappearance of $140,000 in another case. The moral character of Frazier's character is quickly brought into question, but Washington brings a lot of charm to the role, making him someone for the audience to immediately want to believe and root for.

As if Frazier didn't have enough to deal with, a wild card gets involved in the negotiations, when Madeline Smith (Jodie Foster) shows up. Smith, a mysterious power broker with very high connections, is brought into the situation by the bank's chairman, Arthur Case (Christopher Plummer), who has a very strong and personal desire for something in the bank to remain a secret. Smith doesn't know what the secret is, and seemingly doesn't care, while Frazier doesn't even know the real reason why Smith is involved. "Look detective, there are matters at stake here that are a little bit above your pay grade," Smith calmly informs Frazier.

Although they only share a few scenes together, it's fun to see Washington and Foster (both two-time Oscar winners) square off, as each are arguably the best actors of their generation. Foster has always shown a propensity for playing strong-willed women and while she has limited screen time, she makes the most of what's essentially an underwritten part.

Lee generally keeps the story moving forward, while still allowing for astute character observations, such as a seemingly racist cop making adjustments to a story he tells Frazier. One of the best moments takes place in the bank vault, as Russell observes a particularly gruesomely violent video game that a young boy is playing on his portable game machine. As both sit on giant piles of money, he comments that after the boy is finished eating, he'll have to talk to the boy's father about the game. Little moments like that help distinguish the film from the cliched checklist that many heist movies seem to follow.

While most of the story plays out with a solid sense of realism, the film does misstep some down the stretch, as character motivations and their knowledge are conveniently adjusted to fit in the confines of the script. But the story does generally keep the audience engaged, even if the ends don't ultimately seem to justify the means. Much like its somewhat enigmatic title, "Inside Man" primarily succeeds in throwing some mystery into what is normally a conventional genre.
Grade: B+
(Rated R for language and some violent images.)