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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

Trevor Chaplin and Jill Swinburne have settled down. Teachers at a run-down school in Leeds, they’re new parents to a son they call Firstborn. Trevor (James Bolam, New Tricks) is a jazz fan; Jill (Barbara Flynn, Cracker) wants to save the planet. One day a friend asks a favor: will they look after a refugee? His name is Ivan, but he’s not that terrible. Soon Trevor and Jill are harboring criminals, under police surveillance, and trying to convince the headmaster that their new school supplies aren’t stolen goods. The conclusion to award-winning playwright Alan Plater’s Beiderbecke trilogy sees the return of beloved characters: Big Al, Little Norm, Detective Sergeant Hobson (now Detective Inspector Hobson, PhD), and Mr. Pitt, former town planner. The banter is easy and the humor wry in an offbeat adventure set to a jazzy, BAFTA-winning soundtrack.

Pedro Almodóvar continues to reinvent Hollywood's Golden Age for a new era with Broken Embraces. A blind screenwriter in the present day, Mateo Blanco, a.k.a. Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), reminisces about his favorite leading lady to his assistant, Diego (Tamar Novas). In 1992, when Caine met Lena (Penélope Cruz), stockbroker Ernesto (José Luis Gómez) had just made the cash-strapped secretary his mistress. First, Ernesto pays for her mother's medical care; then he supports her dream to act. In the process, Caine casts her in his screwball comedy and falls in love, and a passionate affair begins. Ernesto suspects something is up, so he hires his shifty son, Ernesto Jr. (the off-key Rubén Ochandiano), to film the couple surreptitiously, and a lip reader translates their conversations. Caine's production manager, Judit (Volver's Blanca Portillo), further complicates the scenario.

Originally released in 1977, Poldark is a sweeping drama that is just now being released on DVD for higher-quality viewing. While it does look as though it were made in the '70s, because of its video soap opera sensibility, to call Poldark dated is a moot point. This historical tale is set in Cornwall's distant past and features heroic Brit Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis), just back from fighting in the Colonies after the Revolutionary War. Broken into 16 parts on four discs, Poldark opens with mayhem. Ross returns to his small village to discover his father has died, corrupt businessmen threaten to confiscate his properties, and his house has fallen into disarray. Worse, his love, Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), has become engaged to his cousin, Francis (Clive Francis), out of desperation. The first four episodes chronicle Poldark's determination as he digs himself out of the financial and romantic holes he's been forced into. But as in any good melodrama, as soon as one set of problems is resolved, another arises: Poldark meets a young orphan girl, Demelza Carne (Angharad Rees), who is to become, alongside Elizabeth, his female counterpart throughout the series.

You have a classic tale full of drama, passion, and adventure. A tale of universal archetypes that speak to everyone. A tale that has remained unfailingly popular for thousands of years. Why not spice it up with a wacky mechanical owl? Such was the thinking behind Clash of the Titans. Maggie Smith, Laurence Olivier, and Harry Hamlin (one of these things is not like the others...) star in a toga-ripper about a valiant hero, capricious immortals, and lots and lots of giant stop-action monsters. Perseus (Hamlin) is the favored son of the god Zeus (Olivier), but he has unwittingly ticked off the sea goddess Thetis (Smith). Just to make things worse, Perseus falls in love with the lovely Princess Andromeda, who used to be engaged to Thetis's son. Soon Perseus is off on one quest after another, with Zeus helping, Thetis hindering, and lots of innocent bystanders getting stabbed, drowned, and squished. Of course, the whole thing is just an excuse to show as much of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation as possible, and good thing too.

The daughter of the sea goddess Gran Mamare (Cate Blanchett) and the alchemist Fujimoto (Liam Neeson), Ponyo (Noah Cyrus) begins life as an adventurous little goldfish. Chafing at her father's restrictions, she goes in search of adventure and meets Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), a good-natured 5-year-old who lives by the sea. Sosuke adopts Ponyo and quickly wins her heart. Fujimoto uses magic to bring her back, but Ponyo's love for Sosuke proves stronger than his elixirs. She transforms herself into a human girl and returns to him during a spectacular storm at sea, but her metamorphosis upsets the balance of nature, precipitating a crisis only Gran Mamare can resolve.

