"THE SIMPSONS MOVIE"


        MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Dan Castellaneta as HOMER
    Julie Kavner as MARGE
    Nancy Cartwright as BART
    Yeardley Smith as LISA

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: 20th Century Fox

    Directed by: David Silverman

“The Simpsons” has been on television long enough for me to have watched the show, not watched the show, started watching again, watched religiously, stopped watching, watched again on DVD and then thought about watching again. It has become a television institution and miraculously hasn’t really jumped the shark.

Some feared it would do this with the movie (that many felt was long overdue), but the Simpsons have proved to be a cultural hit even today. After all, the movie has made more than half a billion dollars and been nominated for a Golden Globe.

So is it as good as they say? Yes and no. To a certain degree, it is just one long, extended television episode. But the writing of the episodes are so brilliant that the big-screen version simply lives up to the show’s name.

In the movie, Homer accidentally over-pollutes Springfield’s lake by dumping a silo of pig sewage so he can score some free donuts. (No kidding, this is actually the plot.) President Schwarzenegger gives carte blanche to the E.P.A. to shut down Springfield, and they cap off the city in a plastic dome. At first America’s favorite cartoon family flees to Alaska but soon realizes that they must save Springfield.

While the movie is very much an extended, 90-minute television episodes, it offers some extras. First, you get to hear the Simpsons being a little more blue than you’d see, even on FOX. There’s more swearing, a few hand gestures, some gay jokes and a gratuitous show of Bart’s “doodle.”

The characters don’t necessarily grow (although you’re lead to believe they might), but that’s actually a good thing. Giving more depth and love to the Simpsons would be the kiss of death. What makes this a great series is the deplorable nature they all seem to have. Sure, they love each other, but we don’t need an intervention. It’s worked for almost 20 years, and for the most part, they’ve emerged from a big-budget feature film unscathed.

The DVD has a nice selection of special features, leading off with two commentary tracks. There’s also several deleted scenes that are actually funny to watch, a boat-load of trailers, Homer’s monologue on “The Tonight Show,” two “American Idol” plugs from Homer and a hysterical destruction of the “Let’s Go to the Lobby” song courtesy of – you guessed it – Homer Simpson.



"THE EVIL DEAD: ULTIMATE EDITION"


        MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Bruce Campbell as ASH
    Ellen Sandweiss as CHERYL
    Hal Delrich as SCOTT
    Betsy Baker as LINDA
    Susan York as SHELLY

    Not Rated
    Studio: Anchor Bay Entertainment

    Directed by: Sam Raimi

It’s Christmas time, and we all know what that means? Well, if you’re Sam Raimi or the people over at Anchor Bay Entertainment, it means it’s the time of year for demonic possession, total dismemberment and tree rape.

Yes, the little DVD house in Michigan is giving us another release of “The Evil Dead.” So what makes this better than the nine gazillion releases of the cult classic? Besides being labeled “Ultimate Edition,” this release includes a three-disc set that includes both widescreen and full frame presentations along with a ton of special features.

This release isn’t for the “Evil Dead” novice, but rather for the collector and film buff that loves the film so much he wants an excess of more.

Included on the first disc is the widescreen version of the film along with an audio commentary by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. There’s also a documentary “One by One We Will Take You: The Untold Saga of THE EVIL DEAD.” I’m pretty sure that much of what’s in the documentary has in fact been told before, but it’s a nice comprehensive discussion of the film.

The second disc includes a full frame presentation of the film along with an audio commentary by Bruce Campbell. The special feature on this disc is probably one of the most interesting ones I’ve seen on a film in a while. It includes an hour of raw footage from the film, showing heads and tails of shots fans are very familiar with. Some shots are mundane, like a driving car. Others are quite hilarious, showing the actors in make-up dropping in and out of characters as the camera rolls and stops. This stuff can be pretty boring to the casual observer, but for a true fan of the film, it’s a gold mine of background info.

The final disc is largely devoted to The Ladies of the Evil Dead, who are the three women from the film. About five years ago, they three got together and started touring conventions as a group, finally meeting their fans up close and personal.

