"HIGHLANDER: THE SOURCE"


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

    STARRING
    Adrian Paul as DUNCAN MACLEOD
    Thekla Reuten as ANNA TESHEMKA
    Cristian Solimeno as THE GUARDIAN
    Peter Wingfield as METHOS
    Jim Byrnes as JOE DAWSON
    Stephen Rahmnan Hughes as ZAI JIE
    Stephen Wight as REGGIE WELLER

    Rated R
    Studio: Lionsgate

    Directed by: Brett Leonard

When I hear the term “Highlander,” I instantly think of the original film with Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown. Everything seemed to have gone downhill from there. Of course, I really never watched the television series, and I hear it is quite decent.

The latest installment in the “Highlander” saga is the direct-to-DVD film “Highlander: The Source.” The story follows the mythology from the television show, so it’s changed a bit from the original movie. In this episode, a group of immortals are searching for the Source, which is said to give them answers to all their questions. However, they must first defeat the superhuman Guardian keeping watch over the secrets.

To its credit, “Highlander: The Source” is understandable to those who don’t watch the series. It’s really not heavily complicated, and there’s some narration at the beginning to explain how things work in this little universe. Still, the film is weighted down with its own low budget. While some films just shoot in eastern Europe to cut costs, this movie goes out of its way to explain that it is stuck in Eastern Europe.

I suppose for “Highlander” fans, this film is going to serve a purpose. It does seem to wrap up the story of Duncan MacLeod a bit, but then again, the original film did that... and they made four sequels and a television series after the credits rolled.

“Highlander: The Source” is more of an action flick than straight science fiction or fantasy. It hinges on the fight sequences, and this seems to be where most of the budget was spent. The characters are at least different than what I’ve seen in low-budget sci-fi. Still, the wisecracking ancient Guardian is completely out of place.

In some ways, the special features are more interesting than the DVD itself. There’s a feature-length documentary of the making of the film, which serves more as fly-on-the-wall true behind-the-scenes look at the process rather than a cheesy marketing piece. There’s also some storyboard-to-screen comparisons, a peek at the “Highlander” video game as well as a tribute to Bill Panzer, who spearheaded the original movie and the television show.



"AWAKE"


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

    STARRING
    Hayden Christensen as CLAY BERESFORD
    Jessica Alba as SAM LOCKWOOD
    Terrence Howard as DR. JACK HARPER
    Lena Olin as LILITH BERESFORD
    Christopher McDonald as DR. LARRY LUPIN

    Rated R
    Studio: The Weinstein Company

    Directed by: Joby Harold

Be careful what you wish for. That is good advice for Joby Harold, the director of the soft thriller “Awake.”

I realized this when I watched the special features for “Awake,” available now on DVD. Harold explains in the behind the scenes featurette that this was basically his big shot. After moving to L.A. and working as a screenwriter (presumably as a script doctor and in-house coverage lackey), he wrote this movie and got his break to direct it himself.

Sometimes it works out to hold out for everything you want to keep your movie pure. It paid off for Mel Gibson when he did “The Passion of the Christ.” But when it comes to a movie that has the acting prowess of Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba, it’s not the best bet in Hollywood.

“Awake” tells the story of a billionaire who undergoes a heart transplant. However, he finds himself awake and aware during the surgery, silently screaming to the pain. Soon, though, he shakes off the agony and begins to listen to the surgeons, leaving his body and discovering a plot to kill him on the table.

The general filmmaking of “Awake” was decent enough. It was well shot and editing, and I didn’t find it particularly boring. The problem was that it was so far fetched that I couldn’t swallow the story. There are too many twists in the plot, balancing itself on assumptions and unbelievability. It never quite gels as a thriller because Hayden Christensen overacts throughout, yet manages to come across completely dull.

And while I am an apologist for Jessica Alba, she wasn’t enough to save the movie. Sadly, even if she donned her chaps and leather vest from “Sin City,” I doubt the eye candy would have been enough to save this film.

The DVD comes with feature commentary from Harold, which tends to be a bit self-important, as well as deleted scenes with optional commentary. There’s also a decent behind-the-scenes featurette and some storyboard-to-film comparisons.



"MRS. DOUBTFIRE: BEHIND THE SEAMS EDITION"


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

    STARRING
    Robin Williams as DANIEL HILLARD/MRS. DOUBTFIRE
    Sally Field as MIRANDA HILLARD
    Pierce Brosnan as STU DUNMEYER
    Harvey Fierstein as UNCLE FRANK

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: 20h Century Fox

    Directed by: Chris Columbus

When the studios re-release a film like “Mrs. Doubtfire,” it kind of takes me by surprise. I just forget how old it is. Although the movie was released fifteen years ago, it still has a contemporary feel (minus Matthew Lawrence’s hair, that is), and it still works for today’s audiences.

And that means a lot coming from someone like me, who was never a big fan of the movie in the first place. Imagine how big of a deal and how much it has survived the test of time for someone who loves it.