Inspired by "Gulliver's Travels," the fantasy-adventure Castle in the Sky (1986) was Hayao Miyazaki's third feature, and helped to establish his reputation as a visionary in both Japan and America. The orphan Sheeta inherited a mysterious crystal that links her to the legendary sky-kingdom of Laputa. With the help of resourceful Pazu and a rollicking band of sky pirates, she makes her way to the ruins of the once-great civilization. Sheeta and Pazu must outwit the evil Muska, who plans to use Laputa's science to make himself ruler of the world. Castle echoes elements in Myazaki's earlier Nausicaä, and anticipates imagery in his later films, from My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away. Disney's new English dub, which features Anna Paquin (Sheeta), James Van Der Beek (Pazu), and Cloris Leachman (pirate matriarch Dola), is lively and close in tone to the original Japanese, if a bit talkier.

Hector Echavarria is a fighter who can barely survive on the fights he has and early on, gets beat badly when his rival cheats fair and square, but he keeps punching away, though there are people who seem to also want to use him and kill him. Then he gets the chance to fight the champion of a professional league in what would usually be a suicide match, but he takes it because he feels he has nowhere else to go. A suspenseful story that is sure to interest any who watch it!

In this surreal comedy, Paul Giamatti plays an actor named...Paul Giamatti. Paul very well might have found the key to happiness for which hes been searching, soul storage. But complications arise when he is the unfortunate victim of "soul trafficking." Balancing a tightrope between deadpan humor and pathos, and reality and fantasy, Cold Souls is a true soul searching comedy.

What if there are creatures living on other planets in other galaxies? And what if those creatures are a lot like us? When American astronaut Chuck Baker (Dwayne Johnson) lands on what's supposed to be barren, rocky planet devoid of life, he gets a big surprise. It seems that Planet 51 is home to little green people who are living in what's basically 1950s Americana--or should that be 1950s Alieana? Chuck bears a marked resemblance to Planet 51's science-fiction comic book and horror movie characters the "Humaniacs," and hysteria breaks out because the little green men think his appearance marks the beginning of an alien invasion.

Popular water-cooler drama about an unremarkable and uncharismatic chemistry teacher, Walter, who discovers new passion in his life after he learns he has terminal cancer. Now that they’ve launched their drug business, there’s no turning back for Walt and his young partner, Jesse. Using Walt’s knowledge of chemistry to cook up high-grade methamphetamine to pay for Walt’s cancer treatments, the pair is thrust into a netherworld of murder, mayhem and the twin threats of exposure and arrest. Amid suspicions about her husband’s fidelity, Walt’s wife Skyler faces an unexpected pregnancy and a grim financial outlook that forces her back to work for a boss she once threatened to sue for sexual harassment. The prospect of leaving his family penniless catapults Walt headlong into the deal to end all deals, elevating his reputation in the eyes of criminals and cops alike, but bringing him and Jesse to the brink of disaster while potentially making them rich beyond anything they could have dreamed up.

The rivalries, responsibilities and relationships reach new heights in Chapter Four of the ABC Family original series Greek. Guest star Jesse McCartney joins the cast for a semester of surprises at Cyprus-Rhodes University. When Rusty convinces the school’s most sought-after rushee (McCartney) to pledge his house, sparks begin to fly at Kappa Tau, and old friends collide when new drama threatens the friendships of Casey, Ashleigh, Frannie’s and the rest of your friends on Greek row. Experience all 12 episodes of Greek: Chapter Four, complete with chart-topping music and exciting bonus features in a three-disc box set.

Cass Warner, producer of this film, is actually the granddaughter of Harry Warner, one of the four original Warner Brothers. This DVD is not a retread of "You Must Remember This", the documentary which focused on the studio. This is the story of the four Warner Brothers themselves, starting back in the 19th century and their ventures into the entertainment industry that predate the forming of Warner Brothers the company by twenty years. It goes forward past the time that they exited the running of Warner Brothers the company and talks about the lives of the brothers themselves. Although Ms. Warner is a descendant, she doesn't get overly sentimental about her subject nor does she try to smooth over the real problems that the brothers had in their own private lives and with each other. The book by the same name has much more detail, of course, but this is still a very fascinating documentary for those interested in film history.

In this adventure, the ever-optimistic sea sponge and his starfish pal Patrick are appalled to learn that Jellyfish Fields, the nature preserve where they enjoy their catch-and-release game jellyfishing, is going to be leveled to make room for a superhighway. So, SpongeBob grabs his sitar, Patrick dons his best multihued moomoo, and they stage a sit-in and sing a Beatles-esque protest anthem. Sure to keep the interest of kids, this Spongebob adventure is fabulous!

 

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Contact Filmlords@gmail.com if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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