..Gary Dretzka
..Noah Forrest
..Leonard Klady
..David Poland
..Douglas Pratt
..Ray Pride
..Kim Voynar
..Michael Wilmington

 
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..MCN Weekend

 


Old Dogs: Blu-ray

A movie really has to stink for Roger Ebert to give it a single-star rating these days. No critic possesses the same willingness to find admirable qualities in otherwise mediocre films and the ability to justify his generosity in such elegant prose. He understands that no one sets out to make a bad film and isn’t reluctant to go against the grain when he enjoys a picture other critics don’t. That’s what makes his one-star blow-off of Old Dogs noteworthy. 

A major studio product, Old Dogs is the kind of lackluster affair that makes one wonder if its stars – in this case, Robin Williams and John Travolta – willingly traded the prestige of their names for a big payday. Travolta owns his own fleet of planes, so, maybe, the soaring cost of jet fuel affected his decision. Williams was experiencing serious personal problems at the time and it’s possible he saw the New York shoot as an escape from his troubles. Who knows? Both actors could have phoned in the same performances from their homes in California. 

Here, they play Charlie and Dan, longtime friends and partners in a successful marketing concern. The former is a lifelong bachelor and ladies man, while the latter is recently divorced and miserable. To cure the blues, the fifty-something pals head to Florida, where they hook up with a pair of like-minded women, played by Kelly Preston and Rita Wilson. Seven years later, Dan learns that his brief liaison with Preston’s character resulted in the birth of twins. In a series of contrivances too lame to explain, Dan and Charlie agree to babysit the kids for a few weeks. 

There’s never any real doubt that the presence of the kids in the men’s lives will be as beneficial to them as the introduction of father figures will be to the kids (one of whom is played by Preston and Travolta’s daughter). A fragile business deal with a Japanese firm threatens to divide the newly reunited family, but only someone who hasn’t seen a movie in the last 50 years would take it seriously. Walt Becker, who directed Travolta in Wild Hogs, deserves much of the blame for turning out such a dull, disjointed comedy, but the writing team of David Diamond and David Weissman didn’t do the stars any favors, either. The funniest bit in the movie was reserved for Seth Green’s aspiring marketing mogul, a wee man who is adopted by a gorilla in the local zoo. Also appearing are Matt Dillon, Lori Laughlin and the late Bernie Mac, for whom Old Dogs would be his last movie. (Its release was delayed by the deaths of Mac and Travolta’s son, as well as Williams’ heart attack.) The Blu-ray “combo pack” includes music videos by Bryan Adams and John and Ella Bleu Travolta; the featurette Young Dogs Learn Old Tricks; bloopers and deleted scenes; commentary; and a DVD and digital copy of the film. – Gary Dretzka


Fix

Portrayals of addiction in movies have come a long way since Reefer MadnessThe Man With the Golden Arm and The Days of Wine and Roses. It’s the rare family that hasn’t been required to cope with a loved one’s dependence on or recovery from addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping or sex, in one way or another. If it weren’t Michael Douglas and, now, Tiger Woods, who would have guessed that being hooked on sex could be a bad thing? It worked for Don Juan and Wilt Chamberlain. Clearly, some habits are more dangerous than others. 

No film captured the roller-coaster ride provided by an addiction to heroin, cocaine or crystal meth more accurately than Requiem for a Dream. It captured both the highs and lows with equal clarity. In Tao Raspuli’s often quite compelling Fix, a judge requires of a young white junkie that he enter a rehab center by 8 p.m. on certain day or spend the next several years in prison. The junkie’s filmmaker brother and his girlfriend volunteer not only to deposit the famously irresponsible Leo in the facility on time, but also help him find the $5,000 he’ll need to afford treatment. After picking up Leo from a jail outside L.A., the trio bounces from the Hollywood Hills, to Venice, the barrio and Watts, seeking people willing to buy a hot Chevy, an espresso machine, an English bulldog and bag of hydroponically grown pot. 

