"THE NIM’S ISLAND"


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

    STARRING
    Abigail Breslin as NIM RUSOE
    Jodie Foster as ALEXANDRA ROVER
    Gerard Butler as JACK RUSOE/ALEX ROVER

    Rated PG
    Studio: Fox/Walden
    Directed by: Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin

This past spring, the girl-centric adventure tale “Nim’s Island” got lost a bit in the theaters. Produced by Fox/Walden, which recently gave us “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” this film tells the story of a young girl named Nim (Abigail Breslin) who lives on a tropical island with her dad Jack (Gerard Butler). When her father is lost at sea, Nim writes to her favorite author Alex Rover, to ask for help. What she doesn’t know is that the action star is really a reclusive author named Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), who writes fictional books.

This film is not for everyone. It will seem too juvenile for the older sect, but it works for the younger viewer. And even though the film has a definite girl focus, it’s not a girl-power movie featuring sisterhoods or traveling pants.

The real star of the film is Breslin, who overshadows Jodie Foster, a seasoned actor who appears too uncomfortable to really pull off her slapstick character. Star Gerard Butler shows his range with the dual role of Nim’s dad and the fictional character of Alex Rover. But it’s Breslin’s movie, and she has a chance to shine.

Recently, I had a chance to interview Abigail Breslin, and she is as charming and sweet in real life as she appears in movies and interviews. My only complaint from this angle (which comes across in the special features) is that she is so buffered in the behind-the-scenes footage that you don’t get to see the real girl as an actor. After meeting her publicist and seeing how other teen and pre-teen celebrities are left out to dry when they rebel, I understand the thinking.

However, in all the interviews behind the scenes, we’re told how brilliant, unstoppable and down-to-earth Abigail is. But it all seems set up in these features, and I look forward to the day when the girl can express herself on screen without every sound byte not scrutinized by publicists and studios.

The DVD comes with two commentaries – one with Foster and Breslin, and the other with the writers/directors. There’s also a spotlight on Nim’s animal friends, a spotlight on Breslin herself, a piece about working in the water, some nature-centric PSA, deleted scenes and trailers.

Usually, when I watch deleted scenes, I understand why they were left on the cutting room floor. However, one arc that was removed was how Nim had several imaginary friends on the island who come from books – Huck Finn and Alice from Wonderland to be exact. These characters provided a nice foil for Breslin, and I wish they would have been left in the film.

Even without the good deleted scenes, “Nim’s Island” is a nice choice for family movie night if you have kids who haven’t yet reached their teens.



"WAR GAMES: THE DEAD CODE"


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

    STARRING
    Matt Lanter as WILL FARMER
    Amanda Walsh as ANNIE D’MATEO
    Colm Feore as T. KENNETH HASSERT
    Chuck Shamata as BILL CARTER

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: MGM
    Directed by: Stuart Gillard

It seems that nowadays, classic films (and some not-so-classic films) are getting new life on DVD. That doesn’t just come from re-releasing the films on DVD in special editions, box sets and directors’ cuts. It also includes low-budget sequels, cashing in on the name of the original.

Some of these films, like “Behind Enemy Lines” (falling into the not-so-classic category), are nothing more than a grab at the name which people might remember to sell an action film in a similar genre. Not too long ago, there was also a sequel to the lukewarm “Hackers” that made it onto DVD as “Track Down,” having nothing to do with the original film.

MGM has dug up the classic 80s Cold War thriller “WarGames” and released it in a special edition DVD. It has also given us a sequel, “WarGames: The Dead Code.” This new film follows a computer nerd who is targeted by a National Security agency and mercilessly tracked down by a supercomputer that assumes he’s a terrorist.

I’ll give the filmmakers credit in the sense that not only have they given the film a very similar storyline to the original (in which a hacker accidentally interfaces with a quirky defense computer and almost stars World War III). It also manages to make this film an actual sequel in that it features characters from the first film, including the off-kilter 80s defense grid Joshua.

As far as direct-to-DVD sequels go, you can do a lot worse than “The Dead Code.” It’s definitely made on the cheap, set in Canada for tax break purposes, I would assume. Against the backdrop of foreign terror as the new threat rather than the Reds, it also manages to be somewhat relevant.

I did appreciate the fact that the movie avoided some preaching, although it does go back to the message well from the first movie – especially near the end. However, it’s not boring at all, and I found myself interested.

The DVD comes with production stills, several trailers, a making-of documentary and a director’s commentary. If you want a brand new film with high-budget ideals, stay away from “The Dead Code,” but it does make acceptable viewing faire for a rainy Saturday afternoon.