Features on this disc include the background of the ladies, an interview with them and Bruce Campbell, a spotlight on the group at conventions and a reunion panel. Other standard special features include TV spots, still galleries, make-up tests, trailers and other picture galleries.

I can’t say that this is necessarily the Ultimate Edition of “The Evil Dead” as there are surely to be more to follow, but fans of the film – and novices who make it through the reels without throwing up yet wanting more – will find a lot to love in here.



"BRING IT ON: IN IT TO WIN IT"


        MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Ashley Benson as CARSON
    Michael Copon as PENN
    Cassie Scerbo as BROOKE
    Jennifer Tisdale as CHELSEA
    Kierstin Koppel as SARAH
    Noel Areizaga as RUBEN

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: Universal

    Directed by: Steve Rash

When the original “Bring It On” came out on video, I begrudgingly watched it with my wife. However, after seeing it, I found that I kinda liked it – and it wasn’t just because I was watching hot chicks bounce around in cheerleader uniforms.

Before I knew it, the movie spawned so many direct-to-DVD sequels that it’s rivaling the “Leprechaun” franchise. Now the fourth movie in the series is out – “Bring It On: In It to Win It.” Aside from being the movie that uses “It” in its title more times than ever should be necessary, it’s really only worth watching to see the hot chicks bounce around in cheerleader uniforms.

The story follows two cheer teams from either coast as they fight to win the Cheer Camp Championship, with the prize being the U.S. representatives on a world tour. The captains of the respective teams have been rivals for years, and the not-so-subtle names of their squads are the Jets and the Sharks. When the Spirit Stick (remember this thing from the first film?) is lost, the Sharks are cursed, and they soon pass the curse to the Jets. Eventually, they must come together to form an east/west coast squad called (no kidding) the Shets for a chance to win the championship.

Like perky sports films like “Stick It” and “Step Up,” this movie makes cheerleading out to be more than it really is. They talk about the importance of representing the U.S. in the world, but I really doubt their actions are going to hurt the image of cheerleading in Somalia.

Ultimately, this film is a joke with bizarre moments of spontaneous coordinated choreography oh-so-clever references to “West Side Story.” It’s too bad no one died at the end like that movie.

Dialogue in this movie is like nails on a chalk board. It’s as if a dorky screenwriter went online to an urban dictionary and found every crappy, sleazy slang phrase that the kids of today are supposedly saying. In addition to phrases like “pantydropper,” “boo” and “J to the E to the T to the S,” the dialogue is also littered with every terrible cheerleading pun imaginable, like “cheer-tastic,” “cheer-rumble” and “cheer-cest.”

This PG-13 film is released under the Universal Studios Family Productions banner, which isn’t bad per se. However, that gives the impression this is a family film. And while I’m not one of those people who only sees family films, I expect something I’d recommend to a family. “Bring It On: In It to Win It” isn’t loaded with sex references, but in one scene a cheerleader tells a guy who’s going for the other girl that he’s missing out because she’s double-jointed.

Not to be a prude, but this is not for the family audience, unless you’re playing it on ABC Family after the somewhat edgier shows like “Kyle XY.”

The DVD has several special features, but aside from the deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes documentary, the rest are cheerleading instructions with Tony G, who I’m sure is good at choreography, but he comes across as a lame poser by talking too hip and ending each segment with a guttural, “Peace!”



"THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Matt Damon as JASON BOURNE
    Julia Stiles as NICKY PARSONS
    David Strathairn as NOAH VOSEN
    Scott Glenn as EZRA KRAMER
    Paddy Considine as SIMON ROSS
    Edgar Ramirez as PAZ
    Albert Finney as ALBERT HIRSCH
    Joan Allen as PAMELA LANDY

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: Universal

    Directed by: Paul Greengrass

This summer movie season was the revenge of the thirds. There were decent ones (like “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”). There were crappy ones (like “Shrek the Third”). And there were some that were raked over the coals by critics that I liked and that did well (like “Spider-Man 3”). By the time the summer of sequels was over, “The Bourne Ultimatum” was dropped in the mix.

