"WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS"


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

    STARRING
    Cameron Diaz as JOY MCNALLY
    Ashton Kutcher as JACK FULLER
    Rob Corddry as HATER
    Lake Bell as TIPPER

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: 20th Century Fox
    Directed by: Tom Vaughan

I like a good romantic comedy, and too often Hollywood just throws the formula together and forgets the “good” part. Recently, things have been hit-and-miss. So, when “What Happens in Vegas” opened this summer, I was dreading a repeat of that whole “Made of Honor” debacle.

Fortunately, with likeable actors like Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz who aren’t afraid to go over the top for comedy, “What Happens in Vegas” turned into a pretty good film.

The story follows a slacker named Jack (Ashton Kutcher) and an uptight stock broker named Joy (Cameron Diaz) who meet up during a weekend in Las Vegas, then get married on a whim. Right after they plan on getting a divorce, they hit a $3 million jackpot on a slot machine. In order to take home the money, a judge makes them live together as a married couple for six months.

The core of this film – and arguably almost any film – is its cast. Both Kutcher and Diaz, who are two of the beautiful people, have pretty good chemistry. They work well together, and they will be as silly or as crazy as they need to.

Even more, the performances of the supporting cast is where the real magic happens. Rob Corddry and Lake Bell play Jack and Joy’s best friends, and ultimately they are funnier than the stars. If the movie were about these two, this might have made my best-of-the-year pick. Other great bit part cast members include Dennis Miller as the snarky judge and Zach Galifianakis as one of Jack’s other friends.

The DVD comes in a very basic model and the “Extended Jackpot Edition.” The special edition comes with a digital copy disc, which I haven’t been able to figure the value add for this. Unless you watch movies exclusively on your iPod, being able to download it to a laptop is somewhat superfluous. After all, don’t most laptops come with a DVD drive?

Often, offering an extended edition on DVD helps sell a disc, and in this case it might. The extended scenes aren’t a lot to write home about, and you can hear the director and editor point them out while watching the commentary track. In general, the special features on the “What Happens in Vegas” DVD work very well. Like the movie itself, the pieces not featuring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz are the best.

Kutcher and Diaz spend about ten minutes in a Vegas hotel room talking about random topics – from the movie’s production to the gender etiquette for hooking up. The better parts come with other features, include Zach Galifianakis’ uncomfortable interview with the director and a lawyer commercial from Rob Corddry’s character.

Other features include a gag reel and several deleted scenes.



"MY SASSY GIRL"


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

    STARRING
    Jesse Bradford as CHARLIE BELLOW
    Elisha Cuthbert as JORDAN ROARK
    Austin Basis as LEO

    Rated PG-13
    Studio: Gold Circle Films
    Directed by: Yann Samuell

In the beginning of the movie, “My Sassy Girl” appears to be your basic independent romantic comedy (which is usually told from the male perspective rather than the mainstream faire told from the female perspective). It never saw a huge theatrical release (if any), and it’s getting dropped onto the DVD market with little fanfare.

The film follows the weird relationship between the straight-laced Charlie Bellow (Jesse Bradford) and the free-spirited Jordan Roark (Elisha Cuthbert). They meet on the subway while Jordan is drunk, and Jesse brings her home to keep her safe. This starts them on the most bizarre courtship imaginable. Jesse wants a normal relationship, but Jordan would rather do things unconventional.

Mainstream romantic comedies rarely follow this unconventional of a plot. Here, the characters fall in love by spending time together but never consummating their relationship on a physical level. However, it is very clear that they both want a relationship. In this sense, I found the story pretty intriguing. Usually with an independent romantic comedy, I get irritated and annoyed with how the story forces unconventional plot points. However, in “My Sassy Girl,” it seems rather natural... for the most part.

Both Bradford and Cuthbert serve the film well. Both are likeable and look good on screen. They also embody the characters well. Either sex can engage in fantasy by wondering what it would be like (or would have been like) to meet someone like that as a young adult.

There is, of course, a very good reason for Jordan’s free-spiritedness and unpredictability, and that mystery is what kept me watching. I will say, though, that when this secret is revealed, I felt it awfully forced and utterly unrealistic.

It was only after watching the movie that I learned it was a remake of a Korean film (which would have made a great special feature if the producers decided to actually put something on the disc other than the film itself). And this actually makes the ending make more sense. In the perspective of a different culture, I imagine things are clearer. The one-to-one shift from Korea to New York doesn’t serve the story.

However, there is an audience for this movie, and that includes people who love an unconventional romance and who aren’t bothered by a bit of contrived storytelling.



"NIXON: ELECTION YEAR EDITION"


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

    STARRING
    Anthony Hopkins as RICHARD M. NIXON
    Joan Allen as PAT NIXON
    Powers Boothe as ALEXANDER HAIG
    Ed Harris as E. HOWARD HUNT
    Bob Hoskins as J. EDGAR HOOVER
    David Hyde Pierce as JOHN DEAN
    Paul Sorvino as HENRY KISSINGER
    James Woods as H.R. HALDEMAN

    Rated R
    Studio: Hollywood Pictures
    Directed by: Oliver Stone

Even though I was alive during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, I don’t remember it.

No, it’s not because I partied too much in college. Rather, college wasn’t even on my mind. I was born in 1971, so I was just getting ready to turn the ripe old age of three when he resigned. Consequently, everything I’ve heard about Richard Nixon has been after he left the office in disgrace. and much of that has been painted by Hollywood and overwhelmingly Democratic school teachers.

I never saw “Nixon” when it was first released in 1995, although I was aware of the irony. At the time of its release, with Oliver Stone painting such a dark picture of the man, Bill Clinton was embroiled in a new scandal every week and only a few short years from impeachment.

