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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

We are doing a Free DVD Giveaway! If you are interested in a chance at winning a free copy The Hunger: Season Two or Wubbzy Christmas Adventure on DVD, it is really easy. All you have to do is send me an email at Filmlords@gmail.com. The subject line of the email should read DVD GIVEAWAY. In the body of the email, be sure to put your name, full mailing address and which DVD or Blu-ray you would like. Winners will be selected by random drawing. Best of luck!

If Nothing Like the Holidays appears to have little in common with Frank Capra’s small-town perennial It’s a Wonderful Life, Alfredo De Villa’s urban dramedy also mixes the bitter with the sweet. The fireworks begin when Eduardo and Anna Rodriguez (Alfred Molina and Elizabeth Peña) welcome their Puerto Rican brood to celebrate Christmas in Chicago: Iraq War veteran Jesse (Freddy Rodríguez), struggling actress Roxanna (Vanessa Ferlitto), and attorney Mauricio (John Leguizamo) and his tightly-wound spouse, Sarah (Debra Messing). While Roxanna finds herself drawn to family friend Ozzy (Jay Hernandez), a former gang-banger, Jesse struggles with his feelings for ex-girlfriend Marissa (Melonie Diaz), who’s moved on in his absence, and Anna laments her lack of grandchildren, but when she announces she’s divorcing Edy, a bodega proprietor, the entire clan decides to make the most of their last holiday together.

Finally! After years of waiting for the music clearance wrinkles to be ironed out, Fox has finally brought “Ally McBeal” to DVD - and with its original music intact, no less! For the big spenders, Fox has put together The Complete Series, a 31-disc box set containing all five seasons which sells for $199. For those willing to take it slow, Fox has also released the complete Season One, a 6-disc set containing all 23 episodes of David E. Kelly’s debut season. I had a chance to look at the Season One set. Although the full frame 1.33:1 video and Dolby Surround audio were fine, I was absolutely astounded at the complete lack of bonus material. No audio commentaries? No outtakes? There’s a decent retrospective featurette on Disc 31 of the “Complete Series” box set, but those who purchase the Season One box set are in for some disappointment. To finally have the quirky/sexy/funny “Ally McBeal” on DVD is definitely a win, but the lack of bonus material and creative input feels like a big missed opportunity.

Foodies and budding chefs love the reality show Top Chef, but so do millions of other viewers, as evidenced by Top Chef’s position as the number one food show on cable. Season 5 of Top Chef takes place in the food city of New York as well as in New Orleans and pits 17 chefs against each other in a test of culinary skill, creativity, flexibility, and performance under pressure. While the show is all about food, it’s also about personalities, and this 14-episode season is full of strong personalities. There’s the brashly confident Stefan, hyper Carla, ladies’ man Fabio, overachiever Jeff, gay and lesbian “team rainbow,” and many others, and everyone’s antics in the kitchen, the stew room where they await judgment, and their shared apartment translate into some great entertainment. Host Padma Lakshmi is joined by head judge Chef Tom Colicchio, judges Gail Simmons and Toby Young, and an array of guest judges, including celebrities like Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart, Jean-Georges, and Wylie Dufresne. The judges are demanding, exacting, and sometimes downright harsh, but they push each chef to deliver the very best food that he or she can--all in hopes of escaping Padma’s dreaded words “please pack your knives and go.”

Classy, smart, funny, and confident? Mary Richards is the very embodiment of the independent career woman of the 1970s. As news producer for WJM-TV, Mary, along with her eclectic and hilarious cast of friends and co-workers, confronts some of life’s biggest challenges head on: career advancement, dating, marriage, death and divorce? All with varying degrees of success, but always with a sense of humor and an optimistic outlook. Season Five of The Mary Tyler Moore Show shows why this endearing and enduring TV classic was the inspiration for a young generation who discovered that they, too, were “gonna make it after all.”

Mark Burnett, the executive producer of Survivor, puts his inimitable stamp on this compelling History Channel series that follows four explorers as they endeavor to re-create one of history’s greatest adventures, journalist Henry Morton Stanley’s 1871 trek into Africa to find missing explorer David Livingstone. Using only a compass and basic maps, navigator Pasquale, survivalist Benedict, journalist Kevin, and wildlife expert Mireya embark on their 970-mile odyssey through jungles and swamps, over mountains (that Stanley had the good sense to go around), across deserts, and along wild rivers. They face killer snakes and ferocious crocs and harsh, brutal conditions.

Before the Flying Circus is present at the creation, chronicling the formative years of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam, and how they met, formed creative partnerships, and developed their singular comic voice. Monty Python Conquers America follows the troupe’s long and winding road to the States and acknowledges the unsung heroes in the Python story, the tenacious marketing reps and risk-taking public television execs (Luke and Owen Wilson’s father among them) and radio djs and program directors who helped to unleash upon unsuspecting citizens the troupe that conventional wisdom said was too crazy, too eccentric, too British, and too silly to be a success here. Both programs eschew the usual bits to present rarely seen footage. Before boasts a treasure trove of clips of pre-Python projects, such as the loony children’s show Do Not Adjust Your Set.

