OnVideo FEBRUARY Video Reviews
Meet Harvey Pekar, bona fide American original. Cleveland native, V.A. hospital file clerk, and hilariously grumpy observer of life's strange and unpredictable pageant. A comic book writer who writes about his everyday life as an omnivorous reader, jazz lover, obsessive-compulsive collector, and lousy housekeeper. A prickly poet of the mundane who knows that all the strategizing in the world can't save a guy from choosing the wrong supermarket checkout line. Before camcorders, before Webcams, before nonstop reality TV, there was Harvey Pekar and his homegrown autobiographical comic book series "American Splendor." Since 1976, the pages of "American Splendor" have found Harvey puzzling, fuming, and marveling over the minutiae of his day-to-day existence. No experience is too ordinary, no thought too incorrect for him to gnaw over in his funny, candid and utterly humane stories. Bringing his own brand of bravery to comic books, Harvey Pekar expresses what so many of us think and feel, but only dream of saying -- and he never, ever holds back. Now, acclaimed filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini bring Pekar's story -- in multiple senses of the word -- to the screen in their first narrative feature. "American Splendor" is the true saga of a working-class Everyman who pursues self-expression without self-censorship -- and finds a grateful audience, critical admiration, and that most remarkable of happy endings, a loving family. Like its namesake comic, "American Splendor" focuses on the large and small moments in the life of its curmudgeonly hero, and offers not one, but several illustrations of Harvey Pekar: the Harvey of the main narrative, portrayed by Paul Giamatti; a 2-D animated Harvey; and the real Harvey, past (via archival footage) and present. The result is a film as inventive as the subject himself -- one that captures Pekar's voice in all its hilarious, truthful, and cantankerous humanity. American Splendor premiered in competition at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. It was also selected to screen in Un Certain Regard at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival. And it is a true gem of a film that pretty much sums up all that is right -- and wrong -- about life in America.
Director: Shari Springer Berman Robert Pulcini. Stars: Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Daniel Tay, Harvey Pekar, James Urbaniak. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 101 min.), Comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $6.000 million, (HBO), $26.99 VHS SRP, Available: 2/3, DVD: Day & Date.
DICKIE ROBERTS: FORMER CHILD STAR
Former child star Dickie Roberts (David Spade), now an out-of-work actor turned parking valet, is desperate to audition for a great new role that would revitalize his career. Unfortunately, Dickie has three strikes against him: he's superficial, materialistic and immature. Desperate for the coveted role, he decides to hire a family to adopt him so he can relive his childhood and grow up.
Director: Sam Weisman. Stars: David Spade, Jon Lovitz, Doris Roberts, Alyssa Milano, Mary McCormack. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 98 min.), Comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $22.700 million, (Paramount), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/17, DVD: Day & Date.
FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS, THE
Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) has just lost his job with a New York advertising firm and bill collectors are chasing him all over the city. But just when he thinks his luck has completely run out, Darrin discovers he's the only surviving relative of his Aunt Sally who has just left him $150,000. Traveling back to his small hometown of Montecarlo, Georgia, to attend the funeral and collect his inheritance, Darrin soon discovers that Sally's written a tiny catch into her will. Her last wish is that her beloved nephew create a choir, enter it in the annual Gospel Explosion and bring home a victory. Between the bickering and the difficulties finding talented singers in the community, not to mention that his heart just isn't into the whole thing, Darrin has his work cut out for him ... until he meets Lilly (Beyonce Knowles). A beautiful jazz singer with a voice to match, Lilly awakens feelings in Darrin he didn't know he had. Suddenly, collecting the money or heading back to New York City aren't important anymore, and he realizes that Aunt Sally left him something much more than an inheritance.
Director: Jonathan Lynn. Stars: Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps, Faith Evans, Steve Harvey, Wendell Pierce, LaTanya Richardson, Dave Sheridan, Angie Stone, Rue McClanahan, Melba Moore. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 122 min.), Comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $30.100 million, (Paramount), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/3, DVD: Day & Date.
IN THE CUT
Sexually charged psychological thriller with Meg Ryan acting against her usual typecast as a sweetheart. Frannie Avery (Ryan) is a desperately lonely New York teacher who discovers the darker side of passion after beginning an erotic affair with tough homicide detective James Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), who is investigating a series of grisly murders of young women in her neighborhood. As the killings continue unabated, Frannie begins to suspect Malloy is the killer. Or could it be her stalker of an ex-boyfriend (Kevin Bacon)? Or even one of her students, who's writing a paper on serial killers? Soon Frannie is drawn into a dangerous and intense world of obsession, suspicion, desire and violence, with a surprise ending. A very dark and gritty outing. In a rated version and a very sexy unrated director's cut.
