OnVideo MARCH Video Reviews
Set against the backdrop of the chaos and civil war that enveloped 1990s Sierra Leone, "Blood Diamond" is the story of Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ex-mercenary from Zimbabwe, and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a Mende fisherman. Both men are African, but their histories and their circumstances are as different as any can be until their fates become joined in a common quest to recover a rare pink diamond, the kind of stone that can transform a life ... or end it. Solomon, who has been taken from his family and forced to work in the diamond fields, finds the extraordinary gem and hides it at great risk, knowing if he is discovered, he will be killed instantly. But he also knows the diamond could not only provide the means to save his wife and daughters from a life as refugees but also help rescue his son, Dia, from an even worse fate as a child soldier. Archer, who has made his living trading diamonds for arms, learns of Solomon's hidden stone while in prison for smuggling. He knows a diamond like this is a once-in-a-lifetime find -- valuable enough to be his ticket out of Africa and away from the cycle of violence and corruption in which he has been a willing player. Enter Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), an idealistic American journalist who is in Sierra Leone to uncover the truth behind conflict diamonds, exposing the complicity of diamond industry leaders who have chosen profits over principles. Maddy seeks out Archer as a source for her article, but soon finds it is he who needs her even more. With Maddy's help, Archer and Solomon embark on a dangerous trek through rebel territory. Archer needs Solomon to find and recover the valuable pink diamond, but Solomon seeks something far more precious ... his son.
Director: Edward Zwick. Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Sheen, Stephen Collins. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: R, 143 min., Drama, Box office gross: $52.640 million, Warner. Available: 3/20.
BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
Sacha Baron Cohen, the star and creator of HBO's "Da Ali G Show," brings his Kazakh journalist character Borat Sagdiyev to the big screen in a mock documentary meant to poke fun at the world. Borat became a phenomenon in "Da Ali G Show," in which Baron Cohen's outlandish humor and razor-sharp satire on anti-Semitism, misogyny and racism came to life through his creation's bizarre behavior and interviews. Leaving his native Kazakhstan, Borat travels to America to make a "documentary." As he zigzags across the nation, Borat meets real people in real situations with hysterical consequences. His backwards behavior generates strong reactions around him, exposing prejudices and hypocrisies. In some cases, Borat's interview subjects embrace his outrageous views on race and sex by agreeing with him, while others attempt to offer a patriotic lesson in Western values. Embarrassingly funny.
Handsome young Philippe (Benoit Magimel) is still living at home caring for his mother and sisters. When his mother decides to offer a statue in their garden -- a gift from Philippe's late father -- as a housewarming gift to her new beau, Philippe is unsettled by the gesture. His misgivings stem less from the thought of another man taking his father's place, however, than from a unusual attachment to the statue itself: an idealized image of classical beauty, soon embodied in Senta (Laura Smet), a stunning, strangely aloof bridesmaid he meets at his sister's wedding. Living alone in the basement of a ramshackle country estate inherited from her father, Senta is as mysterious and near-mythic as the statue she resembles. She tells Philippe fantastic stories about her life, and he is enchanted by her. Their passion for each other is obvious. When Senta one day challenges Philippe to prove his love by fulfilling a list of "must-dos," he readily accepts and soon becomes entangled in an ill-conceived -- and deadly -- quest for love and loyalty. As with his 1995 "La Ceremonie," director Claude Chabrol again draws from master crime writer Ruth Rendell, pronounced "the best mystery writer in the English-speaking world" by Time Magazine. In French with English subtitles.
Director: Claude Chabrol. Stars: Benoit Magimel, Laura Smet, Aurore Clement, Bernard Le Coq, Solene Bouton, Anna Mihalcea. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: NR, 110 min.,Mystery, Box office gross: $.108 million,First Run Features. Available: 3/20.
