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Nick's Pics
Nick Nicholson
Film & Home Entertainment Critic
 

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

DVD REVIEWS

Adapted from Darren O'Shaughnessy's book series the Saga of Darren Shan, Cirque du Freak: A Vampire's Assistant is an endearingly goofy teen-vampire tale reminiscent of The Goonies or Lost Boys. Like those kids' horror classics, Cirque du Freak is a coming-of-age tale in which maturity is hastened by horrific discoveries of alternate realms. Best friends Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson) embark on a life-changing career path as monster prodigies after attending a taboo freak show starring various mutants and Madame Octa, a fluffy, neon orange, Muppetlike spider that Darren is irrevocably compelled to kidnap. Darren's petty theft results in the boys' introductions into the dualistic realm of good vampires, including the paternal Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), and less-generous bloodsuckers such as Murlaugh (Ray Stevenson) and his Vampaneze family.

Hector Villa (Kuno Becker), a scrappy migrant farmworker by day and part-time prizefighter by night, struggles to reach for a better life for himself and his ailing mother. But when Hector discovers their rich rancher boss has slashed his mother’s pay, he pays the ultimate price for brawling with the boss’ thugs – a one-way ticket back over the Mexican border. Beaten up, broke and jobless, Hector joins forces with an old-school trainer and sets his sights on the rancher’s boxer son for the ultimate David-and-Goliath face-off in this adrenaline- pumping drama from stunt coordinator-turned-director Jimmy Nickerson.

Steven Soderbergh's The Informant is an energetic exposé of corporate/criminal chicanery with wide-ranging implications for life in these United States. Not so much like those movies, it plays as hyper-caffeinated comedy. At its center is Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a biochemist and junior executive at agri-giant Archer Daniels Midland who, in 1992, began feeding the FBI evidence of ADM's involvement in price fixing. Mark's motive for doing so is elusive, sometimes self-contradictory, and subject to mutation at any moment. To describe him as bipolar would be akin to finding the Marx Brothers somewhat zany. His Fed handlers, along with the audience, start thinking of him as a hapless goofball. Then they and we get blind-sided with the revelation of further dimensions of Mark's life at ADM, and the nature of the investigation--and the movie--changes. That will happen again. And again. It's Soderbergh's ingenious strategy to make us fellow travelers on Mark's crazy ride, virtually infecting us with a short-term version of his dysfunctionality.

Based on the critically acclaimed book by Charles Clover, The End of the Line charts the devastating ecological impact of overfishing by interweaving both local and global stories of sharply declining fish populations, including the imminent extinction of the bluefin tuna, and illuminates how our modern fishing capacities far outstrip the survival abilities of any ocean species. Scientists explain how this depletion has slipped under the public radar and outline the catastrophic future that awaits us an ocean without fish by 2048 if we do not adjust our fishing and consumption practices. An alarming call to action that is already changing the world, the film narrates an escalating global crisis that can only be avoided by recovering and sustaining the incredible vitality of the sea. Beyond detailing the issues at hand, The End of the Line outlines the solutions, motivating supermarkets, restaurants and individuals to take the necessary steps to save the ocean. Now we can all join in the fight to save those in the sea.

Children will definitely relate and love Wallace and Gromit! Looking for a fast way to earn dough, Wallace decides to make it. Armed with a batch of ovens, an army of robotic kneading arms and an old-fashioned windmill, Wallace & Gromit start "Top Bun,” their new bread-baking business. Sales rise quickly and Wallace falls head over buns in love with a seductive bread-industry icon, Piella Bakewell. But when bakers suddenly start disappearing, Gromit realizes that his master is in danger as he follows a twisting, turning trail of crumbs to solve a murder mystery that becomes…A Matter of Loaf and Death!

Created by Frank Lupo, Hunter was one of producer Stephen J. Cannell's more tough-minded cop shows. Credit the character of LAPD Det. Sgt. Rick Hunter (former NFL player Fred Dryer). Supplying the yin to Hunter's yang was partner Sgt. Dee Dee McCall (Stepfanie Kramer). "Sometimes a soft approach can work," she explains in the season premiere. Unfortunately, Capt. Devane (Charles Hallahan) pulls the plug on their partnership in the following episode ("Change Partners and Dance"). "You and Hunter have gotten too close," he tells a disappointed McCall. To add insult to injury, Hunter takes the separation in stride. She thought they were friends. As it turns out, Hunter feels the same way and there's more to the breakup than meets the eye.

On the run & on the road! An innocent man on a quest to clear his name! He was a cop, and good at his job. But he committed the ultimate sin, and testified against other cops gone bad. Cops that tried to kill him, but got the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands. An outlaw hunting outlaws, a bounty hunter, a Renegade.

