Just ‘In Time’

It’s exactly as it advertises itself to be, except there are even more gratuitous chase scenes in the sci-fi thriller, which is fine if you like gratuitous chase scenes.

Re: Amanda Seyfried, stunning as ever; a shame her only expression is bland; still stunning, though.

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Let’s hear it for the undead – in lit and at the movies

A zombie jamboree

In a show of solidarity with our Another Hole in the Head cover package, let’s talk zombies.

I addressed the slow- vs. fast-moving zombie controversy in another column. Now, it’s not the speed that matters but the volume.

The undead keep showing up: In literature, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” attributed to Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen, has become a best-selling novel (trade paper) and will soon be made into a movie.

“Romeo & Juliet vs. The Living Dead,” a low-budget indie, will have its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 26.

And, in an attempt at a world record, filmmaker Chris Boyle is inviting you to dress up — or, perhaps more accurately, dress down — as a zombie for his upcoming mockumentary “I Spit On Your Grave.”

All you have to do is show up — in the proper togs and makeup — at the Big Chill music festival in London in August. Boyle is looking to swell his cast with enough undead extras to make the “Guinness Book of World Records” for the “most amount of zombies captures on camera.”

Unlike the plot of the universally reviled 1981 film of the same name, the mockumentary’s futuristic saga has the undead taking over the world after a virus wipes out mankind.

Apparently, these zombies like to party at summer festivals.

If you plan to go, remember: Plane fares are really low these days.

On Bay Area screens

Superfest Classics Disability Film Festival: Films that won awards in previous competitions in Superfest: The world’s longest-running international disability film fest promotes movies “meeting the highest standards of artistic merit, diversity and authentic portrayals of the disability experience.”

Details: Superfest Kids Classics, geared for teens, noon-4 p.m. today, Berkeley Public Library, 3rd Floor Community Room, 2090 Kittredge St., Berkeley; free. Superfest Adult Classics, noon-4 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Sunday, Gaia Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley; $5-$20 sliding scale.

Visit www.culturedisabilitytalent.org/superfest or call 510-845-5576.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival: Tickets are on sale for the 14th annual event, which runs July 10-12 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

Details: For tickets and program info, contact www.silentfilm.org.

Cinema Arts Program: “Re-Edit” — Found Footage Animations: Creating new films out of old on a small budget. Includes screenings of “ReAdaptation: The Book Series,” “Fast Film” and “Come Ons.”

Details: noon and 2 p.m. June 13, Exploratorium, Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon St., S.F.; included in museum admission of $14 general, $11 students, seniors, disabled, youths 13-17, $9 children 4-14; 415-563-7337 or www.exploratorium.edu.

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DVD reviews: Winslet, DiCaprio bright spots in bleak ‘Revolutionary Road’; ‘Defiance’ delivers

Winslet should have won for ‘Road’

If “Revolutionary Road” was not the bleakest movie of 2008, I’m glad I missed what was.

Based on a novel by Richard Yates, the well-crafted mass of misery is most notable for Kate Winslet’s Oscar-quality performance — she won for “The Reader” but she’s better here — and her reuniting with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time since they were flailing in the freezing waters off the Titanic.

Winslet plays a suffocating mid-’50s suburban housewife teetering on the edge of despair as her hopes and dreams — of living abroad — keep getting crushed, by monotony and by her husband’s (DiCaprio) fickleness.

DiCaprio complements Winslet’s complex portrayal, revealing shadings of a once-upbeat and cocky young man who, over the years, becomes successful at a job he hates — and gets caught up in the misogynistic conformity of the period.

The stars meld well, shifting easily from a sexy, optimistic jitterbug to a pas de deux of pain and anxiety.

Directed by Sam Mendes (Winslet’s husband), the film conveys a sharp taste of the ’50s through its look and attitudes.

The acting’s top-notch. And if you’re in the mood for a quality take on a crumbling marriage, I won’t try to stop you from checking it out.

Extras: filmmakers’ commentary; making-of short; deleted scenes; more on Blu-ray.

Fighting back

Like love, sometimes movies are better the second time around.

That’s the case with “Defiance,” a powerful picture about a cluster of Jews fighting back against the Nazis.

The first time I saw it I was moved, but felt director Edward Zwick’s storytelling was awkward and uneven. This time it played smoother and was more engaging.

Zwick (“Glory,” new on Blu-ray, and “Blood Diamond”) doesn’t vary his tone much — it’s intense from the get-go — but he still winds up with an inspirational saga, all the more so because it’s based on a true story.

“Defiance” follows the four Bielski brothers after their parents are killed in a village in what was then the Soviet Republic of Belorussia.

