Saturday, September 01, 2007

Home Viewing Options (DVD Reviews)

Hey Cinema Fans,

I am starting a new post of DVD reviews of movies that are not shown in cinemas in Malaysia. This posting is to help you with your Home Viewing Options and will be updated periodically. Bear with me, please.

THE SISTERS (2005, drama, on DVD)
Cast: Maria Bello, Mary Stuart Masterson, Erika Christensen, Tony Goldwyn and Elizabeth Banks
Director: Arthur Allan Seidelman
Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

LOOSELY based on Chekov’s 1901 play, The Three Sisters, this production takes the story out of Russia and places it in a faculty room of a Manhattan university. Written by Richard Alfieri, the movie opens with three sisters and one brother of a dysfunctional family gathering in a faculty club after the death of their father. The occasion is the birthday of Irene Prior (Christensen) and her sisters, university chancellor Olga (Masterson) and socialite Marcia (Bello) have prepared a surprise party for her. Their brother Andrew (Allessandro Nivola) brings along his girlfriend Nancy (Elizabeth Banks) and even before Irene’s arrival, sparks start flying as the family members take swipes at one another.

Others caught in the fray include Irene’s fiance David (Chris O’Donnell), the spiteful Prof Sokol (Eric McCormack), the fatherly Dr Chebrin (Rip Torn) and a married childhood friend named Vincent (Tony Goldwyn) who starts an affair with Marcia. This is a talky movie and those who enjoy verbal assaults and biting wit will definitely find this effort stimulating. Unlike Shakespeare’s works, Chekov’s is not easily transferable and a lot of the Russian writer’s nuances are lost. However, as it stands, it is engrossing enough to be entertaining.

GOYA'S GHOSTS (2006, drama, on DVD)
Cast: Javier Bardem, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, Randy Quaid, Blanca Portillo and Michael Lonsdale
Director: Milos Forman (Time: 114 mins)
Rating: * * 1/2

SET in Spain in 1792, this movie looks at the waning years of the Spanish Inquisition, particularly involving painter Francisco Goya (Skarsgard) and two fictional characters, Ines Bilbatua (Portman) and Brother Lorenzo (Bardem). The movie is uneven, appearing like two different stories that are intertwined with each other. We see a young Ines being imprisoned and tortured on suspicion of practising Jewish rites because she refuses to eat pork. Goya gets involved because he has painted the portraits of both Ines and the hypocritical Lorenzo. Through Goya, Ines' father asks Lorenzo to mediate Ines' release, but a cordial dinner turns into something that will change Lorenzo and Ines' lives 15 years later.

This movie tests Portman's acting skills, portraying her as a haggard madwoman (and recalling Forman's 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' and 'Amadeus'). However, the touted 'nude' scenes are anything but erotic. Also of interest is Forman's views of how politics and religion can combine to ravage a country and keep it in the Dark Ages.

APOCALYPTO (2006, adventure, on DVD)
Cast: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Jonathan Brewer, Morris Birdyellowhead, Raoul Trujillo & Rodolfo Palacios
Director: Mel Gibson (Time: 138 mins)
Rating: * * *

THIS movie was not shown in Malaysia because Mel Gibson would not allow any cuts to be made to his work. And believe me, there are some incidental nude scenes which Malaysian censors are wont to snip off. Needless to say, it has become one of the most popular movies on pirated DVDs here.

The movie is a fast-paced actioner about young warrior Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) whose tribe is attacked and captured by a Mayan war party to be sacrificed to the gods. Jaguar has managed to hide his wife and child in a hole in the ground just before he is caught and taken away to be sacrificed. Obviously, the gods must have decided it is not his time to die yet - and Gibson takes us on a gruelling chase that comes with many twists and surprises. Most of these are too over-contrived, especially the ending which looks helluva preposterous and coincidental. However, the glimpses into the degeneracy of the Mayan society are still worth the price of the disc.


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