Best known today as the series that helped launch Johnny Depp to stardom, Stephen J. Cannell's 21 Jump Street was also one of the first hit programs for the fledgling Fox network, a status that lasted for most of its five-year run (1987-91), thanks to its engaging mix of youth culture and police drama. As outlined in the pilot, Depp's baby-faced Ofc. Tom Hanson is transferred to the special Jump Street division, a unit that utilized young cops to infiltrate juvenile crime. Unlike many of Fox's youth-oriented shows of the period (i.e., Beverly Hills 90210), Jump Street took its stories seriously, and addressed numerous social issues in its episodes; though some of the fashions and slang seem dated, the program remains entertaining decades later.

The Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, and Jo Grant face the combined might of the Daleks and the Master in these two classic 1973 adventures! Frontier in Space--(6 eps, 143 mins) In the year 2450 the Doctor is arrested as a spy as the fragile peace between Earth and Draconia is threatened. Since the mid-1970s, episode three of Planet of the Daleks has only been available as a 16mm black-and-white recording, but for this DVD release it has been returned to full color!

Remembrance of the Daleks, the final Doctor Who story to feature the mutant cyborgs, is a particularly notable adventure for the way it ties the plot into the very first story, An Unearthly Child, made 25 years before. It is 1963, and the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, arrives in London with new companion Ace (Sophie Aldred), where two Dalek factions are engaged in a deadly search for the Hand of Omega. Ace quickly proves herself adept with high explosives, and while there are references to the history of the show, including some nice in-jokes, the drama is played much straighter than in McCoy's first season as the time traveler. This is Doctor Who with a decent budget; the period setting is surprisingly lavish and there are some fairly intense action sequences.

Julia Roberts's command of the screen is so effortless, it's easy for moviegoers to take her for granted, but we shouldn't. Mona Lisa Smile is about a noncomformist teacher at a private school who encourages students to pursue their individuality. The school is pretty much an all-girls version of Dead Poets Society that mixes '50s fashions with '70s feminist thought. However, its lack of ambition doesn't diminish the talent that's gone into it: The writing and directing are well-honed and skillful; the actors--a talent-studded cast featuring Marcia Gay Harden, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julia Stiles, and Juliet Stevenson, whom are uniformly excellent. But without question, Mona Lisa Smile rides on Roberts's shoulders and she carries it with ease.

An amusing blend of cop show action and dysfunctional family fireworks, the comedy-drama In Plain Sight benefits greatly from the charisma of its lead, Mary McCormack, as well as some promising episodes in this first-season set. TV and film vet McCormack finally gets a lead as Mary Shannon, a U.S. Marshal working in the Albuquerque office of the Witness Protection Program. The array of offbeat characters that fall under Mary’s jurisdiction--everyone from innocent witnesses of terrible crimes to less scrupulous types present less problems for her than her family, which includes her overly dramatic mom (Lesley Ann Warren) and trouble making sister (Nichole Hiltz), who has designs on Mary's on-again-off-again boyfriend (Cristian de la Fuente). Frederick Weller (as her quirky partner) and Paul Ben-Victor as her boss offer solid support, but In Plain Sight is McCormack’s showcase, and she shines in both the comic moments and more serious elements of the show.

Walker Texas Ranger is by far one of the most interesting TV shows that I have watched. It always surprises me on how good the episodes get as time moves on. I never get tired of watching the show, starring Chuck Norris. It is always good, to see the good guys win, and that Walker and Alex finally get engaged in the sixth season. And then married in the seventh season. I am constantly watching them over and over again, and can watch them over and over again. Since I got the sixth season I have see every episode at least a half a dozen times, and I will keep watching them until the seventh season comes out then I will watch them from beginning to end.

Lee Horsely is rocking his '80s 'stache as Matlock Houston, a transplanted Texas oilman who solves murders in Los Angeles as an amateur private investigator. Horsely has Tom Selleck's rugged good looks and James Garner's down-home folksy appeal. As his beautiful Harvard-educated lawyer and lifelong platonic friend C.J. (Pamela Hensley) remarks, "He'll charm the socks off you." Producer Aaron Spelling's distinctive stylish escapist touch is all over Matt Houston.

Goodbye, PTA...hello, foreign intrigue! Single mom Amanda King leads a quiet suburban life in Washington DC until the day a dashing stranger shoves a package in her hands with instructions to give it to the man in the red hat. In no time, Amanda is dodging bullets, foiling assassination plots – and finding herself drawn to the dashing stranger, agent Lee Stetson, aka Scarecrow. Of course, Scarecrow has no interest in a ditsy amateur spy, no matter how pretty. But she certainly is handy in a crisis! Share the Season One fun with stars Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner in this fast-paced 5-Disc, 21-Episode Set of the lighthearted series that proves laughs and romance are powerful weapons in the battle to protect national security.

This inspirational movie traces the life and death of Jesus through his resurrection. Jesus not only reinforces the ideals of the New Testament but shows Jesus as a complex individual, conflicted over his feelings for Lazarus’s sister, Mary, and tempted by Satan to stray from his path.