Escaping the Germans’ campaign of genocide in 1941, the brothers hide in the surrounding woods, where they are soon joined by other Jewish refugees from the country and from cities.

Designated leaders, the oldest siblings — rugged, charismatic Tuvia (Daniel “James Bond” Craig) and skilled, combative Zus (Liev Schreiber) — organize a camouflaged camp from which they and others strike back at the Nazis and their collaborators.

Most of the drama stems from clashes between the strong-willed older brothers as well as among members of the camp and from the occasional battles.

A moving coda shows images of the real characters and reveals their fates after the war. The Bielskis saved 1,200 Jews and their descendants reportedly number 19,000.

Extras: A meaty package includes filmmaker’s commentary, interviews with the Bielskis’ descendants, making-of doc, photos of survivors; more on Blu-ray.

Also on DVD

“Eddie Murphy Delirious: The Special 25th Anniversary Edition”: Racy 1983 stand-up concert from Washington, D.C.; includes deleted footage, unedited Murphy interview, and comments by Chris Rock, Cedric the Entertainer, Sinbad and other comics talking about Murphy’s influence.

“Fox and the Child”: Wild fox bonds with girl, 10, and has adventures; Kate Winslet narrates.

“He’s Just Not That Into You”: Interconnected male and female twenty- and thirtysomethings try to interpret behaviors of the opposite sex. Fat chance.

The impressive cast includes Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly and Ben Affleck; also on Blu-ray.

“Labou”: Three kids search for a pirate’s ghost and his treasure in the Louisiana bayou and find the title critter.

“New York Yankees: Perfect Games and No-Hitters”: Includes Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series Perfect Game and Jim Abbott, the pitcher with one hand, tossing a no-hitter in 1993; with many pitcher interviews and features.

“Silent Venom”: Giant mutant snake forces island inhabitants to evacuate via an old submarine which undergoes an attack by a Chinese vessel and, on board, by more mutant snakes; with Luke Perry, though heaven knows why.

“Une Femme Mariee” (“A Married Woman”): Director Jean-Luc Godard examines modern life via this 1964 drama about a day in the life of a woman (Macha Meril) who discovers she’s pregnant but doesn’t know if the father is her controlling husband or her lover, who treats her as a sex object.


“Army Wives: The Complete Second Season” (romance, intrigue and melodrama, oh my)

“Cannon: Season Two, Vol. 1” (boring, balding, overweight ex-cop turns private eye)

“The Invisibles” (retired crooks played by Anthony Head and Warren Clarke get back in the game with comical results in 2008 BBC series; six episodes)

“The Jetsons: Season 2, Vol. 1” (21 episodes from 1980s version of animated space-age series from the early ’60s)

“Murder Most English” (four airy mysteries based on Colin Watson’s novels and starring Anton Rodgers as Detective Inspector Purbright).

“Nature’s Most Amazing Events” (six-part BBC series shows creatures around the world adjusting to changes in climate; spectacular cinematography; also in Blu-ray; David Attenborough narrates)

“Prison Break: Season Four” (brothers seek justice from corporation that shattered their lives but gave them another season of logic-defying drama)

“Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season” (lawyers try to have personal lives in Steven Bochco’s courtroom drama)

“Umphrey’s McGee — Live” (Chicago-based rock band performs on PBS’ “Soundstage”; in HD)

“Weeds: Season Four” (more adventures of marijuana-dealing suburban housewife Mary Louise Parker; also on Blu-ray).

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DVD review: Don’t blame Tom Cruise for ‘Valkryie’; ‘True Blood’s’ Sookie says ‘bite me’

Give Tom a break

Poor Tom Cruise.Not something you hear every day, but let’s face it: The guy never seems to get a break.

Consider how often he was trashed, bashed and eviscerated for playing a German officer in “Valkyrie” — before the movie even came out.

Then came the reviews. Some couldn’t past his celebrity. Others slammed him for passing up the chance to use a German accent

Well, he wasn’t the only cast member to eschew the affectation. And as for his celebrity, it didn’t bother me one iota.

And speaking of eyes, Tom loses one of his when, as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, he’s injured by an explosion that also destroys one hand.

The colonel’s loving wife and children don’t mind and Hitler considers him a hero, which comes in handy when he becomes prime mover in a plot to assassinate the Nazi leader near the end of World War II.

This isn’t a wonderful film; it meanders when it should strut. But the suspense is decent, given that most people already know the story’s outcome. (I won’t spoil it if you don’t.)

Also, the historical blow-by-blow provides tasty background details.

Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson deliver strong supporting performances but Cruise is the standout. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: An intriguing handful. Check out “The Valkyrie Legacy,” with more history, pictures of the real officers involved and recollections from their surviving spouses, children and grandchildren.