The 21st James Bond adventure in the most successful franchise in film history stars Daniel Craig in his debut as 007; this outing is based on Ian Fleming's first novel to feature the ultimate secret agent, which was published in 1953. Bond's first 007 mission takes him to Madagascar, where he is to spy on a terrorist Mollaka. Not everything goes as planned and Bond decides to investigate, independently of the MI6 agency, in order to track down the rest of the terrorist cell. Following a lead to the Bahamas, he encounters Dimitrios and his girlfriend, Solange. He learns that Dimitrios is involved with Le Chiffre, banker to the world's terrorist organizations. Secret Service intelligence reveals that Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro at Le Casino Royale. MI6 assigns 007 to play against him, knowing that if Le Chiffre loses, it will destroy his organization. 'M' places Bond under the watchful eye of the beguiling Vesper Lynd. At first skeptical of what value Vesper can provide, Bond's interest in her deepens as they brave danger together--and even torture at the hands of Le Chiffre. In Montenegro, Bond allies himself with Matthis, MI6's local field agent, and Felix Leiter, who is representing the interests of the CIA. The marathon game proceeds with dirty tricks and violence, raising the stakes beyond blood money and reaching a terrifying climax.The best Bond entry in many a year.
Director: Martin Campbell. Stars: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 144 min., Bond Action, Box office gross: $158.837 million, MGM. Available: 3/13.
CHILDREN OF MEN
"Children of Men" envisages a world one generation from now that has fallen into anarchy on the heels of an infertility defect in the population. The world's youngest citizen has just died at 18, and humankind is facing the likelihood of its own extinction. Earth, 2027: Hope for the future has become a dwindling resource. It has been nearly 19 years since the last baby was born, and with each passing year of inexplicable, global childlessness, mankind edges closer to giving up all claims to a future. While most people choose to embrace the inevitable and descend into separatism, lawlessness and nihilism, others fight on for a unified planet and the rights of the dwindling populations. Great Britain is the one country that has managed -- through a policy of militaristic imperialism -- to survive the ever-increasing internal strife and, in turn, is seeing a tremendous influx of illegal refugees landing on its shores. But with a firm, totalitarian hand, these "fugees" are herded into detainment camps and deported. For Theo (Clive Owen), all of this matters little, having allowed himself to settle into a state of numbness. The former activist turned bureaucrat has steeled himself against his painful past and the reality of a senseless future by simply ceasing to care. His existence is enlivened only by visits to his old friend Jasper (Michael Caine), who lives in the remote countryside miles from London. All of that abruptly changes when Theo finds himself thrown in the back of a van and brought before Julian (Julianne Moore). Once his partner in both love and war, she is now the head of a covert group fighting for the rights of the remaining refugee population. Julian has surfaced long enough to ask for a favor -- for Theo to obtain transit papers for Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a young woman within her organization who must be seen safely out of the country. Theo agrees and soon finds himself accompanying Kee and a handful of Julian's comrades on a treacherous journey past several security checkpoints to the coast. There, members of the nearmythic Human Project -- some of the greatest minds of the world working toward a new society -- are prepared to help them. But when Theo's group is set upon by terrorists, it quickly becomes clear that the streetwise Kee is more than just a refugee ... she is someone others are willing to die for. She is, in fact, eight months pregnant and now stands as the miracle the whole planet has been waiting and hoping for. In their race to sanctuary from both anarchists who will risk everything for a cause and those who would use her child for political gain, Kee and Theo become the unlikely champions of a future generation.
Director: Alfonso Cuaron. Stars: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Michael Caine, Clare-Hope Ashitey. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: R, 110 min., Sci Fi Drama, Box office gross: $$34.905 million, Universal. Available: 3/27.