As a girl living under Persian rule, Esther was kidnapped and taken into the harem of the king. The king, taken by her beauty, made her his queen, and she found herself involved in a delicate balancing act between the ruling Persians and her own Jewish people. The king’s chief minister hoped to see the Jews annihilated, but thanks to Esther’s intercession the Jews were able to destroy their enemies.

I am Virgin is an erotic spoof of I am Legend that is a popcorn flick if there ever was one. A virus has expunged most of the world’s population, and all the survivors have been turned into horny vampires who crave not blood, but sex. All, that is, except one: Robby (Adam Davis). He’s supposedly the last “normal” human being on Earth. He’s also a virgin whose only companion is his basset hound, Billy. The story is simple and repetitive: The lustful Robby wanders around looking for other human survivors. Instead, he finds wanton vampire men and women acting on their carnal desires. Robby can’t participate for fear of being infected, so he frustratedly returns home, where he gives webcasts complaining about his plight.

A young Richard Hell gives a convincing performance of a confused punk rocker but the film itself seems to swill in pointlessness. When Nada asks Bill what he’d do if he made money (with his music), he answers that he’d do something else. There’s a scene in which they both can’t decide whether to go to the beach on a Friday (Bill particularly) until Nada pushes him out of his own car! This fragmentation seems to be the result of director and writer Uli Lommel who is trying to imitate Jean Luc Godard’s existentialist films but instead missing the point completely and holding this film together by a string of strong quotes and the evocative music of Elliot Goldenthal, which is very plaintive when paired with Ed Lachman’s great visuals of New York City in the snow.

After ten years in the making and well over 5000 hours of film shot, We Live in Public shows what the internet has done to our society. Everything from mood to work habits have been touched by the internet. Those innocent little websites such as Myspace, Facebook and even Twitter have had their say. The findings are fascinating and, after watching this program, you definitely won't see the internet the same way ever again.

Through his handcrafted ode to the trials of childhood, Spike Jonze puts his own unique imprint on Maurice Sendak's enduring classic. In the prologue, 9-year-old Max (Max Records) stomps around the house, feeling neglected. When his mom (Catherine Keener) sends him to bed without supper, Max runs away (something he doesn't do in the book). He finds a boat and sails to a distant land where fuzzy monsters are raising a rumpus in the forest. Since his wolf suit allows him to fit right in, he joins the fray, catching the eye of Carol (James Gandolfini, excellent), who notes, approvingly, "I like the way you destroy stuff. There's a spark to your work that can't be taught." With that, they pronounce the diminutive creature king, hoping he can bring cohesion to their fractured family. After Max comes across Carol's scale-model town, he decides they should build a real one, but the project stalls as Alexander (Paul Dano) and Douglas (Chris Cooper) mope, Judith (Catherine O'Hara) browbeats Ira (Forest Whitaker), and Carol pines for K.W. (Lauren Ambrose), who prefers the company of owls Bob and Terry. Max realizes he has to make a choice: stay with the wild things or return home, where he has to keep his aggressive impulses in check.

Now this is how you destroy the world. Roland Emmerich's 2012 pounces on a Nostradamus-style loophole in the Mayan calendar and rams the apocalypse through it, gleefully conjuring up an enormous amount of Saturday-matinee fun in the process. A scientist (Chiwetel Ejiofor) detects shifting continental plates and sun flares and realizes that this foretells the imminent destruction of the planet. Just as the molten lava is about to hit the fan, a novelist (John Cusack) takes his kids on a trip to Yellowstone; later he'll hook up with his ex (Amanda Peet) and her new boyfriend (Tom McCarthy) in a global journey toward safety. If there is any safety.

The vastness of space - the planets, the stars and the sun - surreal and beautiful all across it's expanses. The History channel has done a brilliant job putting together The Universe series. The first three seasons focus more on why things work the way they do, while season four deals much more with speculation and sensationalism as opposed to real science. Still highly recommended, The Universe is a wonderful product that can provide a true educational experience for all.

Set in the competitive LA dance scene, Zoe, a struggling young dancer gets the opportunity to fulfill her professional dreams when she convinces Michael, a wealthy club owner, to open a modern disco where young people come to connect through dance. The club features classic disco hits updated with a modern sound - and modern dance moves. In the process, Zoe’s personal and professional lives collide and she finds herself caught between Michael, her dancer boyfriend Chris, and Malika, the sexy, overly ambitious choreographer she might be about to replace.

Wolfgang Petersen made his first English-language film with this 1984 fantasy about a boy (Barret Oliver) visualizing the stories of a book he's reading. The imagined tale involves another boy, a warrior (Noah Hathaway), and his efforts to save the empire of Fantasia from a nemesis called the Nothing. Whether or not the scenario sticks in the memory, what does linger are the unique effects, which are not quite like anything else. Plenty of good fairy-tale characters and memorable scenes, and the film even encourages kids to read. The Neverending Story is a film everyone should see. It is brilliant and opens the mind to all sorts of visionary tales that will please everyone.

 

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