A vampire flick to chew on

Anna Paquin, Oscar winner as a little girl for “The Piano,” earned a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sookie Stackouse, a feisty 19-year-old virgin who waits tables in a small-town restaurant and bar in the addictive HBO series “True Blood: The Complete First Series.”

Cursed with the ability to hear people’s thoughts, Sookie fends off advances from her nice-guy boss (Sam Trammell), clashes with her narcissistic, womanizing brother (Ryan Kwanten) and falls in lust with a hunky vampire (Stephen Moyer).

Think “Twilight” with lots of sex, more blood, grown-up issues and grisly wit.

The story’s set in Louisiana in a world where vampires and humans coexist tenuously due to a manufactured blood substitute, available everywhere in six-packs.

Based on Charlaine Harris’ popular Sookie Stackhouse novels, the first season is built around a series of murders — and a pretty good mystery — involving women Sookie’s brother sleeps with. (Consider it a “Twilight”-like argument for celibacy.)

Racial bias involving vamps and humans wafts through the story, buoyed by appealing supporting portrayals, highlighted by Rutina Wesley as Sookie’s argumentative BFF.

Created by Alan Ball (“Six Feet Under”). Five discs, 12 episodes. Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: Six commentaries, insights into effects of fake blood, more.

Seagal redux

Aging action icon Steven Seagal whispers his minimal dialogue and walks like an overweight robot (his shoulders don’t move; what’s up with that?) in “Driven to Kill,” an adequate time-filler for desperate people.

Seagal plays Ruslan, a former Russian mobster who writes crime novels. Ruslan resurrects his old persona to find the person or persons responsible for killing his ex-wife and attempting to kill his daughter — just before her marriage to the son of an East Coast Russian mafia leader.

It’s the usual Seagal rough-and-tumble revenge drama, but more confusing.Also on Blu-ray.

Extras: None, which is just as well.

Also on DVD:

“A Bug’s Life” on Blu-ray: Beautiful high-def transfer of the lively 1995 Pixar computer-animated tale of a free-thinking ant (voiced by Dave Foley) who leaves the colony and — in a kind of homage to “The Magnificent Seven” — recruits a ragtag troupe of circus bugs to help battle predatory grasshoppers; has many new extras.

“Changing Lanes” on Blu-ray: Compelling drama about the adversarial relationship between an uptight attorney (Ben Affleck in his best role) and a stressed-out father (Samuel L. Jackson) that develops after they’re involved in a minor traffic accident.

“Eden Log”: An amnesiac who awakens in a cave next to a dead man is hunted by mysterious creatures through a laybyrinth of abandoned labs; and people claim there are no new ideas in Hollywood.

“El Dorado”: Howard Hawks’ Western with good guy, gunman John Wayne helping alcoholic sheriff Robert Mitchum battle bad guys; on two discs with new extras.

“Enemy at the Gates” on Blu-ray: A Russian political officer markets his sniper friend (Jude Law) as a hero to lift his country’s spirits during the Nazi siege on Stalingrad in 1942; with Rachel Weisz and Ed Harris (as a German sniper).

“Fanboys”: Four longtime friends travel cross-country to sneak into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and see a rough cut of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” six months before the film opens; coming-of-age saga with Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell and Carrie Fisher.

“Infected”: While investigating the mayor’s assassination, two exes, both ambitious reporters, discover the killer was trying to stop an alien invasion spread by infection; gross but not awful for Grade-B, sci-fi, straight-to-video fare; with Gil Bellows, Judd Nelson and Isabella Rossellini; could use a gag reel.

“Yonkers Joe”: Old-time dice hustler’s plan for one last Vegas score gets complicated by the unexpected reappearance of his developmentally disabled son; with Chazz Palminteri.

“Just Another Love Story”: Danish suspense thriller about a crime-scene photographer, mistaken for a comatose victim’s boyfriend by her family, who allows the deception to continue after the woman awakens with amnesia. Right.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: John Ford’s meditation on myth and legend, digitally mastered, with John Wayne as a tough rancher, James Stewart as a tenderfoot lawyer and Lee Marvin as a dastardly gunfighter; on two discs with new features.

“Mum & Dad”: British horror about a kidnapped young Polish immigrant forced to stay with a violent, abusive, insane suburban family. Yum.

“My Bloody Valentine 3D”: The sequel to the 1981 ax-wielding gorefest, pegging to a mine massacre, serves up a few good jolts of adrenaline; comes with 3-D glasses.

Also on Blu-ray.

“Paul Blart Mall Cop”: Mall security cop Kevin James, a wannabe detective, gets serious when crooks hit the shopping center in the surprisingly popular comedy. Also on Blu-ray.

