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Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Amy Adams = Isla Fisher Upgrade

A friend caught Enchanted recently, enjoyed it (with only a few qualifications), and had this to say, which I thought was spot-on:

“Amy Adams has always been the real deal to me; she’s like
Isla Fisher’s way cooler, way more talented, and frankly hotter sister. And I
hear she started on Enchanted for pre-recording the songs and animation and
everything even before Junebug, which says quite a lot about Disney’s eye for
talent.”

Aero Hosts Samuel L. Jackson

For those in the Southern California area, the Aero Theatre will present a special one-night, in-person tribute to Samuel L. Jackson on Thursday, December 6, with screenings of Rod Lurie’s Resurrecting the Champ and Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan (what, no Snakes on a Plane?). The event begins at 7:30 p.m., and a discussion with Jackson will take place between films.

The Aero Theatre
is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica; tickets are available through Fandango, but for 24-hour recorded
information on tickets, directions and the venue’s upcoming schedule,
phone (323) 466-FILM.

Pitt Doesn’t Play, Miller Enlists

Maybe the mega-grosses of Transformers convinced her, maybe not. Either way, insouciant Sienna Miller has enrolled in the big screen adaptation of G.I. Joe, to be helmed by Stephen Sommers for Paramount, and an August 2009 release date, Variety is reporting. If you read between the lines, she’s been cast as Baroness, a raven-haired villain.

In other news, Brad Pitt has up and left Universal’s State of Play, a political drama penned by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), and set to be helmed by The Last King of Scotland director Kevin MacdonaldVariety is also reporting. It’s considered an acrimonious split; Pitt left the movie early Wednesday, following two weeks of struggle
and meetings with Macdonald that prevented the film from
making its original November 15 production start date. The studio
considers Pitt to have walked out of a pay-or-play commitment, and is
leaving open the option to sue him
if the film cannot be recast by next week in
time to keep the other actors (a group which includes Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and Robin Wright Penn) in place. So… you know, get those head shots in.

Christmas Time in South Park

While its complete season sets are the stuff of manna, there have
also been a number of smart niche DVD releases of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s riotous,
delightfully lewd animated series
, like its packaging of “The Passion of the Jew,” the
episode devoted to assaying Mel Gibson’s controversial film. Christmas Time in South Park continues
this winning tradition, offering up seven collected episodes of Kyle, Stan,
Cartman and Kenny’s seasonal misadventures
.

South Park
what the Halloween “Treehouse of Horrors” episodes have been for The Simpsons. Of the slightly more
recent entries, “Red Sleigh Down” picks apart action tropes, and sees the boys
bring Christmas to Iraq;
it’s quite funny.

Still, the most inspired episode might still be the eighth
season’s “Woodland Critter Christmas”
(above), an earnestly narrated tale in which Stan, “the little boy in the red poof-ball
hat,” stumbles upon a group of chipper forest animals, led by Squirrelly, and
helps them build a manger when told that the virginal Porcupine-y is pregnant with
their savior child. It’s only after he lures a mountain lion that threatens the
brood to her death that Stan learns the critters are actually Satanists, and he
just paved the way for 10,000 years of darkness and the return of the
(woodland) Antichrist
. Working with three orphaned mountain lion cubs and Santa
Claus, Stan tries to set things right. In typical but still hilarious fashion,
the entire thing turns out to be a school story penned by Cartman, just to rip
on Kyle for being Jewish. Also included in the set are “It’s Christmas in Canada
and “Merry Christmas Charlie Manson!”