All the while, brother Milo (Raspuli) is filming their excellent adventure with a digital camera and the gorgeous Bella (Olivia Wilde) serves as chauffeur. If one can get past the unlikely conceit of a filmmaker being allowed to document drug deals, gang-banging and other surreptitious activity, there’s much to enjoy in the fresh settings and realistic characters. Still, you’re always aware that Milo is a junkie and, while, his lies, deceit and self-destructive behavior are intermittingly funny, they ultimately wear us out. – Gary Dretzka


Gentlemen Broncos: Blu-ray

Be advised: the appeal of Jared and Jerusha Hess’ latest beyond-quirky comedy, Gentlemen Broncos is likely to be limited to anyone who deemed Napoleon Dynamite to be insufficiently nerdy and Nacho Libre too subtle. The cast of characters is dominated by social misfits whose various obsessions make Trekkies seem normal. By comparison, the dweebs on The Big Bang Theory are as charismatic as the stars of Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13. Other than that, Gentlemen Broncos is a blast. 

Like many of the other characters, Benjamin (Michael Angarano) is a home-schooled teen-ager, whose imagination is the only thing about him that could be considered hyperactive. His life revolves around his creation of sci-fi books and the collages he uses to illustrate their covers. His mom, as played by the ever-delightful Jennifer Coolidge, designs fashions that could be sold at a Kmart on Mars. At a writing camp for like-minded teens, Benjamin enters his magnum opus, Yeast Lords, into a contest judged by a pretentious, beyond-his-prime fantasist, Ronald Chevalier (Jermaine ClementThe Flight of the Conchords). 

Strapped for a new story idea, Chevalier steals Yeast Lords, changes a name or two, and hands the manuscript over to his publisher. In the meantime, Yeast Lords is adapted locally by an intensely prolific amateur filmmaker – think Brüno, crossed with a young John Waters – with a dim-witted 1980s reject (Mike Judge) in the lead role. It takes a while for Benjamin to discover Chevalier’s deception, but, when he does, justice is swift … too swift, really, and not all that interesting. 

I found Gentlemen Broncos to be more amusing than other critics did and its crude set pieces rather inventive. The Hesses, though, lack the same compassion for the outcasts in Broncos as the defiant doofusses in Napoleon Dynamite. The line between the absurd and ridiculous is very thin, indeed. In the parallel movie adaptations of Yeast Lords, for example, Sam Rockwell’s lavishly bearded Bronco/Brutus rides a stuffed deer armed with missiles and lasers. The Blu-ray adds commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of piece and several shorter behind-the-scenes vignettes. – Gary Dretzka


Planet 51: Blu-ray

This entertaining, if slight animated comedy is based on the premise that life does exist on planets other than Earth, but all the probes and modules we’ve sent to record extraterrestrial activity have been aimed in the opposite direction of where it flourishes. In Planet 51, American astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lands on planet NASA scientists have deemed to be devoid of life. (A scientific rover focused on rocks and ignored everything else.) 

Instead, it is populated by humanoids that bear a passing resemblance to Smurfs. They live and work in structures that might have been constructed off blueprints discarded by 1950s-era architects, right down to the patios and barbecues. When Baker steps out of his space capsule, he reminds the locals of characters in a popular sci-fi/horror franchise, The Humaniacs. It causes most of the little green people, if you will, to anticipate the invasion prophesized in those comics and movies. They react in the same manner as Earthlings, conditioned by 80 years of sci-fi dread, might when confronted by a Martian snooping around their back yards. 

Fortunately, at least one cooler head in this Bizarro world prevails, and Baker is able find his way back to the space craft. The picture should appeal to post-toddler/pre-teen audiences and patient parents. The Blu-ray package includes an interactive game, with an optional iPhone controller app; extended scenes; a behind-the-scenes featurette; a tour of Planet 51; extended scenes; and music videos. – Gary Dretzka


The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day

Troy Duffy has written and directed exactly two movies, cult favorite The Boondock Saints and the sequel The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, and, yet, he’s already become something of a Hollywood legend. If you aren’t aware of his story, rent the astonishing documentary Overnight, which describes how the onetime rock-’n’-roller and bartender took Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein to the cleaners and nearly committed career suicide in the process. 