“Paycheck” on Blu-ray: High-tech engineer Ben Affleck tries to figure out why someone’s trying to kill him and what happened during the years erased from his memory; so-so sci-fi thriller co-stars Uma Thurman.

“3 Days of the Condor” on Blu-ray: Taut 1975 Sydney Pollack suspense thriller with CIA analyst Robert Redford on the run after everyone else in his office is murdered; with Faye Dunaway.

“The Town That Was”: Documentary about the 11 remaining residents of Centralia, Pa., a once-thriving mining town razed after an anthracite fire started in 1962 was deemed too costly to put out; inspiration for the 2006 horror film “Silent Hill”; given all the coal beneath the city, the fire could burn for another 250 years.


“The Fall and rise of Reginald Perrin: The Complete Series”: Clever but way-over-the-top late-’70s BBC comedy about an oddball, disillusioned sales exec (Leonard Rossiter) who fakes his suicide, reinvents himself as a buck-toothed pig farmer and, later, as owner of a shop that sells worthless things — that people go crazy over.

“Friday Night Lights: Third Season”: Quality small-town high school football drama.

“Gigantor: The Collection – Vol. 1”: 1960s Japanese animated series about a boy and his flying robot.

“Jo Koy: Don’t Make Him Angry”: Young comic does stand-up.

“Peyton Place: Part One”: Mia Farrow, Barbara Parkins and Ryan O’Neal star in the then-racy1964 black-and-white ABC soaper set in New England.

“Russell Brand in New York City: Extended & Uncensored”: Eccentric British comic/ actor/author does stand-up.

`Sister, Sister: The Second Season”: Twins teens Tia and Tamera Mowry play twins, get giddy.

“Suspense: Ultimate Collection”: All 90 episodes from 1949-54 CBS mystery/macabre series that aired live.

“24: Season 7”: Jack Bauer rules. Also on Blu-ray.

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DVD reviews: ‘JCVD’ worth a (Van) Damme, ‘Hotel for Dogs’ not a bow-wow,

Van Damme acts!

Jean-Claude Van Damme wrote me a letter once, in response to a less-than-stellar review of his action film.

I forget which, but, like the rest of his work, it was rated FDR (fight, duck, run), a genre I enjoy.

“I’m sorry you didn’t like my movie,” he wrote. “I’ll try to do better the next time.”

I couldn’t believe it, either. Something like that never happened before, nor since, and it elevated him above his peers — Dolph Lundgren, Rutger Hauer, whispering Steven Seagal, et al — in my estimation.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see Van Damme, whose range is usually from A to B without stops to sightsee, show some chops in “JCVD,” out on DVD and Blu-ray.

Dark and taut, the film’s a self-referential spoof highlighted by a mesmerizing 10-minute monologue by his character, a pudgy, aging action star named Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Depressed after losing a child-custody battle and being passed over for a leading role in favor of Seagal, he’s taken hostage, along with others, during a messed-up Belgian post-office robbery.

Rather than act the hero, as everyone expects — the film’s a meditation on celebrity — this Van Damme’s vigilant, but frightened like all the rest.

Consistent with the genre it parodies, “JCVD” delivers bursts of violence and much more drama than wit. That makes it a fine rental for Van Damme’s fans as well as the just plain curious.

Extras: Theatrical, French and English versions; deleted scenes; trailer.

Barking up the right tree

“Hotel for Dogs” has kids’ flick scribbled all over it, from the cute title to the canine-packed DVD cover and the film’s gazillion close-ups of mugging pups.

The comedy plays fairly well on the small screen, especially for kids — but also for adults who like looking at dogs and Rube Goldberg-like dog-themed contraptions (for feeding, ball-tossing and cleaning up after) and who enjoy underdog tales (couldn’t resist).

Though skimpier than most kids-oriented comedies and shy of much laugh-out-loud humor, the film provides a lively diversion with an appealing cast, two- and four-legged.

The suddenly ubiquitous Emma Roberts, Julia’s niece, and Jake T. Austin star as con-artist foster sibs living with an obnoxious couple (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillion, over the top as a bad rock act) who won’t let them keep their beloved mutt.

When the kids stumble into an abandoned hotel, already home to two mismatched strays, they fix it up on the sly for their dog and the others.

With an assist from two pet-store employees, they round up every other stray they can find — and so-so sight gags ensue.

A mood-cracking subplot involves the threat of the sibs being separated and sent to different homes. Don Cheadle co-stars.

Extras: Commentary; deleted scenes; K-9 casting, “Bark on Cue”; more.

Guilty pleasure

While channel-surfing one night I discovered the raunchy British comedy series “Pulling,” about three “Ab-Fab”-type single women leading lives of noisy desperation.

Series creator Sharon Horgan anchors the six-episode first season, on DVD this week, as Donna, a bride-to-be who, during her bachelorette party, opts to stay single rather than marry her dull, longtime live-in lover the next day.