Presented in the same 1.33:1 full frame as the show every
week on Comedy Central, Christmas Time in
South Park
is anchored by a Dolby digital soundtrack that more than
adequately captures the meager aural demands of the material. While there aren’t
any bonus extras, the release is nicely packaged in a hard plastic tray in a sturdy
cardboard flipbook case, with a gold spine that gives it the appearance of a mock
storybook
. It also comes with a special insert advertising South Park and other Comedy Central releases.
To purchase the title via Amazon, click here.
A (Show) B (Disc)

Being Thankful for Mr. Brooks…

What’s there to be thankful for today? Well, MGM wants me to let you know that Mr. Brooks debuts on pay-per-view and video-on-demand. Now that’s Thanksgiving, baby. So if football isn’t your thing, enjoy instead some Kevin Costner, with a side dish of William Hurt as his murderous id. As far as careening serial killer ensemble pieces, it has to be the film of the year, and probably, in a close finish, the second best flick set in Portland, if only because of the copious nudity in Feast of Love. Costner’s bare haunches just don’t do it for me, sorry. For the movie’s trailer, click here.

Lawrence Makes for Epic Thanksgiving

One needn’t spend their Thanksgiving weekend at Kohl’s, sighing deeply while their sister/girlfriend/wife/mother weighs the pros and cons of four different throw rugs as a gift for their aunt. For those in the Southern California area, at least, respite comes in the form of a stunning, 70mm presentation of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The 1962 epic — starring Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence, the man who helped the  Arabs revolt against European and Ottoman hegemony — screens at multiple times on November 23 through 25 at the Egyptian Theatre, and on Sunday, November 25 at the Aero Theatre. For those looking to take in cinematographer Freddie Young’s expansive vistas or just enjoy all over again the winner of seven Academy Awards, this is the definitive big screen experience.

The
historic Egyptian Theatre is located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, between Highland and Las
Palmas
, in Hollywood. The Aero Theatre, meanwhile, is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica; tickets to both venues are available through Fandango, but for 24-hour recorded
information on tickets, directions and the theaters’ upcoming schedules,
phone (323) 466-FILM, or visit
the Cinematheque’s eponymous Web site by clicking here
.

Happy Birthday, Scarlett Johansson

It’s a happy birthday to Scarlett Johansson, who turns 23 today, and no doubt celebrates with a smoke or three. I wonder if Isaac Mizrahi will send her an email or a Target gift card or anything.

while I think she’s talented, she’s not been particularly well served by her choices, including continued collaborations with Woody Allen (two down, one yet to release); better to have done Match Point and skipped out, really. This fall’s The Nanny Diaries didn’t catch fire at the box office (there’s no cuddly relatability factor with Johansson among slightly older females), and I don’t know that other, forthcoming projects with a historical bent (The Other Boleyn Girl, Mary Queen of Scots), in the loose mold of over-acclaimed indie Girl with a Pearl Earring, are necessarily any more likely to give Johansson that much heat or traction. She’s kind of a “tweener” talent, in my opinion — the curvaceous figure and breathy voice of a starlet of years gone by, but with something intrinsically modern about her countenance. Johansson’s best performances (Ghost World, Lost in Translation) rely on an understated petulance or frustration, qualities with which most female lead characters are not typically infused.

The picture above, meanwhile, from the same Golden Globes where Mizrahi committed his carpet-walk grope, to me, umm, robustly embodies Johansson’s off-screen image makeover. It smacks of the ever-so-slightly plump high school ugly duckling who goes off to college, sheds a few pounds and takes their newfound self-esteem out for an over-sexualized test drive. And you know what? I’m fine with that… though I do think there’s a much shorter shelf life for that sort of occupational play.

George Jones: Live in Concert

In the 1980s, Orlando’s
Church Street Station provided a welcome stopover for many country crooners and
autumn-of-their-years pop and R&B acts. It was a perfect alignment of venue
and audience
. After all, with the theme park rides and attractions of Disney
World and Epcot Center nearby, this provided a chance for future boomers to
kick back, relax and, if they so desired, prove they could still cut a rug. It’s
against this backdrop that George Jones’ 1984 performance, now available on
DVD, unfolds.