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER
Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li play star-crossed lovers who fall in love within the borders of a kingdom. She plays Phoenix, an imperial bodyguard, while he plays Prince Ping. Numerous forces, including Ping's stepmother, who is also in love with him, try to keep the lovers apart. It leads them on a dangerous journey where secrets of the royal family are uncovered. China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous. For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor's daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress's health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums. Could she be headed down an ominous path? The Emperor harbors equally clandestine plans; the Imperial Doctor is the only one privy to his machinations. When the Emperor senses a looming threat, he relocates the doctor's family from the Palace to a remote area. While they are en route, mysterious assassins attack them. Chan and her mother, Jiang Shi are forced back to the palace. Their return sets off a tumultuous sequence of dark surprises. Amid the glamour and grandeur of the festival, ugly secrets are revealed. As the Imperial Family continues its elaborate charade in a palatial setting, thousands of golden armored warriors charge the palace. Who is behind this brutal rebellion? Where do Prince Jai's loyalties lie? Between love and desire, is there a final winner? Against a moonlit night, thousands of chrysanthemum blossoms are trampled as blood spills across the Imperial Palace.
Fantasy adventure for young people based on the Christopher Paolini-penned bestselling fantasy novel about a youth whose discovery of a dragon egg leads him to become a knight and battle an evil king. The medieval-set tale revolves around a farm boy who learns he is the last of a breed of benevolent Dragon Riders, whose magical powers derived from their bond with the beasts. "Eragon" is the first book in the young author's epic "Inheritance Trilogy." Upon its initial release in hardcover by Knopf in August 2003, "Eragon" became a worldwide publishing phenomenon. The book was an instant bestseller and has since spent 87 consecutive weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List, and 21 consecutive months on Publisher's Weekly Young Adult Fiction Bestseller List, including nine months at No. 1. Eragon has sold 2.5 million copies in hardcover and paperback in North America alone, and the book has been published in 38 countries.
Director: Stefen Fangmeier. Stars: Edward Speleers, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich, Christopher Egan, Gary Lewis, Djimon Hounsou, Rachel Weisz. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: PG, 102 min., Fantasy, Box office gross: $73.659 million, Fox. Available: 3/20.
FAST FOOD NATION
Inspired by the incendiary Eric Schlosser bestseller that exposed the hidden facts behind America's fast food industry, this drama takes an eye-opening journey into the dark heart of the All-American meal. The film traces the birth of an everyday, ordinary burger through a chain of riveting, interlocked human stories -- from a hopeful, young immigrant couple who cross the border to work in a perilous meat-packing plant, to a teen clerk who dreams of life beyond the counter; to the corporate marketing whiz who is shocked to discover that his latest burger invention -- "The Big One" -- is literally full of manure. As the film traverses from pristine barbeque smoke labs to the volatile U.S.-Mexican border, it unveils a provocative portrait of all the yearning, ambition, corruption and hope that lies inside what America is biting into. It all begins when Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear), the new marketing hot-shot at the fictional Mickey's Fast Food chain, discovers that nasty contaminants are getting into the frozen patties that form "The Big One" -- his company's best-selling burger and the key to his corporate success. Determined to find out how this could happen, Don sets out on a revelatory investigation into just what goes into the making of Mickey's meat. Leaving the cushy confines of his California boardroom, Don heads for the ranches, slaughterhouses and cookie cutter strip malls of Cody, Colorado, where he discovers multiple perspectives on a fast-food world he never knew existed -- one fraught with hazards, fueled by desperation and misinformation and resonant with deeply human effects.
Director: Richard Linklater. Stars: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Greg Kinnear, Bobby Cannavale, Luis Guzman, Kris Kristofferson, Wilmer Valderrama, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Esai Morales, Avril Lavigne. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: R, 113 min., Drama, Box office gross: $.991 million, Fox. Available: 3/6.