It’s too bad this film didn’t come out earlier in the year because it was a lot of fun, and an earlier release date could have given it a higher profile. Along with “Live Free or Die Hard,” this was probably one of my favorite summer blockbusters.

The film picks up literally ten minutes after “The Bourne Supremacy,” which was one of my favorite films of 2004. While it’s not as tight and structured as “Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” was very well constructed. It tells the story of rogue assassin Jason Bourne as he tries to piece together his history. Along the way, he’s being hunted by the CIA agents who helped make him and wish he would disappear.

Overall, the “Bourne” series has been consistently good over the first two films, and the third one definitely lives up to its predecessors. Matt Damon shines as the amnesiac assassin who is now searching for his true identity.

Director Paul Greengrass who gave us last year’s “United 93,” has been criticized heavily over the years for his use of the shaky-cam, which is very prevalent in this film. However, on the small screen, it’s a lot easier to take, yet you don’t lose the sense of action in the piece.

Unlike “Supremacy” and especially unlike “The Bourne Identify,” “Ultimatum” is a fast-moving piece that is relatively self-contained. The viewer is piggy-backed onto Jason Bourne through the show, and we get taken through plenty of awesome action scenes. It’s a little lighter on the story, mostly beefing it up in the end, but the film itself is two hours of powerful action and ultimate escapism. And, unlike the fantasy films littering the summer, this one felt a little more real.

The DVD comes with deleted scenes and a feature commentary by Paul Greengrass. The rest of the features include spotlights on location and action. The focus covers the different cities where the movie was filmed, the rooftop chase, fight training, stunt driving and doing fast action in the heart of New York City.

However, for a smart summer action flick, “The Bourne Ultimatum” delivers. It’s too bad there are no more books because this franchise is still alive and kicking.



"LOVE'S UNENDING LEGACY"


        MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Erin Cottrell as MISSIE LAHAYE
    Dale Midkiff as CLARK DAVIS
    Victor Browne as SHERIFF ZACH TYLER
    Samantha Smith as MARTY DAVIS
    Holliston Colemans as BELINDA MARSHALL
    Brett Coker as MADDIE LAHAYE

    Not Rated
    Studio: RHI Entertainment

    Directed by: Mark Griffiths

Let’s start off by admitting that films like “Love’s Unending Legacy” aren’t really my cup of tea. My wife enjoys them, and my mother-in-law simply adores them, but they just don’t rock my world. If I’m going to watch a western, I prefer something more along the lines of “Silverado.”

As I started the film, watching it with my wife, I mentioned that it looked like your basic Hallmark made-for-TV western. Sure enough, when I looked up the production on the internet later, I learned it originally aired on the Hallmark Channel, and it was the fifth in a series.

For the fifth installment of the series, I will say it was pretty easy to pick up without the history of the other episodes. The film follows a widow named Missie (Erin Cottrell) who is finding a new life after her Sheriff husband was killed in the line of duty. The church in town has started an outreach program and is seeking homes for orphans. Missie takes in a teenage girl but soon learns that she is the sister of another orphan who was taken by an abusive family. Missie uses her faith and friends to help the child out.

The “Love Comes Softly” series has been running on television since 2003 where the character of Missie was started by Katherine Heigl. January Jones played her in the second film, and Cottrell took over for the third installment.

“Love’s Unending Legacy” is different from the dirty, run-down westerns you’ll see at the theaters. Things are a little too new and clean for believability, and the soundtrack shows no mercy. The music runs almost continuously under the action and drama, leaving me to wonder if the film should have been called “Love’s Unending Soundtrack.”

If you like made-for-TV western Christian romances, this is definitely your bag. With a strong “Little House on the Prairie” feel, the movie is pretty thick on the cheese and will cause an overdose in anyone cynical like me. However, I definitely plan on giving the DVD to my mother-in-law this Christmas, and she will love it.

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