Director: Jane Campion. Stars: Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Bacon, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 119 min.), Thriller, 2003, Box office gross: $5.000 million, (Columbia TriStar), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/10, DVD: Day & Date.
A less-than-masterful Coen Brothers' dark comedy, here taking place in an exaggerated L.A. world where sex appeal is the bait, riches are the reward, and love is what scrappy men and women learn to dodge. Fabulously successful Los Angeles divorce attorney and incredibly eligible bachelor Miles Massey (George Clooney) is sated on success and needs a new challenge. Enter much-divorced Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a hardheaded woman pursuing financial independence through serial matrimony. She's the about-to-be-ex-wife of one of Massey's clients, and through some adept use of "caught-in-the-act photographs" by a private eye (Cedric the Entertainer), Marilyn seems to have an ironclad case -- until Massey uncovers dirt on her, scotching her monetary claim. But Marilyn doesn't hold a grudge -- she hires Massey to write a prenuptial for her next marital adventure, which is to oil billionaire Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton). Smitten with her, Massey urges Marilyn not to enter the marriage, but she does and, inevitably, leaves Doyle. Miles is waiting, and the pair run off to get married. But Marilyn has a few revenge tricks up her sleeves, and the love-smitten Massey is hung out to dry. What follows is the mother of all battles of the sexes as the two square off, personally and professionally. Not as perverse as previous Coen outings, with a storyline that borders, unfortunately, on the inane. Part of the problem might be that the Coens were not solely responsible for the almost slapstick script. Zeta-Jones and Clooney light up the screen with their looks but their acting leaves much to be desired.
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen. Stars: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrmann, Paul Adelstein, Richard Jenkins, Billy BobThornton, Julia Duffy. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 100 min.), Romantic comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $35.096 million, (Universal), $26.98 VHS SRP, Available: 2/10, DVD: Day & Date.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
A surprise work of art from writer-director Sofia Coppola. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are two Americans in Tokyo. Bob is a movie star in town to shoot a whiskey commercial, estranged from his career and his wife. Charlotte is a young woman tagging along with her workaholic photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi). Both are lost in their own lives: Bob going through a mid-life crisis, Charlotte unsure of her two-year marriage and what she wants out of life. Unable to sleep, Bob and Charlotte cross paths one night in the bar of the luxury hotel they are staying in. This chance meeting develops into a surprising friendship. Charlotte and Bob venture through Tokyo, having weird and at-times hilarious encounters with its citizens, and learning from each other a new belief in life's possibilities. Shot entirely on location in Japan, the film is a valentine to the nature of close friendships and contemplates the unexpected connections we make that might not last -- yet stay with us forever. A tad bit immature in its romanticizing of the younger girl/older man relationship (a young woman's idealizing of her love for her father, perhaps?), the film nevertheless is a bittersweet and melancholy take on the dislocations of the modern psyche. Murray and Johansson are exquisite in their roles, and the camerawork by Lance Acord captures the contradictions of the Japanese landscape: both the shimmering superficiality of Tokyo nightlife and the pastoral beauty of ancient Japan. A gem of a film. Coppola is the first American female director up for an Academy Award and Murray has been nominated for Best Actor.
Director: Sofia Coppola. Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 102 min.), Comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $30.000 million, (Universal), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/3, DVD: Day & Date.
Roy (Nicolas Cage) and his protege Frank (Sam Rockwell) are a couple of successful, small-time con artists (aka "Matchstick Men") who are working the phones selling overpriced water filtration systems for homes. Roy's private life, however, is not so successful. He's an obsessive-compulsive, germ-phobic agoraphobe (and chain-smoker) with no personal relationships to call his own ... until he learns he has a 14-year old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman). Angela, who thought her dad was either dead or in prison, not only wants to meet him, she wants in on the partnership -- and the latest con of a shady, crude businessman. It's "Paper Moon" for the 21st century, directed with a deft hand by Ridley Scott and featuring small gems of performances by Cage, Rockwell and Lohman. Let the con begin.