In the great nation of Emperor Penguins, deep in Antarctica, you're nobody unless you can sing -- which is unfortunate for Mumble (Elijah Wood), who is the worst singer in the world. He was born dancing to his own tune -- tap dancing. Though Mumble's mom, Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman), thinks this little habit is cute, his dad, Memphis (Hugh Jackman), says "it just ain't penguin." Besides, they both know that without a Heartsong, Mumble may never find true love. As fate would have it, his one friend, Gloria (Brittany Murphy), happens to be the best singer around. Mumble and Gloria have a connection from the moment they hatch, but she struggles with his strange "hippity-hoppity" ways. Mumble is just too different -- especially for Noah the Elder (Hugo Weaving), the stern leader of Emperor Land, who ultimately casts him out of the community. Away from home for the first time, Mumble meets a posse of decidedly un-Emperor-like penguins -- the Adelie Amigos. Led by Ramon (Robin Williams), the Adelies instantly embrace Mumble's cool dance moves and invite him to party with them. In Adelie Land, Mumble seeks the counsel of Lovelace the Guru, a crazy-feathered Rockhopper penguin who will answer any of life's questions for the price of a pebble. Together with Lovelace and the Amigos, Mumble sets out across vast landscapes and, after some epic encounters, proves that by being true to yourself, you can make all the difference in the world.
Director: George Miller. Stars: Voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: PG, 108 min., Family Animation, Box office gross: $190.695 million, Warner. Available: 3/27.
Iris (Kate Winslet) is in love with a man who is about to marry another woman. Across the globe, Amanda (Cameron Diaz), realizes the man she lives with has been unfaithful. Two women who have never met and live 6,000 miles apart find themselves in the exact same place. They meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Iris moves into Amanda's L.A. house as Amanda arrives in the snow-covered English countryside. Shortly after arriving at their destinations, both women find the last thing either wants or expects: a new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris' handsome brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris, with inspiration provided by a legendary screenwriter (Eli Wallach), mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Black).
Director: Nancy Meyers. Stars: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black, Rufus Sewell, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 132 min., Romantic Comedy, Box office gross: $62.821 million, Sony. Available: 3/13.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Stars: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Oscar Isaac, Ciaran Hinds, Shaun Toub. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: PG, 101 min., Biblical Drama, Box office gross: $37.494 million, New Line. Available: 3/20.
PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, THE
Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a family man struggling to make ends meet as a marginally employed salesman. Despite his valiant attempts to help keep the family afloat, the mother (Thandie Newton) of his five-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Christopher Syre Smith) is buckling under the constant strain of financial pressure. No longer able to cope, she reluctantly decides to leave. Chris, now a single father, continues doggedly to pursue a better-paying job using every sales skill he knows. He lands an internship at a prestigious stock brokerage firm, and although there is no salary, he accepts, hopeful he will end the program with a job and a promising future. Without a financial cushion, Chris and his son are soon evicted from their apartment and forced to sleep in shelters, bus stations, bathrooms, or wherever they can find refuge for the night. Despite his troubles, Chris continues to honor his commitment as a loving and caring father, using the affection and trust his son has placed in him as an impetus to overcome the obstacles he faces. Inspired by a true story.
Thirty years ago he was a man with no future, working for a small time loan shark on the South Side of Philadelphia. When blind luck landed him the chance to enter the ring against reigning champ Apollo Creed, it was the million-to-one-shot of a lifetime. And all he wanted was to go the distance. His courage and perseverance, both in life and in the ring, gave hope to millions. Now, glory (and four sequels) has come and gone and Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), the one-time Italian Stallion, spends his evenings telling old stories to the patrons of his restaurant, Adrian's, named after his late wife, whom he quietly mourns. His son (Milo Ventimiglia) doesn't want to spend time with him; he's too busy trying to live his own life. Time and knocks have humbled Rocky, deformed his fists, slouched his shoulders and taken away all he had except his old stories, but in his heart he's still the same man. In his heart, he's still a fighter. Mason "The Line" Dixon is the reigning heavyweight champion distinguished only by the ease with which he took the title. Since he has never had to prove himself, never faced a truly equal opponent, he is considered by fans to be all skill and no heart, with no real future in the sport. Until a computer simulation matches him against Rocky Balboa in his prime. Who really would win if the two were evenly matched -- Dixon's skillful jabs and footwork versus Rocky's passion and blunt force trauma? Dixon's manager has an idea how to revitalize his client's career and suddenly, heavyweight boxing captures the public's imagination again. It seems like a lark, a joke even. But to Rocky, nearly twice the age of his opponent, the prospect of a fight with Dixon is the second chance he never thought he'd get -- a billion-to-one shot to prove to himself and to those he loves that while the body changes (Stallone is past 60) , the heart only grows stronger.