The classic spy series Mission: Impossible returns for Season Seven, the most exciting one yet! The action drama about the activities of the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) was a sensation from the beginning. The inspired cast, fast-moving plots, neat gadgets, pre-recorded tapes that self-destruct – all these elements mad this brilliant show one of television’s crowning achievements. For the final season, Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) continues to focus on targets outside the reach of conventional law enforcement, as he and special effects whiz Barney (Greg Morris), muscle man Willy (Peter Lupus), and the gorgeous Casey (Lynda Day George) help smash organized crime rings.

Robert Urich stars in this popular series as handsome, fun loving, private eye, Dan Tanna. He drives around Las Vegas in his vintage Thunderbird solving private cases but is also on retainer to a wealthy casino owner to keep crime out of his hotels. He is helped by his smart and sexy assistant, a sexy and not too smart chorus girl who takes messages for him, and his enthusiastic, yet inept, legman.

Simon Baker stars as Nick Fallin - a hotshot lawyer working at his father’s ultra successful Pittsburgh law firm. Unfortunately, the high life has gotten the best of Nick. Arrested for drug use, he’s sentenced to do 1,500 hours of community service, somehow to be squeezed into his 24/7 cutthroat world of mergers, acquisitions and board meetings. Reluctantly, he’s now The Guardian - a part-time child advocate at Legal Aid Services, where one case after another is an eye-opening instance of kids caught up in difficult circumstances.

Perfect for kids and just in time for the holidays, discover why “the fun is in getting it done” in these action-packed, fun-filled adventures! Join Bob and the Can- Do Crew as they rescue their friend from a winter storm in “Bob’s White Christmas.” Then it’s time to build a log cabin and smooth the ice rink for the Winter Games. And finally, come along as Bob and Scoop hunt for buried treasure – and make some amazing discoveries – in this one-of-a-kind collection that’s the perfect holiday treat for Bob the Builder fans.

Indulge your obsessions... 22 tales of the forbidden and bizarre as seen on Showtime. David Bowie hosts the second season of the erotically-charged horror anthology series from Executive Producers Tony and Ridley Scott, which features a phenomenal cast of familiar faces (including David Bowie, Jennifer Beals, Brad Dourif, Anthony Michael Hall, William Katt, James Marshall, Max Martini, William McNamara, Cathy Moriarty, Lori Petty, Glenn Plummer, Giovanni Ribisi, Eric Roberts, Polly Shannon, Fisher Stevens and David Warner) as you’ve never seen them before. Inspired by leading genre writers, each terrifying episode will seduce you into a world beyond your wildest nightmares – a world where lust consumes reason and demons feast on the temptations of men.

Created and written by Lynda La Plante, this British series displays the same hard-bitten sensibility and emotional resonance that made Prime Suspect a television landmark. Each drama follows a single case from crime to conclusion. Every twist in the investigation and turn in the trial realistically depict an imperfect system in which justice doesn’t always triumph. Along the way, La Plante takes an unblinking look at the psychological scars that violence leaves on its victims, and its investigators. In these three feature-length mysteries, police probe a young man’s abduction on his honeymoon, the mysterious death of a teenage girl, and a string of brutal murders perpetrated by a serial killer.

As a 50th anniversary gift, DC Comics legendary Man of Steel got a brand-new Saturday morning cartoon. Produced by Ruby-Spears, this new Superman series brought back a few familiar foes, along with new unfriendly faces, for weekly battles and a peek into the private life of the man with the S on his chest. The final four minutes of each Superman episode were devoted to a brief snapshot from the Superman Family Album. These biographical segments showed the kids at home what it was like to grow up as the most powerful boy in Smallville. Unfortunately, super powers only made awkward childhood and adolescent situations even more awkward, as young Clark was forced to deal with his first day at school, an overnight scouting camp out, getting a driver’s license, his first date, and more.

You won’t believe the trouble that this cute little dog gets into! Meet Scruff, a puppy with endless curiosity and energy to spare. It’s Christmas Eve and Scruff has some tasty treats that he won’t share, but after meeting the ghosts from Christmas past, present and future, he learns the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of friends and sharing. Absolutely perfect for kids of all ages, Scruff is lovable pup that teaches kids between right and wrong!

In the space of three years (1949-1952), Republic Pictures put out three rocket man serials - all using the same rocket suit for the hero. Only the hero’s identity changed. The first of the three was King of the Rocket Men - starring Tristram Coffin as the hero in the suit, Jeff King. Then came Radar Men from the Moon, starring George Wallace as the hero in the suit, Commando Cody. Finally, six months later, came Zombies of the Stratosphere starring Judd Holdren as the hero in the suit, Larry Martin. All three are worthy serials and all deserve recognition. But only 1949’s King of the Rocket Men episodes achieved after-market success - later compiled into a standalone film release titled Lost Planet Airmen, released in 1951. Also of note, Zombies marks the science-fiction film debut of actor Leonard Nimoy. He plays Narab - one of the Martian “zombies” - and actually has a few lines in the film. I was kind of surprised Amazon didn’t list him as an actor - since Nimoy’s presence might actually lend to increased sales of this DVD set.