The erstwhile husband of Tammy Wynette, and probably at
least partial inspiration for her hit “Stand by Your Man,” Jones is arguably
one of the greatest country singers of all time — a quiet, captivating
personality with plenty of dramatic power in his voice
. Though probably best
known for his somber song canon, Jones has also shown a fondness for
lightheartedness through novelty tunes like “White Lightning.” Those two
different sides of his personality get trotted out in equal measure here on George Jones: Live in Concert, an
hour-long DVD that also features special guests Johnny Rodriguez and Mark Gray.

Most of the popular chart-toppers from Jones’ days of
dueting with Wynette — tunes like “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “Golden Ring” and
“Near You” — aren’t included here, which may be a bummer for fans of that era
.
But plenty of other staples are, including “When I’m Gone,” “The Race Is On”
and 1980 Grammy winner “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Other tracks include “The
One I Loved Back Then (The Corvette Song),” “Who’s Gonna Chop My Baby’s
Kindlin’,” “Bartender Blues,” “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” “Chicken Reel,”
“She’s My Rock” and “No Show Jones,” the song coined after the nickname Jones
earned for ducking out on announced concerts. Rodriguez sits in on “I Always
Get Lucky with You,” “North of the Border” and “Love Me with All Your Heart,” meanwhile,
while Gray guests on “Diamond in the Dust” and “Back When Love Was Enough.”

Presented in full-screen with 5.1 surround sound, George Jones: Live in Concert comes
housed in a regular Amray case, with a bonus quiz section on Jones’ life and
career serving as the only supplemental extra. Though it’s somewhat yawningly produced, hardcore fans will still find worth in this release. To purchase the disc via Amazon, click here. C+ (Concert) C- (Disc)

The Mist Creeps Into Theaters

I’m looking out my window this morning, and it’s the best promotional gimmick any studio has dreamt up in a while, though surely someone owes Sean Connery‘s Sir August de Wynter a boatload of cash. Yep, The Mist is out today, along with Timothy Olyphant‘s Hitman and Enchanted, starring the beatific Amy Adams. Oh, and August Rush and This Christmas do the wide release thing, too. I haven’t seen the former, but I have to question its seasonal release and/or title. I’ve already had confused emails from two potential moviegoers in its demographic wheelhouse… not a good sign.

Enchanted

Amy Adams announces herself as a viable new commercial
leading lady in
Enchanted, a genial family
film which finds animated fairytale characters thrust into the real world
. The
ironic tweaking of film conventions hit the fairytale subgenre in 2001 with Shrek, and has continued since in
animated fare Hoodwinked and Happily N’Ever After. Enchanted, however, extends the practice
into live action, and while the story at its core is essentially a familiar one,
it’s told with such pleasant aplomb
, mixing in a few spry musical numbers, that
it leaves a smile on one’s face. The Disney brand, combined with warm word-of-mouth and
positive-leaning critical support, should give the film a leg up with family
audiences on 20th Century Fox’s Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

Enchanted opens
with an eight-minute animated sequence
in which the fetching, innocent Giselle
(Adams, above) wistfully sings of waiting for “True Love’s Kiss,” an appeal that is answered
by Prince Edward (James Marsden), an enthusiastic and amorous if somewhat dim
adventurer. In storybook fashion, the pair’s marriage is immediately set for
the next day. This worries Edward’s evil stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan
Sarandon), who wants to keep all the power of the throne for herself, so she
dumps Giselle into a wishing well, which promptly deposits her in New York
City.

There Giselle meets single father Robert (Patrick Dempsey)
and his six-year-old daughter Morgan (Rachel Covey). They offer Giselle a place
to stay while she waits for Edward to come rescue her, an act of kindness that
complicates matters
with Robert’s girlfriend Nancy (Idina Menzel). As Giselle’s
unflaggingly sunny optimism wears off on Robert and their friendship deepens,
he teaches her about quaint real-world courtship like “dating.” The queen, meanwhile, sends her smitten lackey, Nathaniel
(Timothy Spall), after the blithely unaware Edward, to prevent any rescue of his
bride-to-be. She provides Nathaniel with three poisoned apples and tasks him
with finishing off Giselle before eventually deciding to take matters into her
own hands.

