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DVD REVIEWS for 4/27: More Milla Comin' At Ya

by Peter Sobczynski

Despite the title, ".45" is not a remake of Abel Ferrara’s infamously nasty 1979 film about a mute woman who goes on a violent rampage after being raped twice in one night. Despite the cover photo showing a mini-skirted Milla Jovovich brandishing both a gun and a killer pair of legs, this is not an over-the-top action extravaganza along the lines of "Ultraviolet" or the "Resident Evil" films. Finally, despite the fact that it is making its debut on these shores as a direct-to-video item, it isn’t an easily dismissible craptacular along the lines of the "Dukes of Hazzard" prequel or every Steven Seagal film made in the last five years. Instead, it is a strange, dark and gritty tale of revenge that is admittedly uneven but nevertheless reasonably compelling, mostly because of the standout central performance from its lead actress.

In the film, Jovovich plays Kat, a thrill-seeking minx who is the devoted girlfriend of the violent, drug-dealing thug Big Al (Angus Macfadyen)–the excitement that she gets from being by his side as he goes about his business more than offsets the occasional smack or humiliation that she receives when he gets a little out of hand. Needless to say, this is a seriously dysfunctional relationship and it spirals completely out of control when Al flies into a jealous rage for no justifiable reason and brutally beats the shit out of her. After that, she desires nothing more than getting revenge for what he has done but she is smart enough to know that she can’t do it all on her own. Using her intelligence, cunning and sexuality, she begins to lay out an intricate scheme to get back at Big Al by manipulating a quarter of unsuspecting people–a compassionate social worker (Aisha Tyler), her best friend (Sarah Strange), a loyal assistant of Al’s (Stephen Dorff) who is nursing a not-so-secret crush and even Al himself, who is convinced that everything is back to normal–to unwittingly do her bidding.

".45" was written and directed by newcomer Gary Lennon and while it may not be a completely successful work, it is a reasonably ambitious effort that does show some promise. He does a good job of capturing the day-to-day existence of the mid-level thug milieu, especially the way that an ordinary moment of hanging around can suddenly explode into violence at the drop of a hat. I also liked the fact that, unlike so many crime films from debuting filmmakers, it isn’t just an exercise in flashy cinematic style, though there are a few moments when he demonstrates himself to be as capable at show-offy moments as anyone else (particularly in what will not doubt be referred to as "the legendary shower scene" if enough people get around to checking it out). Basically, there are three fundamental problems with the film that keeps it from really taking off. For starters, Lennon periodically halts the film to allow characters to deliver monologues to the camera and these moments essentially stop the story dead in its tracks. The second problem is the presence of Angus Macfadyen as the allegedly terrifying Big Al–although not as flamboyantly awful here as he is in the current "Redline," he is simply not convincing as a theoretically charismatic brute able to hold Kat in his thrall until he finally pushes her too far. (Even the pint-sized thugs in "Bugsy Malone" would have this guy for lunch in a heartbeat.) The final flaw is that we are supposed to believe that Kat’s friends are so bereft of lives of their own that they are willing to drop everything in an instant to do her bidding because of her magnetic personality and killer body–apparently, none of these people have lives outside of knowing her and they all seem perfectly satisfied with the one-way nature of those relationships.

Of course, it becomes easier to believe that conceit with someone like Milla Jovovich in the role of Kat and she is ultimately the best reason for checking ".45." Yes, she is sexy and gorgeous as all get out but as anyone who caught her work in such films as Richard Linklater’s "Dazed and Confused," Spike Lee’s "He Got Game" or Michael Winterbottom’s sadly underseen "The Claim" can attest, she has acting chops that are as striking as her physical charms and she can do more than smack around zombies and aliens if given the right material. As Kat, she gets to run the gamut of emotions–everything from cool and flirtatious confidence to raw, wounded vulnerability–and she pulls them off with an effectively low-key performance that always rings true even during the times when the film itself sometimes doesn’t. ".45" isn’t a perfect film but thanks to Jovovich’s considerable efforts (and not just because of that shower scene), it works as good as most anything else currently playing at your local multiplex.

Written and directed by Gary Lennon. Starring Milla Jovovich, Angus Macfadyen, Stephen Dorff, Aisha Tyler and Sarah Strange. 2006 Rated R. 101 minutes. A ThinkFilm release. $27.98.


10 ITEMS OR LESS (First Look Films. $24.98): Although the idea of watching a low-budget indie film about a famous actor and a low-paid cashier who bond over the course of one long and life-altering afternoon may sound excruciatingly precious, the charmer from writer-director Brad Siberling was actually pretty entertaining, mostly due to the enormously appealing chemistry between co-stars Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega.

AL FRANKEN–GOD SPOKE (Docurama. $26.95): Question #1: Do noted conservatives Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter receive residuals for their brief appearances in this documentary on Al Franken’s journey from comedian to political pundit? Question #2: If they do, do you suppose they will actually cash the checks or tear them up as a form of political protest?