In the sequel, the MacManus brothers (Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery) are lured back to Boston by the mob – or someone equally sinister – after spending several years in self-imposed exile in Ireland with their dad, Il Duce (Billy Connolly). Someone killed a popular Southie priest, using the vigilante trio’s M.O., and they intend both to clear their names and slaughter the ones responsible for the crime. The highly stylized violence is choreographed almost to the point of self-parody, with a sexy new FBI agent (Julie Benz) brought in to replace the one played by Willem Dafoe

For my money, the blond Dexter co-star is the best thing in All Saints Day. Otherwise, it’s only likely to impress the same blood-drenched viewers who rescued “Boondocks Saints” from oblivion 10 years ago, by seeking it out in its DVD incarnation. The Blu-ray adds commentaries; BD-Live functionality; deleted scenes; making-of featurettes; a conversation with Billy Connolly and Troy Duffy; a look at the weaponry; and a look at the Comic-Con presentation. – Gary Dretzka


Capitalism: A Love Story

If the current, on-going economic crisis has taught poor and middle-class Americans anything, it’s that capitalism, as practiced on Wall Street, is as predatory as any shark or hyena, and politics, as practiced in Washington, anyway, is the antithesis of democracy. While it’s possible to believe that America’s rich and landed Founding Fathers endorsed capitalism as a substitute for an imposed state religion, they couldn’t have imagined on economy based on stock options, mortgage wholesalers and pyramid schemes. After nearly 30 years of encouragement by Republican and Democratic legislators, Wall Street found ever more inventive ways to build houses made of cards. 

If Bernie Madoff’s crooked empire hadn’t been toppled, his face might someday have ended up on the $50 bill. Those are my words, not Michael Moore’s. In Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore argues a similar point, naming names and calling out bankers, financiers, business executives and politicians who have exploited every loophole made available to them to steal money from average citizens and escape prosecution when their schemes go bust. Essentially, the new documentary is a sequel to Roger and Me, which, in 1989, described how General Motors was allowed to destroy the economy of Moore’s once-thriving hometown of Flint, Michigan, and profit from the pain of fired workers. It could also be seen as an extension of Sicko, which demonstrated how the American medical establishment and insurers gouge workers, by raising their premiums and denying them services. 

Moore’s satirical methodology has been criticized almost as much by fellow documentarians as the targets of his scorn and derision. His unkempt physical appearance makes him an easy target for ridicule and parody. What counts most, however, is the information provided in his documentaries, and no amount of nitpicking can minimize what we learn in Capitalism: A Love Story. It’s impossible not to recognize the huge economic gap that’s developed not only between rich and poor people, but the upper crust and middle-class Americans. This divide continued to grow, even in the midst of an economic explosion that ostensibly should have benefitted all Americans equally. Instead, regulatory agencies were told to ignore the get-richer-quicker schemes of unscrupulous traders, bankers and corporations who thought the balloon would never burst. 

When it did, near the end of the second Bush administration, the only remedy left to the in-coming Barack Obama was to prop up the same institutions that caused the collapse in the first place, and, even today, continue to enrich themselves at the expense of tax payers. It’s easy to condemn Moore’s eccentricities, but who else is speaking to the same issues and demanding accountability from politicians who have been bought and sold by Wall Street lobbyists? The Blu-ray edition’s "bonus segments" include more material from Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, New York Times reporter Chris Hedges and segments on banking in places other than New York. Former President Jimmy Carter’s prophetic speech to the nation in 1979 also is elongated. – Gary Dretzka


Troubled Water
Gigante

How the harrowing Norwegian drama, Troubled Water, was denied distribution in American theaters is anyone’s guess. It’s as good or better than at least 8 of the 10 movies nominated for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, and as deserving a nod in the foreign-language category as any in memory. That’s not to be considered a knock against any other candidate. It’s just fact. The same probably could be said about a dozen other foreign titles, though. 