Adams is a smart, supremely cozy fit
for the wide-eyed Giselle, and her performance is both radiant and engaging
.
With her hair piled high, she appropriates animated fairy tale posture and body
movements, deploying the same sort of charismatic naivety that was at the core
of her Oscar-nominated performance in 2005’s indie flick Junebug. In an industry always on the lookout for leading ladies
innately likeable and yet still comedically adroit enough to topline romantic
comedy vehicles, Adams is a prime candidate for
promotion to the front of the line.

Written by Bill Kelly (Premonition),
the movie has just enough parallel adult grounding to serve the story (Robert
is a divorce attorney), and its oblique references give Enchanted an extra, winking dimension and shading without making it
seem at all bawdy
. (Passing mention is made of “what boys want,” and after a
misunderstanding that ends with her on top of Robert, Giselle charmingly thinks
Nancy is upset because she believes
she and Robert… kissed.) There are a few plot holes, and certain conveniences
are leaned on hard, particularly in the movie’s finale, but Kelly also finds a
few amusing ways to contrast the two worlds, as when Giselle’s morning aria (“The
Working Song”) is answered by rats, roaches and other big city vermin, as
opposed to the woodland critters of the movie’s opening animated segment.

Tarzan co-director
Kevin Lima’s background in animation serves him well, as he helps the cast
remain true to the earnest theatricality characteristic of such films. He also
oversees, with seamless precision, a park-set sequence that evolves into a
full-fledged musical routine. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s collaboration, meanwhile,
provides some instantly hummable tunes that already have the familiar ring of
classics by the time of their end credits reprisal. For the full original review, from Screen International, click here.

NBC Inhales Oxygen

NBC Universal announced today that it has completed its
acquisition of Oxygen Media, one of the nation’s leading female-focused cable
television networks
. The transaction is valued at approximately $875 million
net of financial assets.

The acquisition by NBC Universal is part of the company’s stated
strategy to “transform its portfolio and focus on assets with potential for
rapid growth” (read: make money?)
. Oxygen will become part of the NBC Universal
Cable group, led by Jeff Gaspin, President and Chief Operating Officer,
Universal Television Group. “We are thrilled to add Oxygen Media to our roster
of high-growth cable networks,” said Jeff Zucker, President and CEO, NBC
Universal. “We look forward to having Oxygen play a key role in the ongoing growth
of our cable entertainment business.”

Oxygen strengthens NBC Universal’s position of leadership in
upscale, female-focused media
. Its audience complements the viewers of Bravo
and The Today Show, and visitors to
iVillage, the leading online site for women. These assets across multiple
platforms give NBCU an even more attractive go-to-market position in the
fast-growing women’s entertainment and lifestyle market.

Lauren Zalaznick, President of Bravo Media, has been
appointed by Gaspin to oversee Oxygen Media, adding the network to her current
responsibilities
; she will continue to report to Gaspin.
Additionally, she will continue her service as Chair of NBC Universal’s Green
Council. “We believe we can bring great value to the Oxygen brand, with our cross-promotion
opportunities, programming expertise and distribution team,” said Gaspin. “Lauren
has had tremendous success growing Bravo and we know, with her talent and
passion, she will do the same with Oxygen.” Under Zalaznick’s watch, Bravo has
achieved record ratings and critical acclaim, and recently completed the
highest-rated quarter in its history among both adults 18-49 and total viewers
.

Junebug

In honor and anticipation of the forthcoming release of Enchanted, I’m reposting this in-depth DVD review of Amy Adams’ breakthrough flick, Junebug, which I don’t believe IGN ever got around to actually running, perhaps because my use of the words meritorious and milieu don’t jibe with their editorial mission. At any rate…

That a single revelatory performance is enough to mask
narrative familiarities or flaws is a point not open to debate. See last year’s
Ray and, more recently, Walk the Line and (most egregiously) Duncan
Tucker’s Transamerica if you doubt.
Still, Junebug is an interesting
case, in that its memorable turn comes within the framework of an ensemble.

