OnVideo JANUARY Video Reviews
CATCH A FIRE
Story of a South African hero's journey to freedom takes place during the country's turbulent and divided times in the early 1980s, and in the new South Africa of today. Derek Luke portrays real-life hero Patrick Chamusso. Patrick is a charming and loving husband to his wife Precious (Bonnie Henna), and a caring father to his two young daughters. He works as a foreman at the centrally located Secunda oil refinery, which is a symbol of South Africa's self-sufficiency at a time when the world was protesting the country's oppressive apartheid system. Carefully toeing the hard line imposed on blacks by apartheid, Patrick is completely apolitical. Tim Robbins plays Nic Vos, a Colonel in the country's Police Security Branch. The shrewd and charismatic Vos strives to maintain order in volatile situations, which have become more and more frequent as the outlawed activist organization African National Congress (ANC) rallies blacks against apartheid. He and his family live a world away from the Chamusso family ... until the innocent Patrick comes under suspicion and is arrested (in June 1980) for sabotage of the Secunda oil refinery. His alibi is compromised, and Patrick is desperate to shield Precious from a past indiscretion and keep his job. But he is ill-prepared to withstand brutal interrogations by Vos' men. As Vos further insinuates himself into the lives of the Chamussos, to Patrick's shock and shame, Precious herself is jailed and tortured. Although he and Precious are soon released from custody, Patrick is stunned into action and completely reorients his sense of self and purpose. He leaves his family to join up with the ANC. Becoming a rebel fighter and political operative, Patrick is radicalized on behalf of his people and his country. He ultimately envisions a formidable and dangerous follow-up strike against the Secunda refinery, risking his own life and future. Change must and will come, for Patrick and his family, and for South Africa itself.
Director: Phillip Noyce. Stars: Tim Robbins, Derek Luke, Bonnie Mbuli, Mncedisi Shabangu, Tumisho Masha, Sithembiso Khumalo, Terry Pheto. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 101 min.), Drama, 2006, Box office gross: $4.291 million, (Universal), Available: 1/30.
Based on the graphic novel by Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez, The Covenant is the power passed down from generation to generation by the descendants of the original Salem witches. Having inherited their ancestor's supernatural powers, they have the ability to defy gravity and perform superhuman feats of strength. However, each use of these powers causes them to age prematurely - making their talents dangerous not only to their enemies but also to themselves. At the Spencer Academy, a New England boarding school for the region's reigning elite, four young students -- the Sons of Ipswich -- accidentally unleash an evil force in the process of receiving the powers from their fathers, they must join together to stop it. When the body of a dead student is discovered after a party, their secrets begin to unravel and the covenant of silence that protects them is threatened. Will the boys become victims of their own supernatural gifts?
Director: Renny Harlin. Stars: Steven Strait, Sebastian Stan Laura Ramsey, Taylor Kitsch, Wendy Crewson. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 97 min.), Horror, 2006, Box office gross: $8.852 million, (Sony), Available: 1/02.
Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is about to begin his morning with an unexpected wake-up call. Groggy, practically unable to move and with a heart that's barely beating, he hears the voice of thug Ricky Verona, who reveals Chev has been poisoned in his sleep and only has an hour to live. Chev is a hit man who freelances for a major West Coast syndicate. A run of the mill job the night before instead went awry: he let his target slip away in an effort to quit professional killing and start a new life with his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart). Now, Chev must keep moving to stay alive: the only way to prolong the poison from stopping his heart is to keep his adrenaline flowing. As the clock ticks, Chelios cuts a swath through the streets of Los Angeles, wreaking havoc on those who dare stand in his way. He must rescue Eve from danger, stay two steps ahead of his nemeses and search for an antidote to save his own life.
Director: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. Stars: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, Jose Cantillo, Jay Xcala, Carlos Sanz, Keone Young. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 87 min.), Action, 2006, Box office gross: $27.829 million, (Lionsgate), Available: 1/09.
EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH
Dumb romantic comedy about two guys battling it out for the hand of a woman, this time on the premises of the Super Club, the largest high-volume, bulk-discount retailer in the country. Zack Bradley (Dane Cook) and Vince Downey (Dax Shepard) are two ultra-competitive Super Club workers whose 10 years of employment have resulted in drastically different career paths. Vince has advanced to become head cashier and has been winner of 17 consecutive "Employee of the Month" awards. Zack is the ultimate slacker, whose scruffy appearance and laid back attitude has made him popular with his colleagues, but kept him stuck in the lowly ranks of the store's box boys. The duo's longtime rivalry comes to a bitter head when Amy (Jessica Simpson) -- a beautiful new cashier with a reputation of only dating "Employee of the Month" winners -- transfers to the store, immediately becoming the object of both Zack and Vince's affection and gamesmanship. While Vince instantly impresses Amy with his crowd pleasing, flamboyant style behind his check-stand register, Zack's feeble attempts to charm his beautiful new co-worker quickly backfire against him. With the race to win Amy's affections slipping away, Zack determines his only chance rests in winning the store's next "Employee of the Month" award.
Director: Greg Coolidge. Stars: Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, Dax Shepard, Efren Ramirez, Andy Dick. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 103 min.), Comedy, 2006, Box office gross: $28.435 million, (Lionsgate), Available: 1/16.
The story of a group of heroic American men who volunteer for the French Military and become fighter pilots before the U.S. entered WWI. In 1914, "The Great War" -- WWI -- began in Europe. By 1917, the Allied powers of France, England, Italy and others were on the ropes against the German juggernaut. While millions of young men were dying overseas, arguing that the freedom of others was none of its business, America chose ... at first ... not to fight. Some altruistic young Americans disagreed. They volunteered to fight alongside their counterparts in France; some in the infantry, some in the Ambulance Corps. A handful of others had a different idea: they decided to learn how to fly. The first of them -- a squadron of only 38 -- became known as the Lafayette Escadrille. Assigned to their own squadron, the new aviators were commanded by a battle-weary French Captain and the equally battle-scarred American pilot Reed Cassidy, the cynical sole survivor of his group. Ignoring Cassidy's grim admonition to quit and go home before they meet their inevitable fates and snubbed by the other aviators as unqualified to call themselves "killers," the mismatched boys study, train and finally learn to fly. In time, the young Americans prove themselves, routing the "Fokker scourge" and flying like the united team they have become. The squadron is finally welcomed by the veteran pilots as seasoned equals -- now, they are official "killers."
Director: Tony Bill. Stars: James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jennifer Decker, Jean Reno, David Ellison, Mac McDonald, Tcheky Karyo, Ian Rose. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 140 min.), Action, 2006, Box office gross: $13.082 million, (MGM), Available: 1/30.
True story of a juvenile detention camp probation officer, Sean Porter (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who along with another officer, Malcolm Moore (Xzibit), turns a group of hard core teenage delinquents into a high school football team in four weeks. Confronted with gang rivalries and bitter hatred between his teammates, Porter reaches some hard lessons (and learns a few himself) as the kids gain a sense of self-respect and responsibility.
Director: Phil Joanou. Stars: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell, Leon Rippy, Kevin Dunn, Jade Yorker. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 125 min.), Drama, 2006, Box office gross: $38.432 million, (Sony), Available: 1/23.
Story of hardcore courage and selfless sacrifice set inside the never-before-seen world of Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers -- a special breed of men and women who risk their lives against the biggest storms and most monstrous waves in service to the motto: "So that others may live!" Previously seen by most Americans only as the unsung, daredevil heroes who saved thousands in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's deadly floods, the lives and teamwork of Rescue Swimmers come to the fore in this adventure. Legendary rescue swimmer Ben Randall (Kevin Costner) becomes the sole survivor of a deadly crash at the height of a massive storm. In the wake of the accident, he is sent against his will to teach at "A" School -- the elite training program that turns arrogant young recruits into the best and bravest of Rescue Swimmers. Reeling with grief and regret, Ben throws himself into teaching the only way he knows how, turning the entire program upside down with his unconventional, out-of-the-box training methods. But Ben understands exactly what's at stake -- he knows that his students will one day have to make tough decisions between who dies and who lives. When he knocks heads with cocky swimming champ Jake Fischer (Ashton Kutcher), Ben sees someone with what it takes to be the best of the best -- if only he can combine his raw talent with the heart and dedication necessary and avoid the mistakes that Ben himself has made. Heading out on his first treacherous mission, to the fierce, turbulent waters of Alaska's Bering Sea, Jake will have to put all that he's learned into action as he discovers just what it means to truly risk everything.