CODE NAME: THE CLEANER (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): In this wacky action-comedy, Cedric the Entertainer becomes convinced that he is really a spy and Lucy Liu patiently waits for "Charlie’s Angels 3" to get off the ground. Yeah, I had pretty much also forgotten that this movie even existed

DEJA VU (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $29.99): Little more than "The Lake House" with a higher body count, this supremely silly Tony Scott thriller finds Denzel Washington investigating the bombing of a ferry in New Orleans and uncovering a secret government time-travel program that may allow him to stop the crime before it happens. If you can make heads or tails out of any of this nonsense (which is leavened only slightly by the nicely ironic tone supplied by Val Kilmer in a supporting role), you are either a better person than I or someone with way too much free time on their hands.

THE DOCUMENTARIES OF LOUIS MALLE (The Criterion Collection. $79.95): Although best known for films such as "Murmur of the Heart," "Pretty Baby" and "Atlantic City," the late French filmmaker Louis Malle made a number of documentaries throughout his career during the downtime between feature projects and this box set from Criterion’s new Eclipse imprint brings together six of them: "Vive La Tour" (1962), "Calcutta" (1971), "Place de la Republique" (1974), "Humain, Trop Humain" (1974), "God’s Country" (1986) and "And The Pursuit Of Happiness" (1986).

FIXED BAYONETS (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): Made during the thick of the Korean War that it depicts, this hard-hitting 1951 from the legendary Sam Fuller takes us behind enemy lines with a single infantry platoon charged with holding back Chinese and Korean forces while the rest of the American divisions retreat and regroup. Although obviously a low-budget production, this is an uncommonly tense and thrilling Fuller film with a strong performance from Richard Basehart as a low-key corporal who is forced to take command of the remaining men when all of his superiors are killed.

HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): In one of those Steven Spielberg productions from the 1980's that doesn’t have any sizable cult willing to extol its apparently hidden virtues, a suburban family (headed by John Lithgow) runs across Bigfoot and, for one reason or another, wind up taking him home to live with them. Like "Batteries Not Included," this is one of those Spielberg products that might have played nicely as a half-hour "Amazing Stories" episode but which simply doesn’t have enough story to fill a feature-length running time.

THE INCONFESSABLE ORGIES OF EMMANUELLE (Severin Films. $29.95): With a title like that, do you really need a description? All I will add is that this 1982 effort was directed by none other than the infamous Eurosleaze auteur Jess Franco–that should be enough to attract the right people to this DVD while keeping the others away. If that isn’t enough Franco-directed smut to satisfy you this week, the good folks at Severin (who are really becoming players on the grindhouse DVD front) are also releasing his oddly title 1984 knock-off "The Sexual Story of O"–after all, the original "Story of O" was hardly about knitting as far as I recall.

THE JAMES CAGNEY SIGNATURE COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $49.98): Since many of Cagney’s most famous films have already appeared on DVD, this box set instead collects five lesser-known, but no less entertaining, titles–"The Fighting 69th" (1940), "Torrid Zone" (1940), "The Bride Came C.O.D." (1941), "Captains of the Clouds" (1942) and "The West Point Story" (1950). Of them, my favorite is "The Bride Came C.O.D," an atypical screwball comedy in which he and Bette Davis trade barbs as, respectively, a down-of-his-luck pilot and the spoiled heiress he is hired to track down and return to her father before she can marry a sleazy bandleader.

JANE EYRE (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): For years, film scholars have argued over the parentage of this 1943 adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte classic–while the directorial credit went to Robert Stevenson (no mere slouch behind the camera), many have speculated that Orson Welles had a hand in the direction in addition to portraying the role of Edward Rochester, the enigmatic widower who hires the title character (Joan Fontaine) to serve as a governess to his young daughter. Whoever directed it, the resulting film was an uncommonly impressive work that probably remains the best official screen version of the Bronte book to date. (Of course, the best unofficial version was "I Walked With A Zombie," but that is a story for another time.)

KIDNAPPED–THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Home Entertainment. $49.95): Those of you who were cheesed off at NBC for yanking this serialized drama about the search for a kidnapped boy after only a few airings will be relieved to know that all 13 of the produced episodes have been included in this set. Of course, watch Sony do something cruel like forget to include the last DVD in the package.

NAKED YOU DIE (Dark Sky Films. $14.98): Like "The Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle" and "The Sexual Story of O," is this a title that you really need more details on? Okay, it turns out that Mario Bava, who we dealt with in this column a couple of weeks ago, contributed to the story for this horror film about a mad killer stalking the students at an all-girls school.

THE ODD COUPLE–THE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): Although the sitcom version of Neil Simon’s long-running play about a pair of poker buddies–one a fastidious snob and the other a filthy slob–who wind up becoming roommates was never a ratings smash during its five-year network run, it has since gone down in the annals of television history as one of the all-time great shows for one simple reason–the on-screen partnership between co-stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman was so inspired that they could transfer weak material into something watchable and strong material (which they often had) into something absolutely unmissable.