The performance of Amy Adams (above), who won a Special Dramatic
Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Festival for her robust, memorable supporting
work, is a prime example of a performance in search of a movie that deserves
its efforts
. Scripted by playwright Angus MacLachlan and helmed in a languorous
fashion by commercial and music video director Phil Morrison (a bushy-moustache
ringer for Charles Manson, as the supplemental material reveals), Junebug is the rare movie that achieves
complete authenticity of atypical setting yet still comes across as unrealistic
in almost all of its interactions
. It’s a willfully stilted and pandering
cinematic indulgence — original but not meritorious.

Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) is a British-born, Chicago
museum curator specializing in “outsider art,” quirky work from unheralded and
undiscovered regional talents. When she gets the chance to investigate a North
Carolina artist specializing in bizarre, Civil War-themed panel painting, she
and her younger husband George (Alessandro Nivola) extend the visit to include
a trip to see his semi-estranged family, which is comprised of prickly mother
Peg (Celia Weston), withdrawn but kindly father Eugene (Scott Wilson), surly
younger brother Johnny (The O.C.’s
Benjamin McKenzie, reaching for indie cred relevance with a performance running
second in petulance only to Jon Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite — except that that
was for laughs), and Johnny’s pregnant and innocently garrulous live-in
girlfriend Ashley (a pitch-perfect Adams, her wide eyes and
tongue-pressed-to-teeth smile a perfect representation of unblinking naïveté
).
While George — ever his father’s son — withdraws into a cocoon of reticence
during the trip (perhaps the result of neither MacLachan nor Morrison knowing
what to do with his character), Madeleine endears herself to the extremely
friendly Ashley, and she deeply to her.

A movie of much meandering indulgence (it is the South,
after all, so everything must move slowly), Junebug
grates far more than it illuminates; it’s an indistinct tone poem that falsely wears
its down-dressed rhythms as profundity
. Morrison and editor Joe Klotz cut
between scenes in a completely arbitrary fashion, and the various relationships
run so hot and cold — with George disappearing for a vast stretch of the movie
— that we’re never quite sure why anyone is acting the way they are. That George is the made-good brother who
“escaped” is never in doubt (a beautiful church social scene where he’s
recruited to sing a hymnal confirms this), but there’s a marked difference
between discord or strained familial relationships and the extremely sullen and
uncommunicative ones on display here
, wherein each character at least once
pauses, turns around and walks away when directly addressed with a “thank you”
or other words of gratitude. Rarely have I seen a milieu so painstakingly
established at the same time ring so inherently false.

In Junebug,
Southern compatriots Morrison and MacLachlan seem to be reaching for ephemeral
grace notes more than overarching clarity, but the mesmerizing performance of Adams
isn’t transcendental — it seems to exist in a vacuum independent of the rest of
the film. I liked this movie a bit more the second time around than the first,
and it plays better on the small screen, but honestly, Junebug feels like the filmmakers watched the work of David Gordon
Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls) and tried to
willfully inject it with aloofness and empty quirk.

The film’s indie heartthrob status is further elucidated
over the course of a nice array of bonus material on this single disc, housed
in a regular Amray case
. Junebug’s 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation
is superb, with director of photography Peter Donahue’s uncluttered frames
achieving crystal clarity. There are no problems with artifact or grain, and
while the movie’s overall color palette is relatively subdued, its greys and blues are nicely
differentiated. The film’s use of natural lighting is nice, too, as in the
scene of Madeleine and George’s initial arrival. Presented in an English Dolby digital 5.0 soundtrack, Junebug’s audio is nicely balanced and
for the most part clear and straightforward. Original music by Yo La Tengo is
nicely married to the narrative in a fairly non-intrusive manner
, but my only
complaint is that there’s not a lot done with the audio mix in terms of ambient
effects and background noise. While the film visually captures the South, it
eschews much aural effort. The aforementioned church scene is an example of
where this native silence works quite well, racking focus clearly on the sweet,
heart-rending vocals, but for a movie ostensibly about alienation and
disconnect, there are many scenes — Johnny sitting in the kitchen when the rest
of the family rushes out to meet George and Madeleine, for instance, or a
late-act scene between Ashley and George at the hospital — where the audio is
just flat.