In the vein of spoof cinema like Austin Powers and the Scary Movie franchise, Stan Helsing lampoons contemporary film audiences’ never-ending fascination with what makes our blood curdle. In the story, hapless video store clerk Stan Helsing (Steve Howey) and his friends must make a routine video delivery on Halloween night before going to a Halloween party. But when a chain of seemingly random mishaps strand Stan and the gang in Stormy Night Estates, Stan learns of his true destiny as a descendant of the legendary monster-hunter Van Helsing. With his motley band in tow, including his best friend Teddy (Kenan Thompson), he will battle evil in the form of parodies of movie monster icons Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Pinhead, Michael Myers, and Chucky. The ultimate confrontation between good and evil will require immeasurable courage, grim determination...and a flair for karaoke?

The Smithsonian Channel’s In Search of Santa Claus is exactly what I thought it would be. Footage recreations are shown over a series of narrations piecing together the history of St. Nick. Saint Nicholas started out as a kindly Greek Bishop who liked to give presents and help people; some supernatural legends eventually sprung up around him. He was adopted during the American Civil War for some cartoons, and then again by the Coca Cola corporation in the 20th century. Their advertising cemented imagery of Santa Claus that holds to this day. The documentary then tries to tie together these various strands of history. It talks a lot about identifying Nicholas’s bones, and also manages to get behind the scenes in the Coca Cola board room. If historical perspectives are of interest to you, this DVD is right up your alley!

A bad seed with a Russian accent, 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is a nasty little girl with a nasty little plan. Unfortunately, this malevolent tyke has landed in the home of adoptive parents Kate and John (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard), an unsuspecting couple with two kids of their own and considerable grief over recent family tragedies. It doesn’t take long for Esther to make her creepy presence known, as broken limbs on the playground and torched tree houses can attest. Give this movie some credit--the psychological underpinnings are all set carefully in place: Maternal trauma? Check. Backyard pond as emotionally charged danger zone? Check. Feminist parable about husbands not listening to troubled wives? Check. The casting of reputable actors such as Farmiga and Sarsgaard also ups the movie’s class quotient; Farmiga in particular has an emotional workout, and this gifted actress strikes few false notes even as the scenario becomes increasingly lurid.

Howard’s End is writer E.M. Forster’s story of those that have and those that don’t. The juxtaposition of the privileged and the lesser folks as they cross paths together creates a wide array of emotions. Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter star as sisters who befriend a clerk portrayed by Sam West. Through a series of mishaps, things become tragic. This DVD is absolutely beautiful to watch and the acting is absolutely brilliant. Criterion has once again hit a home run with this product. Get your copy before they are gone.

A classic holiday film that continues to delight children and adults alike. Doris Walker is a no-nonsense divorced Macy’s executive who desperately searches for a new store Santa. She hires a kind but quirky old man named Kris Kringle who insists that he’s the real Santa Claus. Despite reassurances by Kringle’s doctor that he is harmless, Doris remains skeptical. Eventually, Kris Kringle goes to court to try and prove it. Is he the real Santa Claus? This is truly a perennial family holiday film. Charming, with a great cast, and well produced, Miracle On 34th Street reveals typical society and daily life in the 1940s. Kids today may not realize what an anomaly a divorced working mom was at that time. Natalie Wood plays a brilliant six-year-old. While some scenarios seem unreal, the story is so strong that it suspends reality.

This 1992 sequel to the blockbuster Home Alone revisits the first film’s gimmick by stranding Macaulay Culkin’s character in New York City while his family ends up somewhere else. Again, the little guy meets up with colorful people on the margins of society (including a pigeon woman played by Brenda Fricker) and again he gets into a prop-heavy battle with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. The latter sequence is even worse than the first film in terms of violence inflicted on the two villains (director Chris Columbus, who also made the first film, can’t seem to emphasize the slapstick over the graphic effects of the fight). The best running joke finds a concierge (Tim Curry) at the swank hotel where Culkin is staying trying and failing to prove that the boy is on his own.

Bones focuses around a group of body forensic scientists for the FBI. Each one has a focus (bugs, facial reconstruction, chemical analysis), and the team is lead by very science minded Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel ) whose specialty is skeletons and determining cause of death from bones. Together with jocky macho FBI Agent Booth (David Boreanaz), the quirky team hunts down killers and solves crimes. Watching the characters figure these puzzles out is undoubtedly interesting and just a blast to watch and enjoy. And every now and then something major happens that gives the show a real spin and the 4th season is jam-packed. Twists and turns abound this season. Get your copy today!

The combination of the appealing Nia Vardalos and the breathtaking location shooting in Greece make My Life in Ruins the perfect film escape. The film works as a feather-light romantic comedy, with Vardalos’s character, Georgia, facing burnout in her job with a cut-rate tour company in Greece. Georgia knows there’s magic in the Greek countryside and history, yet the grind of her job has drained her. Happily for Georgia, her latest group of semi-challenging tourists will help her shed some of her hard-built personal armor, guiding her to cut loose as the tour progresses.




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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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   Last Update:
November 11 , 2009