The film tells the story of a divorced father who is struggling with child custody. He loves his kids; he’s just not terribly responsible. When it’s clear that he’s not going to get proper visitation with his kids, he resorts to subterfuge. He uses his natural acting ability to dress as the matronly Mrs. Doubtfire to become the kids’ nanny.

My biggest beef with “Mrs. Doubtfire” is what I complain about with most films that star whackety-schmackety comedians like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. While they are often really good actors in their own right, they are thrown to their own wolves by the director. Instead of actually puling a performance out of Williams, Columbus just lets him “do his thing,” resulting in stuff that might be funny in the moment on set but doesn’t serve the bigger picture.

The greater story is sacrificed for schticky gags about a guy dressing as an old woman. This wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t seen a version of this done by John Ritter on “Three’s Company” multiple times in the past. There’s one scene in particular near the end of the film where it derails completely when Robin Williams’ character is trying to have dinner at the same restaurant in two different personas.

Still, if you like the movie, you won’t be bothered by this. Instead, you can enjoy a resurrection of the classic gender-bender comedy, brought to a new life on a special edition DVD. This new DVD comes with several older features, like a huge slate of deleted, extended and alternate scenes, behind the scenes photos, make-up tests and several featurettes.

There’s also an interview with Chris Columbus and Robin Williams, looking back at the film fifteen years later. However, the best feature by far is the easter egg that takes viewers to a clip from “Arrested Development” in which Tobias (David Cross) pulls his own Doubtfire on Lindsay (Portia de Rossi).



"MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM"


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

    STARRING
    Dustin Hoffman as MR. EDWARD MAGORIUM
    Natalie Portman as MOLLY MAHONEY
    Zach Mills as ERIC APPLEBAUM
    Jason Bateman as HENRY WESTON

    Rated G
    Studio: Fox/Walden

    Developed by: Zach Helm

One of the shames about this past holiday season, in terms of movies, was that “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” seemed to be completely lost on audiences. At the same time, it was a travesty that “Fred Claus” faced such relative success.

Sadly, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” was by far a better film, and it was a treat to watch. It wasn’t perfect, but so few films are. The movie tells the story of a magical toy store owned by a 244-year-old man named Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman). He’s got his friends, but he also sees that they need a push to move on in this world. Mr. Magorium decides to move on himself, out of this plane of existence, and give them their freedom to be everything they can be.

Too often with films aimed at a family audience, the filmmakers try to be too simple or too heavy. Even though “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” deals with some heavy issues like death, it remains a very straightforward film. Yet, even beneath that, there is more to take away from the film if you watch it on a deeper level.

“Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” isn’t as out there as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and it doesn’t rely on big awesome explosions and CGI to propel the story. Rather, it’s a movie about relationships – between Mr. Magorium and his protege Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman), as well as the nine-year-old loner Eric Applebaum (Zach Mills) helping the “counting mutant” (Jason Bateman) find his childhood again.

The key to this film is to see it with the mind of a child. Don’t look for the big message, but don’t just look for the cute things. Enjoy it for what it is and dare to be wrapped up in the story and characters.

The DVD comes with several behind-the-scenes featurettes, including an overall making-of video, and spotlights on the characters, the toy store and the fun and jokes that happened on set.



"DR. DOLITTLE: TAIL TO THE CHIEF"


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

    STARRING
    Kyla Pratt as MAYA DOLITTLE
    Peter Coyote as THE PRESIDENT
    Elise Gatien as COURTNEY
    Niall Matter as COLE FLETCHER

    Rated G
    Studio: Fox

    Developed by: Craig Shapiro

It may not be a product of the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, but it might as well be. “Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief” is a direct-to-DVD sequel that follows the daughter of Dr. Dolittle from the first two feature films. This movie again has Maya Dolittle (Kyla Pratt) as the main character. As she’s prepping for her college entrance exams, Maya is called on a special assignment.

It seems that the President’s dog is having some behavior problems. Because her father is in Antarctica saving the whales (presumably because Eddie Murphy would be cost-prohibitive for this film), the only animal whisperer left to come to is Maya. She is brought to Washington where she tries to find out why Daisy the White House dog is acting up... and all before a critical summit.

“Tail to the Chief” is very similar to the previous “Dr. Dolittle” movie, which featured Pratt on a dude ranch. It’s a very nice story, with villains that aren’t as dangerous as they’d be outside of a family film. Most of the film’s punch lies in the interaction between Pratt and the animals.

The core of these films, even going back to the theatrical Eddie Murphy vehicles, has been the silly talking animals. Norm MacDonald reprises his role as the snarky dog, and there is a whole barn full of new animals with celebrity voices to share the screen.

“Tail to the Chief” is made for families and tweens. It’s deals with issues between parents and children, and it tells it from the pre-teen female perspective. In this respect, it works as a way to enjoy things as a family over the weekend.

The DVD includes four behind-the-scenes featurettes, mostly spotlighting the animals used in the films. They highlight the casting of the animals, how the human actors dealt with them, different endangered animals featured in the film and the Mountain View Conservation Society, where the film was shot.

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