Director: Andrew Davis. Stars: Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Melissa Sagemiller, Clancy Brown, Omari Hardwick. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 136 min.), Action, 2006, Box office gross: $54.809 million, (Buena Vista), Available: 1/16.
In a world where nothing is as it appears, an illusionist and a police inspector face off turn-of-the-century Vienna in a challenge of wills that attempts to determine where reality ends and magic begins ... all the while blurring the line between power and corruption, love and devotion, vigilance and mania and ultimately, life and death. A mystery that combines romance, politics and magic, "The Illusionist" stars Edward Norton as a mysterious stage magician, Eisenheim, who bends nature's laws to his will in front of awestruck crowds. Paul Giamatti co-stars as Vienna's shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl, a man committed to uphold the law and for whom magic holds no place in his ordered world. When Eisenheim begins to perform his astounding illusions in Vienna, word quickly spreads of his otherworldly powers ... even reaching the ears of one of Europe's most powerful and pragmatic men, Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Certain that the illusionist is nothing more than an accomplished fraud, Leopold attends one of Eisenheim's shows, convinced that he can debunk him during the performance. But when the Prince's beautiful fiance and companion, Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), assists the magician onstage, Eisenheim and Sophie recognize each other from their childhoods -- and a dormant love affair is rekindled. With Eisenheim and Leopold vying for Sophie's affection, it quickly becomes apparent that both will go to any length to claim and keep her love. As the clandestine romance continues, Uhl is charged by Leopold to intensify his efforts to expose Eisenheim, even while the magician gains a devoted and vocal public following. With Uhl doggedly searching for the reasons and the man behind the trickery, Eisenheim prepares to execute his greatest illusion yet.
Director: Neil Burger. Stars: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan, James Babson, Brian Caspe, Tom Fisher, Aaron Johnson, Erich Redman, Ellen Savaria, Jake Wood. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 109 min.), Adventure, 2006, Box office gross: $39.071 million, (Fox), Available: 1/09.
Unique exploration of identity and truth. One day, on a whim, Marc decides to shave off the mustache he's worn all of his adult life. He waits patiently for his wife's reaction, but neither she nor his friends seem to notice. Stranger still, when he finally tells them, they all insist he never had a mustache. Is Marc going mad? Is he the victim of some elaborate conspiracy? Weaves comedy, drama and psychological thrills into an intriguing work of cinema.
WWE wrestling champion John Cena makes his motion picture debut in this action thriller. Cena stars as John Triton, a heroic Marine who returns home after being discharged -- against his will -- from the Iraq War. Stateside, he finds himself back in action when his wife (Kelly Carlson) is kidnapped by a murderous gang led by the merciless Rome (Robert Patrick). With everything on the line, the Marine will stop at nothing to carry out his toughest and most important mission.
Director: John Bonito. Stars: John Cena, Kelly Carlson, Jeff Chase, Jon Bennett, Abigail Bianca, Troy Brenna, Ashley Lyons, Anthony Ray Parker, Robert Patrick, Drew Powell, Kelly Steves. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 93 min.), Action, 2006, Box office gross: $7.138 million, (Fox), Available: 1/30.