Instead, she moves in with her best friends, a blowzy, sexually indiscriminate alcoholic schoolteacher and her man-hungry roommate.

Their stories deliver a compelling stew of existential loneliness, dating, sex, boozing and partying with various men.

The comedy comes from their behavior rather than a series of one-liners, although the writing is sharp.

Look at the DVD cover and you’ll get a good sense of the characters.

Sometimes it’s unsettling as each of the women continually shoots herself in the foot or wallows in the same-old self-destructive patterns. That indicates the humanity of their plight, visible despite the exaggerated situations.

Extras: Deleted scenes; two commentaries; cast and crew interviews; behind-the-scenes short; more.

Also on DVD

“Bride Wars”: Newly engaged best friends (Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway) try to sabotage each other’s plans as they compete to see who will have the best wedding because, due to a clerical error, both have been scheduled to marry the same day.

“Johnny Got His Gun”: Dalton Trumbo directed this 1971 adaptation of his anti-war novel about the internal experiences of a wounded World War I soldier (Timothy Bottoms), a blind, deaf and mute quadruple amputee lying in an Army hospital bed, exploring his memories and fantasies and trying to communicate.

“Pete Seeger: Live in Australia 1963”: The folk-music icon in concert; many extras.

“The Uninvited”: Psychological thriller, also on Blu-ray, about a teen, fresh from a mental hospital, haunted by a vision of her late mother prompting her to investigate Mom’s unexpected death and Dad’s marrying Mom’s nurse, who may not be all she seems, shortly after; with Elizabeth Banks, Emily Browning.

“What Doesn’t Kill You”: Friends since childhood (Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke) who grew up on the streets of Boston see their families start to fracture as they become more involved with organized crime. With Amanda Peet. Also on Blu-ray.


“American Dad!: Vol. 4”

“Fallen Angel” (British miniseries looks at circumstances that created a serial killer played by Emilia Fox by moving backward through time to her origins; with Charles Dance)

“Hallelujah! The Complete Collection” (British comedy series about an old-school Salvation Army captain and her assistant trying to save denizens of working-class towns; with Thora Hird)

“Mission Impossible: The Sixth TV Season”

“Star Trek: The Original Series, Season One” on Blu-ray.

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Hitler meets a clown; ‘Notorious’ and the Three Stooges

Coming Attractions:

“The Clown and the Fuhrer”

“Hitler Painted Roses,” a provocative short story by Harlan Ellison, looks at the one moment in time when all the denizens in hell are allowed out for a day.

All leave but Adolf Hitler, a painter in real life, who chooses to stay behind to continue painting gorgeous frescoes of roses on the walls of hell.

I may be off on a detail or two — the tale pegs to Lizzie Borden’s visiting her family that day — but the gist is true.

The story popped into my brain while I was reading up on Wednesday’s screening of “The Clown and the Fuhrer,” a Spanish film based on a real meeting between the Nazi dictator and renowned Catalonian clown Charlie Rivel in Berlin in 1944.

The basics:

A Gestapo agent asks Rivel (Ferran Rane) and his partner to perform for Hitler on his birthday. The SS officer, who’s yearned to be a clown, insists he act with the performers.

The Nazi deports the partner, whose Jewish wife was murdered by Germans, and replaces him with a new clown, who’s much more than he seems.

The absurdity of the situation tapped into my memory of Ellison’s reading his bizarre but compelling story before a packed house in Cleveland, Ohio, when I was a teenager.

“The Clown and the Fuhrer,” a blend of black-and-white archival footage and colorful, newly shot footage, screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Screening Room in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco.

Tickets are $8 general, $6 for students, seniors, Jewish Film Forum and YBC members. Call 415-978-2787 or visit www.ybca.org.

More Nazis

Alfred Hitchcock plays spy-vs.-spy in “Notorious,” a slick 1946 thriller with Cary Grant as a U.S. agent who violates the guy code by recruiting the love of his life (Ingrid Bergman) to do her sexy voodoo with the leader of a Nazi spy network (Claude Rains) in Brazil.

Look for Hitch in a cameo chugging champagne.

The film plays at 8 p.m. May 1 at the Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show includes a period newsreel, cartoons, previews, a raffle and a serenade by the Wurlitzer organ.

Tickets, at $5, can be bought at the theater box office, ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000.

More $5 tix

Granted, the Three Stooges comedies are a guy thing. Women — OK, most women of my acquaintance — don’t get the comedy in the eye-poking, head-smacking or body-bashing.

It’s one of those Venus-Mars peculiarities destined to keep our sexes raising eyebrows at each other’s tastes ad infinitum — an expression you’ll never hear in a Stooges movie.