Director: Ridley Scott. Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill, Sheila Eastin. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 116 min.), Crime comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $37.000 million, (Warner), $19.96 VHS SRP, Available: 2/24, DVD: Day & Date.
Cate Blanchett plays Maggie Gilkeson, a young woman raising her two daughters in an isolated and lawless wilderness. When her oldest daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnapped by a psychopathic killer with mystical powers (Eric Schweig), Maggie is forced to re-unite with her long estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) to rescue her. The killer and his brutal cult of desperados have kidnapped several other teenage girls, leaving a trail of death and horror across the desolate landscape of the American Southwest. Maggie and her father are in a race against time to catch up with the renegades and save her daughter, before they cross the Mexican border and disappear forever.
Director: Ron Howard. Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, Evan Rachel Wood, Jenna Boyd, Eric Schweig, Aaron Eckhart, Jay Tavare, Simon Baker, Sergio Calderson, Val Kilmer. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 137 min.), Western thriller, 2003, Box office gross: $26.000 million, (Columbia TriStar), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/24, DVD: Day & Date.
MY BOSS'S DAUGHTER
Ashton Kutcher stars as a young executive who agrees to house-sit for his cantankerous boss -- hoping that it will get him closer to the boss's attractive daughter. But when some of his co-workers decide to throw a party at the boss's house, everything spins wildly out of control.
Director: David Zucker. Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Tara Reid, Terence Stamp, Molly Shannon, Michael Madsen, Andy Richter, Carmen Electra, Jon Abrahams. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 85 min.), Comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $15.436 million, (Dimension), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/3, DVD: Day & Date.
PIECES OF APRIL
Offbeat comedy about a rebellious girl, April (Katie Holmes), who attempts to make amends for her past by creating the "perfect" Thanksgiving dinner in her grubby Lower East Side apartment for her family. But her attempt to create an unforgettable feast go awry when her oven breaks down. Now, as her weary family members -- who aren't particularly thriller about journeying to the city -- make their way to the city, April must rely on the kindness of strangers to pull off the meal. By first time director Peter Hedges, who wrote "About a Boy." Patricia Clarkson, who plays April's cancer-ridden mother, is up for an Academy Award. Wonderful small film.
Director: Peter Hedges. Stars: Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 80 min.), Comedy, 2003, Box office gross: $0.892 million, (MGM), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/24, DVD: Day & Date.
From master storyteller John Grisham ("The Firm," "The Pelican Brief") comes this fine suspense-thriller about a high-priced and ruthless jury "consultant" (Gene Hackman) who will stop at nothing to secure a verdict on an explosive trial. With lives and millions of dollars at stake, the fixer wages a deadly battle with a jury member (John Cusack), a mysterious woman (Rachel Weisz) and an honest lawyer (Dustin Hoffman). When a young widow in New Orleans brings a civil suit against the powerful corporate consortium of gun- makers she holds responsible for her husband's death in a mass murder, she sets in motion a multi-million dollar case. But it's a suit that may be won even before it begins -- based solely on the selection, manipulation and, ultimately, the attempted "theft" of the jury. Representing the widow is Wendall Rohr (Hoffman), a courtly Southern lawyer with a moral center and a heartfelt passion for the case he's presenting. His opponent is ostensibly the attorney representing the corporation. But in reality, defense counsel is only the front man for Rankin Fitch (Hackman), a brilliant and ruthless jury consultant. At a high tech command center set up in an old French Quarter warehouse, Fitch and his team work on the surveillance and assessment of potential jurors. He will know everything about their lives, and strategically manipulate the jury selection process. The only acceptable result is the perfect jury to vote in favor of his client. Fitch and Rohr soon realize they're not the only ones out to win the jury. One of the jurors, Nick Easter (Cusack), seems to have his own plan for swaying the panel. And a mysterious woman known only as Marlee (Weisz) contacts both Rohr and Fitch telling them the jury's for sale to either of them -- and that the verdict won't come cheap. While the case is argued in court, a dangerous cat and mouse game begins to play out in the French Quarter. Rohr's morality is put to the test, and Fitch is poised to cross the line from selecting a jury to stealing it -- no matter who gets hurt in the process. Exciting action, plot twists and a thrilling ending. The film marks the first pairing of screen legends Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.
Director: Gary Fleder. Stars: John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz, Bruce Davison, Bruce McGill, Jeremy Piven. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 122 min.), Thriller, 2003, Box office gross: $48.500 million, (Fox), No VHS SRP, Priced for rental, Available: 2/17, DVD: Day & Date.