NIGHT LISTENER, THE
Suspense-filled mystery about truth, lies and storytelling. Follows the disturbingly eerie twists and turns that unfold in the relationship between a popular late-night radio host and a devoted young fan who claims to have survived a terrifying, secret past. Robin Williams stars as Gabriel Noone, a colorful public radio storyteller who, in the throes of his own emotional crisis, begins talking on the phone with a precocious, 14 year-old listener named Pete (Rory Culkin), a boy with his own incredible story to tell about a nightmare childhood. Still reeling from a devastating breakup with his lover of 10 years (Bobby Cannavale), Gabriel finds unexpected comfort in his long-distance conversations with Pete and begins to support him in the publishing of his memoirs. But as Gabriel draws closer to Pete and his adopted mother (Toni Collette) -- becoming a kind of surrogate father -- he also grows more and more filled with doubts about the boy's tales and macabre suspicions over who he really is -- sparking a desperate quest to uncover the elusive truth. Based on the novel by Armistead Maupin.
Director: Patrick Stettner. Stars: Toni Collette, Robin Williams, Joe Morton, Bobby Cannavale, Rory Culkin, Sandra Oh. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 81 min.), Thriller, 2006, Box office gross: $7.825 million, (Miramax), Available: 1/09.
ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING
Story of the young Jewish girl destined to become Esther, Queen of Persia. Born into poverty and orphaned, Hadassah grows up to become a beauty who catches the eye of the powerful King Xerxes -- and ultimately becomes his bride. But despite her position, Hadassah's life is in danger, as the state has decreed that all Jews must be put to death. Defying warnings to remain silent, however, Hadassah struggles to save her people.
Director: Michael O. Sajbel. Stars: Tiffany Dupont, Luke Goss, John Noble, Omar Sharif, John Rhys-Davies, Peter O'Toole. CC, (MPAA rating: PG-13, 100 min.), Drama, 2006, Box office gross: $10.040 million, (Fox Faith), Available: 1/23.
Boog (Martin Lawrence), a grizzly bear with no survival skills, has his perfect world in the tranquil town of Timberline turned upside-down when he meets Elliot (Ashton Kutcher), a scrawny, fast-talking wild mule deer. Elliot arrives in Timberline missing an antler and strapped to the hood of a truck, courtesy of the paranoid uber-hunter Shaw (Gary Sinise). Against his better judgment, Boog frees Elliot. Elliot attempts to return the favor by "freeing" Boog from his idyllic existence with his beloved Park Ranger Beth (Debra Messing), who raised him since he was a cub. Things quickly spiral out of control. The two troublemakers are relocated together to the wild ... just three days before open season! With Shaw in hot pursuit, Boog and Elliot must learn to work together and unite the woodland creatures. In a rowdy, madcap battle, they make the woods safe once and for all by turning the hunters into the hunted.
Director: Jill Culton R Allers Anthony Stacchi. Stars: Voices of Martin Lawrence, Ashton Kutcher, Debra Messing, Gary Sinise, Billy Connolly, Jon Favreau, Patrick Warburton, Jane Krakowski, Gordon Tootoosis, Georgia Engel. CC, (MPAA rating: PG, 85 min.), Animated Family, 2006, Box office gross: $88.512 million, (Sony), Available: 1/30.
Jigsaw has disappeared. With his new apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the puppet-master behind the cruel, intricate games that have terrified a community and baffled police has once again eluded capture and vanished. While city detectives scramble to locate him, Doctor Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) is unaware that she is about to become the latest pawn on his vicious chessboard. One night, after finishing a shift at her hospital, Lynn is kidnapped and taken to an abandoned warehouse where she meets Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), bedridden and on the verge of death. She is told that she must keep the madman alive for as long as it takes Jeff (Angus Macfayden), another of his victims, to complete a game of his own. Racing against the ticking clock of Jigsaw's own heartbeat, Lynn and Jeff struggle to make it through each of their vicious tests, unaware that he has a much bigger plan for both of them. Ugh!
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman. Stars: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Dina Meyer, Donnie Wahlberg. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 113 min.), Horror, 2006, Box office gross: $80.150 million, (Lionsgate), Available: 1/23.