Director: Sylvester Stallone. Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Geraldine Hughes, Antonio Tarver, Talia Shire. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: PG, 102 min., Action, Box office gross: $69.300 million, Sony. Available: 3/20.
Explores the lives of several characters living in present-day New York as they navigate the comic and tragic intersections between love and sex. Male and female, straight and gay, the characters find one another -- and eventually find themselves -- when they all converge at a weekly underground salon called "Shortbus," a mad world of art, music, politics, and polysexual carnality. Director John Cameron Mitchell (2001's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") developed the film's story along with his ensemble cast, all of whom made their feature film debuts, and who were selected after submitting videotaped interviews/auditions in response to a well-publicized open casting call posted on a Web site. More than a half million people visited the site and nearly 500 people sent in tapes before the final seven leading performers/characters were selected to workshop the storyline with Mitchell. The resulting film, one of the true sensations at last year's Festival de Cannes, presents sex and sexuality as never before seen in mainstream entertainment.
Director: John Cameron Mitchell. Stars: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, PJ DeBoy, Raphael Barker, Peter Stickles. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: NR, 102 min., Erotic Drama, Box office gross: $1.979 million, ThinkFilm. Available: 3/13.
"Turistas" follows six college students who, while backpacking across Brazil, get stranded in the jungles and imprisoned by a military group with a bloody agenda. After a terrifying bus accident maroons the diverse group of young adventure travelers in a remote Brazilian beach town, they slowly discover that the white sand beaches and lush jungles are concealing a darker, unsettling secret.
Director: John Stockwell. Stars: Josh Duhamel, Melissa George, Olivia Wilde, Desmond Askew, Beau Garrett, Max Brown, Raul Guterres, Andrea Leal. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: R, 89 min., Horror, Box office gross: $7.025 million, (Fox). Available: 3/27.
VAN WILDER 2: THE RISE OF TAJ
Taj Badalandabad (Kal Penn), the personal assistant to the legendary Van Wilder, has just graduated Coolidge College and is now on his way to England's Camford University. Taj is on a quest to follow in the footsteps of his father's legend as a ladies' man at Camford, beginning with membership to an exclusive campus Fraternal Guild, the Fox and Hounds, where Taj hopes he will become the next generation of Badalandabads to be deservedly nicknamed the "Sultan of Sheets." But when Taj arrives at the venerated campus, he quickly discovers that he has not, in fact, been accepted to the Fraternal Guild, and that the stuffy head of the Fox and Hounds -- Pip Everett (Daniel Percival), the Earl of Grey -- is, in fact, a wanker. After his faithful bulldog Ballzac leaves a present on one of the Fox and Hounds antique chairs, Taj seeks out the only housing available on campus and finds himself suddenly "Head of House" for a group of student misfits -- Sadie (Holly Davidson), a gorgeous Cockney girl with a mouth like a sailor; Seamus (Glen Barry), an ale-swillin' English-baiting Irishman; Gethin (Anthony Cozens), a dual math and quantum physics major who is not only brainy but super-nerdy; and Simon (Steven Rathman), who never speaks. Taj reaches deep to channel his inner Van Wilder and decides to take on the challenge set before him -- not only will he transform the band of misfits into Big Men (and Woman) on Campus, he will give the Fox and Hounds and Pip a run for their money.
Director: Mort Nathan. Stars: Kal Penn, Glen Barry, Lauren Cohan, Anthony Cozens, Tom Davey, Holly Davidson, William de Coverly, Shobu Kapoor, Dan Percival, Daniel Percival, Ashley Rae, Steven Rathman, Amy Steel, Beth Steel. 2006, CC, MPAA rating: R, 98 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $4.259 million, Fox. Available: 3/27.
All DVDs are screened on a reference system consisting of a Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray Disc Player w/SACD & DVD-Audio, 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 28, 2007