As part of its “Five Buck Tuesdays,” the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco, will screen “Curly’s Greatest Hits,” two-plus hours of Stooges two-reelers, beginning at 2:30, 5 and 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Among the titles are “Microphonies,” “We Want Our Mummy” (nyuk, nyuk), “Disorder in the Court” and “Hoipolloi.”

Tickets, at $5, can be bought at the door. For more info, call 415-621-5288 or visit www.castrotheatre.com.

Save your sheckels

Disney is, how shall we say it, rereleasing or rerereleasing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the granddaddy of animated classics, this time in high definition.

It’s coming out as a Blu-ray combo pack containing two Blu-ray discs and a DVD version Oct. 6.

If you don’t have a Blu-ray player, you can wait for the “Deluxe 2-Disc Classic” standard-definition rererelease Nov. 24.

Or you can feel happy with the copy you already own.

The tale of the pretty princess with bad taste in apples earned an honorary Oscar for “significant screen innovation” in 1939.

It’s also on Turner Classic Movies’ recent list of the 15 most influential films of all time.

Songs in the key of grieving

OK, so they’re turning “Sleepless in Seattle” into a stage musical.

First reaction: Why?

Second: Oh, boy, an onstage lake for the houseboat.

Reportedly, producer David Shor and his minions have already penned 18 songs for “Sleepless in Seattle — The Musical,” “with more on the way.”

They’ll probably do a song-and-dance atop the Empire State Building. If ever a gorilla were missed … .

Composer/lyricist Leslie Bricusse (“Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,” “Victor/Victoria”) is attached to the project, scheduled for a first reading in May and opening in early 2010.

Next up: “The Exorcist — The Musical.” (Wishful thinking.)

Today’s birthdays

Shirley MacLaine, Barbra Streisand, Cedric the Entertainer, Barry Caine.

My opening gambit for my first interview with MacLaine some years ago when she was doing a song-dance-and-chat show in San Francisco:

“You and I were born on the same day.”

“April 24?” she said. “So was Barbra Streisand.”

“I know,” I said. “People often speak of us in the same breath.”

And she was putty in my hands.

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DVD reviews: Rourke goes to mat in “Wrestler,” Ex-prez vs. celeb in “Frost/Nixon”

Rourke’s rebound

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, semi-retired pro wrestler and infrequent actor (“They Live”), hammers Mickey Rourke with kudos for his Oscar-nominated portrayal of the over-the-hill title character in “The Wrestler,” new on DVD and Blu-ray.

It’s not the buffed pecs, stapled chest and flying sweat that impress Piper so much; it’s  “the gentleness” characteristic of his peers when they’re away from the ring, he says on one of the disc’s few extras.

Rouke — in the midst of a comeback that mirrors his character’s, Randy “The Ram” Robinson — makes all the right moves as a former big-time wrestler reduced to small-town gigs for a few-hundred bucks a pop.

Reportedly, the actor put on an extra 50 pounds to mirror the effects of Randy’s steroid-ravaged body and destructive lifestyle.

Despite flirting with the gutter — he can’t make rent on his mobile home, he pays cash for time with his closest relationship, a stripper played by Marisa Tomei — he yearns for another shot at the championship.

Then he suffers a heart attack and tries to mend fences with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood, like Tomei, at the top of her game).

And, yes, director Darren Aronofsky’s drama takes place in cliche city, where every detour into pathos and stop for courage on the road to redemption has been taken countless times before.

The ending’s a grabber, but were it not for the stellar acting, “The Wrestler” would be borderline unbearable.

The acting makes it must-see material — if you can stomach the graphic ring violence and sentimental ooze.

Extras: One-on-one with wrestlers and filmmakers; round-table chat with Hall of Fame wrestlers such as Piper and Lex Luger on the truth about their profession; more.

I am not a crook

Nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, director (Ron Howard) and actor (Frank Langella), “Frost/Nixon” delivers a surprisingly compelling look at British talk-show host David Frost’s historical four-part 1977 TV interview with disgraced president Richard M. Nixon.

The surprise is how well Howard’s direction keeps the plot — basically, two people sit and talk — moving. Writer Peter Morgan’s fleshed-out back story, about the maneuvering to get the celebs together, helps.

But the film’s power flows from the intricate performances by Langella and Michael Sheen, who reprise their stage roles as, respectively, Nixon and Frost.

Like Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote,” Langella goes beyond mimicry, revealing  Nixon’s dark and distorted depths, his anxieties, insecurities, pride and power. Although forced from office, he still white-knuckles his version of the truth.

Jet-setting Frost, more shallow personality than respected journalist, sees their impending confrontation as a chance to resurrect his TV career in the U.S. and to prove he has the right stuff to make a president confess his political indiscretions in front of an international audience.