A billed five-part, behind-the-scenes featurette is actually merely
a collection of actor interviews broken down by character
. These are
interesting, but not necessarily material you will revisit, though it does
include outtake footage of Nivola practicing for his hymnal. More intriguing
are two casting session tapes, which provide seven minutes of McKenzie and 13
minutes of
Adams. For the latter in particular, given
the achievement of her performance, it’s interesting to see both how quickly
she dialed in on the character and the minor tweaks and revisions that further
shaded her portrayal of Ashley. A collection of 10 deleted scenes follows. Most are
snippets, but there’s one that lends even more credence to Johnny’s swallowed
rage. I wouldn’t say it makes McKenzie’s performance markedly better, but it does add a bit more
shading, similar to the scene in which he tries to record a TV show about
meerkats (Ashley’s favorite animal) and flies off the handle when he cannot set
up the VCR in time.

The disc’s piece de
resistance
, though, is a joint audio commentary track from Adams and
Davidtz. Recorded together, the two share production anecdotes, recount
Davidtz’s eleventh-hour casting
(she’s a friend of Nivola and his wife, Emily
Mortimer) and have fun with pop-up trivia-type tidbits (self-confesses Adams at
one point, “That’s me actually itching a mosquito bite”). Both analytical and
funny (since the film opened opposite The
Dukes of Hazzard
, Adams suggests that Ashley’s pregnancy shorts should have
been more prominently featured in the advertising campaign), this offering
dispels the frequently deserved stereotype of boring actor commentary tracks.

Bottom line: Again, Amy Adams is what’s most to love here, though the
degree to which she influences the final judgment between bearable treat and
interesting failure will depend heartily on your threshold for empty quirk
.
That Junebug has been hailed by most
critics is only further evidence of the growing culture gap in this country,
and between those that produce and comment on entertainment and those that live
in the interstices of its occasional settings. Again, merely being different
doesn’t always equal good, and unfolding in a place rarely visited doesn’t make
Junebug wise or bittersweet. C (Movie) B+ (Disc)

On Photoshopped Pictures

Yes, the picture, from 20th Century Fox’s advance publicity kit, pegged to this review of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium is obviously a somewhat poorly Photoshopped interpolation, designed to cram Natalie Portman and Dustin Hoffman in the same frame. But it’s not nearly as bad as this one from Click, of Adam Sandler and Kate Beckinsale. I don’t know what’s more amusing — the fact that studios, with all the massive resources at their disposal, can’t even stage a few good publicity two-shots, or fact that someone receiving college credit apparently got to take a break from fetching coffee and crank out these gems.

Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

I came to The Santa
Clause
franchise already in progress, the result of a yuletide review
assignment last year, but I’d certainly seen enough of the trailers and TV ads
for the first two films to grasp what was going on. The series began, in 1994,
as the ultimate collision of
workaholic-Dad-snapped-into-line-by-fantastical-intervention cinema
(see The
Family Man
, Liar Liar, Click, et al) and high concept piffle
(ordinary guy becomes… Santa Claus). The movies have since served as one of the
two twin pillars, alongside the Toy Story films, in star Tim Allen’s
otherwise negligible big screen career. Eight years passed between the original
and its sequel, but the $172 million worldwide gross of The Santa Clause 2
(almost on par with its forebear) cemented plans for a trilogy.

an engagingly colorful villainous performance by Martin Short
as the jealous Jack Frost.