Three years after entering prison for robbery as a 19-year-old heroin addict, Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal) begins her first day of freedom, clean and sober. A model prisoner who has undergone personal transformation, she immediately sets out to regain custody of her young daughter Alexis (Ryan Simpkins), who has been cared for in her absence by her brother Bobby (Brad William Henke) and his wife Lynn (Bridget Barkan). Unprepared for the demands of the world she's stepped back into, Sherry's hopes of staying clean, getting a job, and becoming a responsible mother are challenged by the realities of unemployment, halfway houses, and parole restrictions. Bobby and Lynn's concerns about Sherry's ability to care for Alexis, and her inability to prove them wrong, threaten to destroy the already delicate relationship she has with her daughter, as well as her newfound sobriety. Disillusioned and haunted by wounds from her childhood, Sherry is eventually confronted with life-altering questions about her own survival and what it means to be a good mother. Ultimately she learns that as the harsh realities of life often get in the way of her best intentions, sometimes it's best to take life one small step at a time. Gyllenhaal puts in an Academy Award performance.
Director: Laurie Collyer. Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Simpkins, Brad William Henke, Bridget Barkan, Sam Bottoms, Kate Burton, Danny Trejo, Giancarlo Esposito. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 96 min.), Drama, 2006, Box office gross: $0.198 million, (IFC/Universal), Available: 1/23.
SNAKES ON A PLANE
In his by-now-standard foul-mouthed persona, Samuel L. Jackson plays an FBI agent who is escorting a witness from Hawaii to Los Angeles. When an assassin releases hundreds of deadly snakes on a the airplane in order to eliminate the witness, the agent, along with a rookie pilot, frightened crew and passengers, must band together in a desperate attempt to survive. Ballyhooed with gigantic Internet word-of-mouth, the film just couldn't scale the big-screen heights.
Director: David R. Ellis. Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Nathan Phillips, Byron Lawson, Julianna Margulies, Rachel Blanchard, Bobby Cannavale, Kenan Thompson, David Koechner. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 105 min.), Thriller, 2006, Box office gross: $33.697 million, (New Line), Available: 1/02.
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, THE: THE BEGINNING
For more than three decades, the legend of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has remained one of the most terrifying and lingering stories brought to the big screen. Ever since the original film debuted in 1974, fans have debated the origins of the story. The producers behind the successful 2003 remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" return to deliver this startling prequel, which details the beginnings of the Hewitt clan and exposes their psychotic idea of family fun. For the first time, audiences will learn what led to the origin of Leatherface, up there with Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees as one of the most iconic horror characters of the modern era.
Director: Jonathan Liebesman.. Stars: Jordana Brewster, Taylor Handley, Diora Baird, Matthew Bomer, Lee Tergesen, R. Lee Ermey, Andrew Bryniarski. CC, (MPAA rating: R, 91 min.), Horror, 2006, Box office gross: $38.998 million, (New Line), Available: 1/16.
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
Unprecedented investigation into the MPAA film ratings system and its profound impact on American culture. The MPAA, a lobbying organization for the movie industry, maintains a ratings system first implemented in 1968 by former MPAA president Jack Valenti. This system, with its age based content classification using letter grades G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 (formerly X), has become a cultural icon. But behind its simple facade is a censoring process kept entirely secret. Board members are anonymous; deliberations are private; standards are seemingly arbitrary. Thus, the trade organization for the largest media corporations in America also keeps a trademarked lock on content regulation over our most unique and popular art form. "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" asks whether Hollywood movies and independent films are rated equally for comparable content; whether sexual content in gay-themed movies are given harsher ratings penalties than their heterosexual counterparts; whether it makes sense that extreme violence is given an R rating while sexuality is banished to the cutting room floor; whether Hollywood studios receive detailed directions as to how to change an NC-17 film into an R while independent film producers are left guessing; and finally, whether keeping the raters and the rating process secret leave the MPAA entirely unaccountable for its decisions.
Director: Kirby Dick. Stars: Interviews with John Waters, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Darren Aronofsky, Kimberly Peirce, Allison Anders, David Ansen, Atom Egoyan, Steven Farber, more. CC, (MPAA rating: NR, 97 min.), Documentary, 2006, Box office gross: $0.270 million, (Genius Products), Available: 1/23.
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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January 1, 2007