The two work with the ease of actors who have performed together many times before.

Although screenwriter Morgan, also nominated for an Oscar, uses a lot of political license in his script, his story flies close enough to the truth to capture the flavors of the participants and the period, and to introduce a slice of history to those too young to remember, or not around at the time.

Extras: Excerpts from the real broadcasts; director’s commentary; deleted scenes; making-of doc; more.

Also new this week

“Arctic Tale,” “Sin City” and “X-Men Trilogy” on Blu-ray.

“Da’ Booty Shop”: Exotic dancer takes over her brother’s failing hair salon and hires dancer girlfriends to help cut and trim; with Trina McGee.

“A Galaxy Far Far Away: 10th Anniversary Collector’s Edition”: Digitally remastered 1999 documentary about “Star Wars” fans and fanatics shot before the release of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”

“Into the Blue 2: The Reef”: Young scuba divers (Chris Carmack, Laura Vandervoort) search for sunken treasure with financial help from a vacationing couple who may not be what they seem.

“The Last Word”: Poet (Wes Bentley) writes suicide notes for the soon-to-be-deceased and falls for sister (Winona Ryder) of a client; dark romantic comedy.

“The Line”: Grim, taut Australian crime thriller about police corruption centering around two undercover cops investigating the murder of an Asian crime-syndicate member.

“Notorious: Unrated Director’s Cut Collector’s Edition”: Well-reviewed biopic about the life and death of East Coast hip-hop icon Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace (Jamal Woolard); Derek Luke co-stars as Sean “Puffy” Combs; also on Blu-ray.

“Sam’s Lake”: Visiting an abandoned house where a crime took place years ago, friends get caught up in a supernatural thicket of nastiness; with Fay Masterson.

“Street Warrior”: War vet returns home to battle corruption and take part in an underground fight club; with Max Martini of TV’s “The Unit.”

“Tribute to Heath Ledger: The Unauthorized Story”: Documentary on the late actor.


“Caprica” (“Battlestar Galactica” prequel); “Dallas: The Complete 11th Season”; “Elmo and the Bookaneers: Pirates Who Love to Read”; “Hawaii Five-O: The Sixth Season”; “ICarly: Season 1, Vol. 2”; “Knots Landing: The Complete Second Season”; “Life of Ryan: The Complete Series, Seasons 1-3”; “My Own Worst Enemy”; “Rhoda”; “Ron White: Behavioral Problems”; “Squidbillies Volume 2.”

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DVD reviews: ‘Slumdog’ slick, ‘Marley’ doggone touching, ‘Tell No One’ terrific