Here, a young man convicted in the kidnapping and death of a child, years earlier, has been released from prison. He finds work almost immediately, as organist in a church in Oslo, where the crime occurred. Just as he’s about to regain his self-confidence and social footing, Jan Thomas is recognized by the mother of the boy who died. His unexpected presence unnerves the woman, who, in the meantime, had adopted two girls and gotten her life back in order. Knowing he’ll always be considered guilty of the killing, which he still claims was accidental, Jan Thomas is reluctant to get too close to the young son of his lover, a female priest, or lower his guard in public. 

Even so, he’s anxious to apologize to the mother of the 5-year-old, an act that promises to trigger even greater drama. Director Erik Poppe elicits splendid performances from his actors, while also keeping viewers guessing as to how everything will work in the end … or not.

Also from Film Movement, by way of Uruguay, comes the seriously offbeat romance, Gigante. Jara is a shy, lonely and slightly oafish security guard, who works the graveyard shift at a supermarket on the outskirts of Montevideo. His primary duty is to monitor the cameras installed around the store, keeping an eye on shoplifters, some of whom are employees. It’s boring work, but Jara finds one sure way to stay awake. It involves keeping track of 25-year-old Julia, a cleaning woman, who, from a distance, seems friendly and reasonably attractive. Too shy to introduce himself to the woman, Jara invests a great time of his off-duty time following her around town. His obsessive behavior doesn’t quite fit the legal definition of stalking, since he has no intention of confronting her. It isn’t even all that creepy. When Julia is laid off from her job, Jara must decide if he will act on his desires or forever remain on the sidelines of love. – Gary Dretzka


The Wedding Song
Rosa and the Executioner of the Fiend

Few movies have parsed the religious divide between Muslim and Jewish women – while also delineating the things they have in common -- as intimately as Karin Albou’s The Wedding Song. Set in World War II Tunis, during the German occupation, Albou’s story focuses on Nour and Myriam, 16-year-old neighbors and close friends. Both of the women soon will be married, one to a much-older man she doesn’t particularly like and the other to a boy whose journey into manhood will turn him into someone she no longer recognizes. 

Like their mothers before them, the girls won’t be allowed much say in the matter, nor be able to control their destinies. Even though Muslims and Jews lived easily among each other in the region, the Nazis and French administrators used age-old myths and prejudices to drive wedges between them. The strategy works as planned with Nour, whose boyfriend demands she avoid Myriam and begin reading the Koran … but only the parts that appear to condemn Jews and Christians. 

As the Allies begin to exert their military might in North Africa, the girls are forced to recognize their differences, acknowledge their similarities and make decisions that will determine the course of their respective futures. Meanwhile, Albou demonstrates how rituals designed to bind women to their husbands also symbolize their imminent imprisonment. The Wedding Song is a different sort of war movie … one that’s unique to its setting and brief window of time.

The clumsily titled Rosa and the Executioner of the Fiend describes how the survivor of one great tragedy influences the actions of a much younger victim of a quite different calamity. Rosa, a passenger on the doomed S.S. St. Louis, never forgot the lessons she learned in World War II, when America, Cuba and other nations refused to accept Jews escaping certain death in Europe. A survivor of the Holocaust, she’s lived alone in an apartment across from the United Nations for many years. One day, a man with a rifle manages to talk his way into her unit, whose windows give him the perfect perch from which he can assassinate Fidel Castro, the man who drove him and his family from their homes. 

At first, Rosa imagines him to be a Nazi sent to do her harm, then an agent of the building owner, who wants to evict her and raise the rent. Eventually, though, she learns the man was exiled from Cuba with other children, as part of the Pedro Pan Rescue Project. Memories of the time she spent on board the ship, futilely awaiting entry to Havana, gave them a common point of view on fascism. Their dialogue in Ivan Acosta’s drama feels overly theatrical at times, and, as such, is vaguely reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Death and the Maiden. Technically, the film is more than a bit ragged, as well. Still, the uplifting ending compensates for a lot of mistakes. – Gary Dretzka


Serbis

Set almost entirely in a disheveled movie theater in a seedy part of a Philippine city, whose economy was once dependent on an American naval base, Serbis is a movie about two families: the one that runs the adult-movie house, Family, and the people who frequent it, many of whom are “girly boys.” Once the customers buy a ticket, both families conduct their business independently of the other. If this makes Serbis (Tagalog, for “service”) sound more than a tad tawdry, that’s only because it is. One shouldn’t expect all movie families to resemble the Waltons, though, or even the Corleones. – Gary Dretzka


Possession
The Caretaker
The Wraith: Special Edition. 