After having become Santa in the first movie, Scott Calvin
(Allen) has tried to juggle the demands of the job with his personal life. The
Escape Clause
finds Santa taking on new challenges as his extended family
continues to grow. At the risk of giving away its secret location, Scott
invites his in-laws, Sylvia and Bud Newman (Ann-Margret and Alan Arkin, a rich
pair) to the North Pole to share in the holiday festivities and be near their
daughter, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), as she prepares for the eagerly
anticipated birth of Baby Claus. The problem, of course, is that Carol’s
parents don’t know about Scott’s secret identity (they just think he’s a north-of-the-border
toymaker), so he disguises the North Pole as Canada, instructing all his elves
to cover up their pointy ears and go about appending, “ehh?” to the end of
every other sentence
. Further complicating matters are Scott’s own blended
brood — ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson), her new husband Neil (Judge Reinhold),
their daughter Lucy (a very effective Liliana Mumy) and Scott’s son Charlie
(Eric Lloyd) — who beg on for a trip of their own, and have to be entertained
as well as keep the secret from the Newmans.

The main complication, though, is Jack Frost (Short), an
icy-browed outcast on the Council of Legendary Figures, a group which includes
the Easter Bunny, Father Time, Mother Nature, Cupid, et al. Jack wants his own
holiday, and when rebuffed by the council he hatches a mischievous scheme to
wreck Scott’s holiday and make him unwittingly invoke the titular “escape
clause,” thus freeing the path for Jack to become the new Santa Claus. Jack’s
ploy works — for a bit, at least — and we get to see him commercialize the
North Pole, turning it into a theme park where the richest parents can bump
their kids to the top of the “nice list” for a price. Naturally, Scott
reconnects with just how much being Santa Claus really means to him, and how
important separate time for family is, and makes a play to save the day and
reverse Jack’s plot.

Nuance surely isn’t Santa Clause 3’s name, but its
performances are far the most part pleasing — Martin in particular brings a smirky, self-centered
glee to his role — and its story isn’t condescending
, which is something these
days. It’s brisk and colorful, right on spot for its chief target demographic,
and to that end certainly worthy of inclusion on the “nice list.”

Santa Clause 3
comes presented in two versions — 1.33:1 full-screen or the Disney-dubbed
“family-friendly” 1.78:1 widescreen, each free of edge enhancement or grain.
Housed in a regular Amray case in turn stored in a cardboard slipcase with
slightly raised, foil-embossed lettering, its audio is presented in an English
language Dolby digital 5.1 track, with slapstick effects work mixed to the
front. French and Spanish language tracks are also included, making for a
release of even broader appeal.

As with almost all Disney DVD releases, the bonus material
is a mix of behind-the-scenes featurettes and tidbits geared specifically toward younger viewers
,
like a music video from Aly and AJ, “Greatest Time of Year,” here. A blooper
reel cops a bit of material from the end credit sequence, but still provides
some genuine laughs via Short’s mock-piqued improvisations. Director Lembeck sits for an audio commentary track, in which he naturally dishes out praise
left and right for his cast and crew. There’s an alternate opening sequence,
and also a featurette which looks at alternate character mock-ups and costumes
and design for both Carol Claus and Jack Frost — work that was re-tooled on the
fly once production commenced. Wrapping things up are a look at some of the
movie’s special effects work, and an interactive “Carol-oke” feature that
younger tykes will surely enjoy. B- (Movie) A- (Disc)

Net Worth of a Topless Angelina Jolie?

In the interest of serious big screen metrics, we’ve previously assayed the impact of Brittany Snow’s scantily clad cavorting about on the opening weekend grosses of John Tucker Must Die, and also analyzed the net worth of Jessica Alba’s penguin panties. It seems an entirely reasonable question to ask, then, the financial net effect of the “restricted” Internet trailer for Beowulf, and various topless and come-hither shots of Angelina Jolie, like the one below, on the $27.5 million weekend debut of the PG-13 rated motion-capture flick?

randy 15-year-olds and obsessive Tomb Raider fans (well, of the videogame) out there getting tired of the same old Photoshopped pictures, right?