For 14-year old Walter (Haley Joel Osment), his great uncles' farm in rural Texas is the last place on earth he wants to spend the Summer. Dumped off by his mother, Mae (Kyra Sedgwick), in the middle of nowhere with two crazy old men and the promise that she'll come back for him, Walter doesn't know what to believe in. Eccentric and gruff, Hub and Garth McCaan (Robert Duvall and Michael Caine) are rumored to have been bank robbers, mafia hit men and/or war criminals in their younger days. The truth is elusive, although they do seem to have an endless supply of cash. But Walter begins to see a new side to his great uncles when he stumbles on an old photograph of a beautiful woman hidden away in a trunk and asks Garth who she is. Little by little, through stories spun against the backdrop of the dusty Texas night, an amazing story comes to life via Walter's vivid, colorful imaginings -- a tale set in a long-ago exotic, mysterious place where men rode stallions and fought with swords; where beautiful princesses tangled with treacherous sheiks; and where the two unlikely heroes lived an adventure most people only dream of. Whether true or not, the uncles' tales become a doorway to a staggering new world for the boy to live out their adventures. They also give Walter something true to believe in -- a world where honor and valor mean more than money and power, and a place that, real or not, belongs only to him. Likewise, in telling their stories to their nephew, Hub and Garth begin to see their own lives with new eyes. Over one unpredictable Central Texas summer in the early 1960s, everything in the lives of this new family of strangers is about to change forever.
Director: Tim McCanlies. Stars: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick, Nicky Katt, Josh Lucas. CC, (MPAA rating: PG, 111 min.), Family, 2003, Box office gross: $41.000 million, (New Line), $22.99 VHS SRP, Available: 2/3, DVD: Day & Date.
SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER
This latest Spy Kids adventure features returning cast members Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Ricardo Montalban, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Holland Taylor, and Danny Trejo. Juni (Sabara) must save his sister Carmen (Vega) who is being held captive inside a video game controlled by the evil toymaker (Sylvester Stallone) who wants to take over the world. Juni journeys inside the virtual reality world of the 3-D video game designed to outsmart him, as the awe-inspiring graphics and creatures of gaming come to real life. Relying on humor, gadgetry, bravery, family bonds -- Juni calls upon his mom (Gugino), dad (Banderas), grandparents (Montalban and Taylor) and his friends -- and lightning-quick reflexes, the Spy Kids must battle through tougher and tougher levels of the game-facing challenges that include racing against road warriors and surfing on boiling lava in order to save the world from the power hungry villain. The VHS version is presented in 2-D; the DVD version has 2-D and 3-D versions (and four sets of 3-D glasses).
Director: Robert Rodriguez. Stars: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Ricardo Montalban, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Holland Taylor, Sylvester Stallone, Salma Hayak, Danny Trejo. CC, (MPAA rating: PG, 72 min.), Family, 2003, Box office gross: $110.793 million, (Dimension), $24.99 VHS SRP, Available: 2/24, DVD: Day & Date.
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN
The life of freshly divorced San Francisco writer Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) is about to take an unexpected but much needed upturn. Trying to shake Frances out of her lethargy and post-breakup funk, her friend Patti (Sandra Oh) offers Frances a gift that she hopes will do the trick: a 10-day trip to Tuscany, in the heart of Italy. And right there, under the Tuscan sun, the unlikeliest thing happens: Frances impulsively buys a run-down villa named "Bramasole" -- literally, "something that yearns for the sun" -- and in so doing, plunges herself into a brand new life. As she embraces the local ways and devotes herself to the restoration of her new home, Frances finds herself forming close bonds with the people around her and slowly rediscovering the pleasures of laughter, friendship and romance. Even as she stumbles forward on her uncertain journey, one thing becomes clear: in life, there are second chances.
Director: Audrey Wells. Stars: Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan, Raoul Bova, Pawel Szadja, Vincenzo Ricotta, Dan Bucatinsky. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 113 min.), Romance, 2003, Box office gross: $40.000 million, (Buena Vista), $24.99 VHS SRP, Available: 2/3, DVD: Day & Date.
All DVDs are screened on a reference system consisting of a Rotel RDV-1080 DVD Audio/Video Player, a Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center), and 50 (rear) speakers and Power 10 subwoofer.
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February 1, 2004