Normally, any psychological thriller starring the thinking-man’s scream queen, Sarah Michelle Gellar, would be accorded a wide release and easy sailing into the DVD marketplace. It’s taken three years for Possession to make the journey from completion to the direct-to-video arena, however, without being allowed a stop at Go or an opportunity to collect $200. It was put on a shelf after the original distribution company went bankrupt and several tentative release dates were missed. It’s just as well, probably. Possession won’t make anyone forget The Grudge and The Return, but Gellar completists will want to see it, anyway. 

Here, she plays one half of a supposedly perfect married couple, living the good life in Marin County. The only cloud on her horizon is the presence of her husband’s violent ex-con brother (Lee Pace), who’s become a permanent fixture in their relationship. The young wife isn’t nearly as pure and perfect as we’ve been led to believe, however. After a serious automobile accident puts both brothers hooked to machinery in a hospital, a bizarre transference of personalities occurs, leaving the wife in doubt over which brother is the true survivor of the crash. Suspense builds as the audience picks up on clues that Gellar will only discover later. Possession isn’t particularly well constructed or scary, for that matter. What moments of tension it does have probably should have been transplanted into a better movie.

Neither is there anything particularly scary in The Caretaker, a movie that plays more like a starter kit for beginning horror mavens, than a fully realized gore-fest. Here, a group of typically horny teenage boys decides they’ll have a little fun with their dates before heading to the Homecoming dance, which neatly coincides with Halloween. They ask their chauffer to drive the limo to a supposedly haunted house in the middle of a grapefruit orchard. Once there, they’re told a ghost story by one of the boys. 

Lurking outside, of course, is a fiend with a fruit-picking device sharpened to the sharpness of a razor and a bad attitude toward intruders. A bloodbath ensues, but one that doesn’t require much eye covering. Everything happens in the appropriate order, including the ritual slaying of a topless blond slut, and murders of those who scoff at the urban legend. The presence of a corseted Meg Tilly, as a teacher, no less, does add some kinky luster to affair, however.

Released in 1986, The Wraith is an appealingly unpretentious teenage-delinquent movie, in which the soul of a boy killed by a pack of hot-rodding thugs assumes the body of Charlie Sheen, so as to exact vengeance on the gang from beyond the grave … or parking lot of the local drive-in, where waitresses wear roller-skates. The movie is interesting 24 years later primarily for early performances by Sheen (pre-Platoon), Nick Cassavetes and Sherilyn Fenn, and the sight of Clint Howard in a wig straight of Eraserhead

Sheen plays the avenging angel, who arrives in the rural Arizona town to rip his earthly girlfriend from the grips of the town bully. There’s some entertaining car action, but The Wraith is noteworthy mostly for its camp value. An interview with Clint Howard, who deserves his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is included in the bonus package. – Gary Dretzka


Hannah Montana: Miley Says Goodbye?
Turn the Beat Around

Apparently, all sorts of questions surround the upcoming season finale of Hanna Montana, which can be previewed in the latest DVD edition of the saga. For one, Miley Cyrus’ alter ego must decide if she’ll stay in Malibu or move back to Tennessee, to live with her beloved horse. (Since when have horses been banned from the beach community?) I’m guessing, she can afford the commute. Besides the cliffhanger ending, the DVD package includes several other third-season episodes, an alternate ending for He Could Be the OneYou Never Give Me My MoneySister Secrets and a photo frame.

In the recent MTV movie, Turn the Beat Around, a young dancer realizes her dream of owning her own disco, where she can promote world peace through dance, or some such thing. Needless to say, Zoe must deal with jealous lovers and bitter rivalries before such an altruistic dream can be realized. The DVD adds a making-of featurette and deleted scenes to the music- and dance-filled special. – Gary Dretzka


 

 


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