Now, more than ten years after it hit theaters (and pretty much bombed, despite some award nominations), I’m getting a chance to look back on the Nixon presidency through Oliver Stone’s eyes with the “Election Year Edition” of the director’s cut of “Nixon” on DVD.

On one hand, with many of Oliver Stone’s films, I respect the hell out of his filmmaking techniques. The imagery and style is never boring and often the most exciting thing about the movie. He started this highly stylized flavor with “JFK” and it seems to have become a true art form with “Nixon.” So, from a visual standpoint, the film is amazing.

However, everything else in the film fails. The writing is so scattered and haphazard that it’s nearly impossible to figure out what’s going on. The chronology jumps around constantly, and it seems there’s an assumption that the viewers need to be a Nixon biographer or expert on presidential politics to follow the overly complicated (although probably relatively accurate) sequence of events.

On the acting front, Anthony Hopkins is embarrassing. He doesn’t become Nixon, as a true actor would. Rather, he falls into a wild caricature that wouldn’t even fly on “Saturday Night Live.” While I haven’t seen a lot of Nixon’s speeches, I did listen to his self-read memoirs on tape, and the DVD extras in this release include some Nixon footage. Hopkins isn’t even close. Rather, he’s a bad impressions slumping from scene to scene.

It’s clear that Stone hates Nixon with a capital H. He claims to have been trying to show the man’s human side, but even the more personal moments paint Nixon as a tormented individual through his entire life. The dark days, as it were, seem to extend for decades, not just near the end of his term.

Apparently to pay homage to the missing 18 minutes in the Watergate tapes, a full 28 minutes have been added back into the movie, extending the already bloated three-hour running time by almost a half hour.

The special features are extensive, but mostly including the material found in the previous release on DVD. Even the 28 missing minutes come from the deleted scenes, which are also included in this release. The other old features include two commentary tracks with Oliver Stone (if you can handle him droning on and on about how great he is and how bad Nixon was), the original trailer and an interview with Oliver Stone conducted by Charlie Rose.

The final special feature is an all-new documentary by Sean Stone examining the making of Nixon, the real person behind the film and its legacy.



"PRISON BREAK: SEASON THREE"


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

    STARRING
    Dominic Purcell as LINCOLN BURROWS
    Wentworth Miller as MICHAEL SCOFIELD
    Sarah Wayne Callies as DR. SARA TANCREDI
    Robert Knepper as T-BAG
    Jodi Lyn O’Keefe as SUSAN B. ANTHONY
    William Fichtner as ALEXANDER MAHONE

    Rated TV-MA
    Studio: FOX

About a year ago, my review of the second season of “Prison Break” was very lackluster. That is because I was sent only the final disc in the three-disc set. Apparently, FOX is trying to save a dime by not burning the entire season to DVD for reviewers... that, or they are hoping I start to tune into the show when it is broadcast during the regular season.

Well, since I’m not a television reviewer, but rather a DVD reviewer (and a film reviewer), I haven’t taken the time to put “Prison Break” on my DVR. Maybe I will for season four... but I wouldn’t count on it.

The season three finale is the only episode I’ve seen, and like the previous season, it almost makes no sense watching it as a stand-alone show. This is too bad because like the season two finale, it definitely had the flavor of a well-made show with plenty of action. Storylines seemed to be wrapped up, villains seemed to be double-crossed and favorite characters managed to survive.

Of course, to the fan of the show, it’s probably awesome.

When it comes to the special features, they seem to be back-loaded into the last disc. They include a spotlight on the Spanish-speaking cast, a break-down of an episode’s production, director spotlights on different takes and between-the-scenes moments with the cast. There’s also a bonus episode of “The Unit” for some cross-pollination of shows.

Like season two, I wish I had seen the series instead of the DVD, ‘cause it looks like a pretty good show.



"THE ULTIMATE MULAN 2-MOVIE COLLECTION"


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

    STARRING
    Ming-Na as MULAN
    Eddie Murphy as MUSHU (Mulan)
    Mark Moseley as MUSHU (Mulan II)
    B.D. Wong as CAPTAIN LI SHANG
    Harvey Fierstein as YAO
    Gedde Watanabe as LING
    Sandra Oh as TING TING (Mulan II)
    Lauren Tom as SU (Mulan II)

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

While some have criticized Disney for bringing their films in and out of the DVD vault, making them available only for limited times, you can’t say that there’s few opportunities to buy them.

One of the latest releases from the Disney vault is the “Mulan” movies. Both the original animated film and its direct-to-DVD sequel are available in a gift set. The set contains three discs in all, with two belonging to the Special Edition of “Mulan.” The third disc is “Mulan II.”

There is no difference between these DVDs and the original releases from 2004 and 2005. The only catch is they are now boxed together. If you already own either release, it’s not a great deal to get the box set. However, if you – or rather your kids - have never seen the “Mulan” films, here’s a way to get a little more bang for your buck.

From a critical standpoint, “Mulan” is far superior to its sequel. Part of this is because it was an original theatrical release with a full budget while “Mulan II” was a profit grab in the DVD sequel market. As Disney sequels go, it’s not the best. Much of this is due to the fact that in the first film, the young Mulan is off to save the country while the sequel features a main story of her getting married and finding her independence.

Still, if you’ve got a girl in the house who is into the Disney Princesses, the Mulan films offer a nice alternative to the traditional fairy tale characters.

Special features on “Mulan: Special Edition” include deleted scenes, music videos, fun facts that can play on screen while you watch the movie, a DisneyPedia entry on “Mulan’s World” and a “Discovering Mulan” featurette.

Special features on “Mulan II” include deleted scenes, a music video, a spotlight on the voice talent, a look at the world of Mulan and “Mushu’s Guess Who Game.”

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