"ARMY WIVES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON"


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

    STARRING
    Catherine Bell as DENISE SHERWOOD
    Brigid Brannah as PAMELA MORAN
    Wendy Davis as JOAN BURTON
    Sally Pressman as ROXY LEBLANC
    Kim Delaney as CLAUDIA JOY HOLDEN

    Rated TV-PG
    Studio: ABC Studios

I will admit that I procrastinated in watching the DVDs of “Army Wives: The Complete First Season.” And I’d like to think that I have a very good reason... I’m a dude.

It wasn’t as much the title of the show, but rather I saw that the series was produced by Mark Gordon from Grey’s Anatomy, which I find to be way too whiney for my tastes. Add to the fact that this show is broadcast on the Lifetime network, and my dude excuse comes into play again.

However, one weekend with nothing else to watch, my wife and I put “Army Wives” into the DVD player and began watching the series. At first, it was exactly what I expected... a movie-of-the-week show that focused on the struggles of the women on the homefront.

I have nothing against real-life Army wives. In fact, I have an overwhelming amount of respect for them. After all, I know how hard it is to raise kids, let alone do it by yourself while your husbands are overseas and in danger. But strip away the fact the show’s set on a military base, and you’ll find just another suburban soap opera.

In many ways, this show reminds me of the FX series “The Unit”... well, at least half of it focusing on the wives on the base. The difference is that “Army Wives” never shows us the macho, testosterone-inspired action of a special forces team infiltrating enemy territory overseas.

“Army Wives” follows the women keeping the family together back home. The anchor characters include Roxy, a southern girl who marries her paratrooper hubby on a whim after only four days; Claudia Joy, the veteran wife whose husband is second in command on the base; Pamela, the repressed career girl who is trying to manage the family and the money with many challenges; and Denise, the conservative girl whose gung-ho husband doesn’t know their son is abusing her. To add some spice to the mix, we also have Roland, whose wife is a commander in Iraq, so he takes on the role as a base wife to the girls at home.

While the show didn’t initially grab me, I have to say it’s well written enough and well acted enough that it did grow on me a little. I wouldn’t count myself as a fan, but I made it through the season without much complaint. Unlike “The Unit,” in which the stories on the base are more distracting than anything, “Army Wives” manages to bring the peril and drama to the viewer.

I do commend the show for being patriotic enough to support the families and troops while keeping politics out of the show, for the most part. There is one episode which features a woman testifying in Congress against a friendly-fire cover-up, and that gets a bit preachy at times, but otherwise, the show is very supportive of the military and its families.

The first season DVD comes with bloopers, several audio commentaries, deleted scenes including an entire deleted story arc, a Q&A session with some cast members answering fan mail and a tender look at the real-life Army wives who provide support for our heroes back home.



"SMART PEOPLE"


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

    STARRING
    Dennis Quaid as LAWRENCE WETHERHOLD
    Sarah Jessica Parker as JANET HARTIGAN
    Thomas Haden Church as CHUCK WETHERHOLD
    Ellen Page as VANESSA WETHERHOLD

    Rated R
    Studio: Disney
    Directed by: Noam Murro

Have you ever had someone correct your spelling in a friendly email? Or, have you ever written or typed something only to have someone hand it back to you with red-pen corrections like some pretentious English teacher? I hate that.

These are the kind of people featured in the film “Smart People.” Instead of being a film that revels in white trash stupidity, it revels in over-intellectual stupidity. The characters in “Smart People” might have high IQs, but they are woefully inept at dealing with others in a social context.

This film follows a family of pompous windbags who lead horribly dysfunctional lives. Dennis Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold, a self-important literature professor who hasn’t gotten over his wife’s death. His daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) is an overly-ambitious girl who is more interested in career and college than having a good time.

After suffering a head injury, Lawrence discovers his doctor is a former student, and after getting over a whole bag of interpersonal problems, try to have a go at a relationship. While this is happening, Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) breezes into town and throws the family into a whirlwind. However, it is the brother of lesser intelligence that inspires both Lawrence and Vanessa to begin living their lives and not get caught up in their own airs.

The charm of “Smart People” is watching these characters squirm and eventually come out of their shells. Ellen Page shows only a modicum of range as the character of Vanessa is nothing more than a non-pregnant June. Sarah Jessica Parker comes off well, although her similar appearance in “The Family Stone” is hard to top in terms of comedies of family dysfunction. But it’s Thomas Haden Church, ironically playing the only non-smart person in the film, that really steals the show.

When it comes to pompous intellectual windbag characters, Noah Baumbach broke the mold with his wretched family in “The Squid and the Whale,” but “Smart People” comes in a close second. Director Noam Murro gets a little high on himself with looking down on everyone from academic types to college Republicans, but fortunately he spends his time behind the camera letting good actors tell a good story.

The DVD comes with a handful of deleted scenes, bloopers and interviews with the filmmakers and cast. There’s a feature commentary by director Murro and writer Mark Jude Poirier, but I wouldn’t suggest listening to it. They come across as pompous and windbaggy as the characters they’re sending up in the film.

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