The Three Stooges Collection: Volume One

I didn’t happen to grow up in a “Three Stooges household,”
which is to say an environment where the work of the classic comedy trio was
lionized and celebrated by my parents or older family members. (That’s right,
Mel Gibson isn’t my uncle.) Still, there’s something so downright basic —
primitive isn’t the right word, but it’s leaning in that direction, minus the
negative connotation — about all the nose-tweaking, eye-gouging, head-slapping
antics at the core of the Stooges that one can’t help but be a little bowled
over when you first see them.

Witnessing a silly Stooges sketch as a kid is like
having a window opened in your mind; it’s goofy, physical, anarchic,
mock-violent and chaotic, but somehow very particularly ordered at the same
time. The very contradictions of the world reveal themselves in these skits, if
on a wholly subliminal level. Now, with the DVD release of the superb The Three Stooges Collection: Volume One,
covering 1934 through ’36, classic film fans and those who first discovered the
troupe on television reruns can rediscover them all over again, and enjoy that
cathartic rush of wide-eyed amusement, indulgence and bewilderment.

Slapstick needn’t necessarily be brilliant in order to catch
the passing fancy of an audience — after all, how many of us have ever laughed
at someone tripping on a sidewalk or a flight of stairs, in spite of ourselves
and the general awareness of public niceties? While naysayers or nincompoops
may decry their work as down-market, key to the Stooges’ genius, however, was
their timing, which is still a sight to behold. The choreography of all the
tossed pies, half-punches, sprayed seltzer water and feigned eye gougings is like
some adolescent fantasy dance, with the air-quote violence serving as perfectly
balanced, brutish counterpoint to the equal absurdity of the mock-adult pickles
they find themselves in
.

Featuring 19 digitally re-mastered two-reel shorts presented
in their original order of release, this set covers the beginning of the
group’s two-decade-plus tenure at Columbia Pictures, their original studio home
.
The breadth of important Larry, Curly and Moe material here is breathtaking, and includes Punch Drunks, the only short actually
written by the Stooges, in which Curly takes quite the beating; Pop Goes the Easel, their first pairing
with frequent director Del Lord; the Oscar-nominated Men in Black; Movie Maniacs,
featuring Charlie Chaplin’s first wife, Mildred Harris; and Three Little Pigskins, featuring a young
Lucille Ball. Even casual film fans, meanwhile, will likely recognize bits from
Disorder in the Court, featuring the
famous “swearing in” scene with Curly in the courtroom, and Slippery Silks, which features the
group’s (first) infamous dessert cream fight. Three Little Pigskins ranks highly, and other favorites, in my
book, include Half-Shoot Shooters,
which finds the Stooges reenlisting in the Army after the end of World War I,
and Three Little Beers. The latter finds
the guys taking up golf, with their eyes on a cash prize; characteristic disaster
ensues, as do some good form pointers on alternate usage of one’s clubs.
Overall, this is both a great sampler set and an offering that allows one to glimpse the development of the Stooges’ personality types, seen here occasionally in their infancy, and how these would feed more and more into their routines.

Spread out over two discs and housed in a pair of slimline
plastic cases in turn stored in a sturdy, cardboard slipcover, the shorts are
presented in 1.33:1 full screen black-and-white, naturally, and look pretty fantastic. I can’t quibble too much with the lack of supplemental extras since the set’s running time totals almost six hours and, when finished, the compendium will span decades, with a completist’s attention to chronology and detail. Still, a brief academic overview of the Stooges, or at least this time period in their careers, would have been nice; as is, there are just previews for the ninth season DVD release of
Seinfeld, Bill Murray’s Meatballs,
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
and forthcoming Ray Harryhausen titles. To purchase the title via Amazon, click here. A (Movies) B (Disc)