ONE DAY AT A TIME–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): Maybe I wasn’t really paying that much attention when this long-running Norman Lear sitcom about a recently divorced woman (Bonnie Franklin) starting a new life with her two daughters debuted in 1975 or maybe I was just too distracted and creeped out by innuendo-slinging handyman Schneider–why is that everyone keeps referring to Valerie Bertinelli as the cute daughter when Mackenzie Phillips was obviously the more attractive of the two?

PARENTHOOD (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): When this Ron Howard comedy about the whimsical trials and tribulations of an extended family came out in 1989, I took a dear friend to see it and when it ended, she turned to me and said "I want to have a baby right now!" Alas, I had some appointments to keep and was forced to decline. I mention this only because the film–long available only as a pan-and-scan DVD from the earliest days of the format–is finally coming out in a properly formatted special edition and, by an amazing coincidence, that friend is just about to have her first child. (Once again, I must stress that I had nothing to do with it.)

THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES (Zeitgeist Video. $29.99): Proving that they can be just as strange in the world of live-action filmmaking as they have demonstrated with their animated efforts (though this film does include some stop-motion animation), the Brothers Quay came up with this bizarre fantasia about an opera singer (Amira Casar) who is "killed" as the film opens by a mad scientist and later finds herself as a key component of a strange mechanical operetta that he hopes to stage for his own benefit. Imagine David Lynch directing a production of "The Nutcracker" and you’ll begin to get a grasp on this decidedly weird but not uninteresting work.

PLAY DIRTY (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.98): Hot on the heels of "Pulp," MGM uncovers another nifty, if lesser-known, Michael Caine title from the shelves for a new audience to discover. This one is a British riff on "The Dirty Dozen" in which Caine portrays a British oil executive who somehow finds himself a rag-tag group of enlisted felons across the African desert to blow up a German fuel depot.

THE QUEEN (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.95): "Protecting the safety of the queen is a task gladly accepted by Police Squad, for no matter how silly the idea of having a queen might be to us, as Americans, we must be gracious and considerate hosts."

SCHOOLGIRL REPORT, VOLUME ONE: WHAT PARENTS DON’T THINK IS POSSIBLE (Impulse Video. $29.95): Okay, so you picked up "The Inconfessable Orgies of Emmanuelle," "The Sexual Story of O" and "Naked You Die" and you still have a taste for sleazy European sexploitation films? Well, all I can do is suggest that you try out this bit of German softcore erotica that promises to blow the lid (among other things) off the shocking and sexy secrets of some ordinary (except in regards to cup size) high-schoolers. If that still isn’t enough, I fear that you are on your own.

TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER (Magnolia Home Video. $26.98): If you thought that "Grindhouse" was an elaborately detailed recreation of a filmgoing tradition that was utterly obscure to most of its target audience, you should check out this strange oddity from Thailand–a wild-and-wooly Western melodrama filled with over-the-top acting, a Technicolor-saturated visual aesthetic and a deliberately stagy setting (in which even the exteriors are filmed inside) meant to evoke memories of Thai cinema of the 1960's. Alas, director Wisit Sasanatieng lacked the name recognition of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez so when the Weinsteins bought the rights to distribute it back in 2001, they decided to first recut it and then shelved it entirely before Magnolia managed to reacquire the rights last year to distribute the original version.

THR3E (Fox Home Entertainment. $26.98): Hmmm, I wonder what movie this particular title–some gibberish about a seminary student being jerked around by another devious maniac with a twisted agenda–is supposed to remind me of?

UNTIL DEATH (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.98): Jean-Claude Van Damme is not just a cop–he’s a cop on the edge!–in this direct-to-video extravaganza about a dirty cop who recovers from a coma with a new and brighter outlook on life that presumably doesn’t get in the way of exacting revenge on the punks that put him in the coma and who also kidnapped his estranged wife. In other words, this is pretty much "Regarding Henry" with a body count and I suspect the high point will be the moment where the film tries to explain away his accent.

VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95): Until he returned to the director’s chair with 1990's "Frankenstein Unbound," this 1971 World War I drama about the Red Baron (John Phillip Law) and the Canadian pilot (Don Stroud) who finally brought him down would be the last film personally directed by Roger Corman before he retired to run New World Pictures. Fans of his wilder efforts like "Little Shop of Horrors" or his Poe adaptations may be kind of disappointed with the relatively straightforward approach utilized here, but this is still a pretty good meat-and-potatoes war film in its own right.

WKRP IN CINCINNATI–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98): The good news is that this beloved 1970's sitcom has finally–finally–made it to DVD. The bad news is that, due to an extraordinarily complicated situation involving the rights to the authentic rock hits that were often such an integral part of the show, many of those cues have been replaced with other tunes or awkward cuts. The show, of course, is still pretty funny–the Thanksgiving turkey drop episode is still one of the most hilarious things every put on television–but because of the cuts, true fans may want to think twice before picking up a copy of this set.[br]

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originally posted: 04/27/07 09:38:57
last updated: 04/27/07 09:41:12
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