“Slumdog Millionaire,” winner of eight Oscars including best picture and best director, if you don’t dwell on “the gimmick.” The gimmick is a plot contrivance that tells the lead character’s life story via flashbacks that explain his ability to correctly answer each question on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” when he’s accused of cheating.
The night before the final question, the teen from the slums (Dev Patel) is arrested and roughed up as he’s interrogated. His saga begins with him, his older brother and a young woman as stray children, teaming up and scrounging through the slums of Mumbai. Eventually, they’re abducted and trained as beggars, become separated, and find each other years later, drastically changed. The intermittently violent tale of love, rivalry and jealousy is told in an appealingly dark, fable-like style against a Dickensian background of dangerous, bustling slums.
Cinematography is excellent. Director Danny Boyle’s pacing is brisk. The scenes with the leads as children are the most compelling but the acting’s solid all around. There’s a lack of insight into the woman (Freida Pinto) the “slumdog” has loved since they were kids, but a crowd-pleasing Bollywood ending makes up for most misgivings. On Blu-ray, too.
Extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes, more.
Rated three barks out of four
“Marley & Me” is a dog movie, the second half of which is mostly family drama, with emphasis on “drama.” You need to know this if you’re expecting a kid-friendly “Lassie,” “Benji” or “Underdog.”
The family-friendly first half is almost all doggie cuteness, mischief and irascibility as married journalists (Owen Wilson, in one of his best performances, and Jennifer Aniston) get a golden lab, name it Marley, and adapt to its untrainability. He chews, he pulls, he destroys, he grows big and becomes very strong. And that’s just Wilson’s character. (Kidding.)
As dog lovers know, no matter how ill-behaved the animal, he becomes family, is present at special occasions, welcomes the kids from school, is always happy, always forgiving and loving unconditionally. Which is the heart of the film and what makes its ending so touching. The picture, on single DVD, two-DVD set and Blu-ray, sags in spots where Marley’s off-screen. But the film, based on the megaseller by John Grogan (Wilson’s character), consistently radiates humanity.
Extras: In the movie, Wilson and the eldest Marley (played by a 10-year-old) show no chemistry, which I found distracting. The dog seldom even makes eye contact. In the extras — which vary per package — it’s revealed that the eldest, one of 22 dogs playing Marley from 5 weeks to 14 years old, didn’t like people. So why choose him? Never explained. Also, on Blu-ray and two-disc set: dog-training trivia track, digital copy, gag reel, deleted scenes, more.
Splendid suspense
My pick for one of the top five movies of 2008, “Tell No One,” on DVD and Blu-ray, is a French mystery thriller based on a novel of the same name by American writer Harlan Coben. The gist of the cat’s-cradle-like plot: A happily married pediatrician’s wife is declared dead by a secluded lake where they’ve been swimming a cappella. She screamed, he ran to her, was knocked out and awoke in a coma with little memory of the details.
Eight years later, the still-grieving doctor (Francois Cluzet) becomes a suspect when two bodies are found near the crime’s site. About the same time, he receives an e-mail showing a current video of his wife, or a woman resembling her, at a train station, along with the message, “Tell no one.”
Since there’s no “CSI: Paris,” the doc must ditch the law and solve the mystery on his own. Kristin Scott Thomas and Marie Josee-Croze co-star. Extras: English-dubbed soundtrack as well as original French with subtitles; outtakes; deleted scenes.
Also on DVD
“Baby Einstein World Music”: Visuals and sounds for babies.
“Black Sun”: Documentary based on painter Hugues de Montalemebert’s book about his adjusting to blindness (from an assault) by traveling and writing about his experiences.
“Magnificent Gladiator”: Sword fights in ancient Rome in the epics “Magnificent Gladiator” and “Revolt of the Barbarians.”
“My Very First Treasury of 50 Storybook Classics: Preschool Stories”: Kids tales such as “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” “Knuffle Bunny,” “Goodnight, Gorilla.”
“The Other End of the Line”: Romantic comedy about a U.S. businessman (Jesse Metcalfe) and a Mumbai-based call-center employee (Shriya Saran) who pretends she lives in S.F.
“Killer at Large”: Documentary about escalating obesity in the U.S.
“Seven Pounds”: Enigmatic I.R.S. agent (Will Smith) seeks redemption by trying to change the lives of seven strangers; with Rosario Dawson; also on Blu-ray.
“South Pacific 50th Anniversary Edition” on Blu-ray: Film adaptation of Rogers and Hammerstein Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, about love and prejudice in World War II; with Rosanno Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor. Extras: new feature-length making-of doc; sing-along subtitles; vintage stage clips with original Broadway stars; more.
“Special”: Drug developers try to stop meter maid (Michael Rapaport) who thinks he’s a superhero and fights crime after being in an experimental study for a new antidepressant.
“Frances: Bedtime for Frances”: Three animated tales for preschoolers.
“The Fugitive, Season Two, Vol. 1”: Fugitive doctor pursues one-armed wife killer.
“Goosebumps: Return of the Mummy” and “Goosebumps: The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight”: Chills for kids.
“Handy Mandy: Manny’s Green Team”: Handyman and talking tools teach ecology.
“Jim Gaffigan: King Baby”: Stand-up special.
“Raw Nature”: Five parts, four wildlife filmmakers, dangerous animals.
“The Real Ghostbusters: The Complete Series”: All 147 animated episodes remastered, with extras, on 25 DVDs.
“The Real Ghostbusters: Vol. 1”: Five DVDs, 30 episodes, extras.
“Spectacular!”: Bad boy/rock-star wannabe (Nolan Gerard Funk of “Aliens in America”) is recruited by glitzy high school show choir for national championship.
“Strawberry Shortcake Berry Big Journeys”: Two tales.
“Thomas & Friends”: High Speed Adventures”: Six CG-animated stories.
“Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Season Four, Vol. 1”: Sci-fi espionage, action, mumbo-jumbo under the sea; first 13 episodes from final season.

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Vampire sex vs. ‘Twilight’ DVD

And speaking of vampire sex …

As you may know, “Twilight,” a love story about Bella, a pretty high school girl, and Edward, a prettier male vampire, celebrates celibacy.

What you may not know is when he kisses her — in depth in the DVD’s “dream sequence” extra — he seems only an exhale away from losing it and supping from her jugular.

Which raises the question brought up in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: Can a hunky vamp consummate his desire for a human without leaving said human bloodless and inert?

Hard to say, though based on the mostly expressionless “Twilight” stars — Kristen Stewart and schoolgirls’ stud-muffin Robert Pattinson — inertia has already set in.

Nothing like an infinite number of intense, longing gazes, shot close up, to spread that inertia to non-tweener audience members.

Pattinson looks born to brood. Stewart kindles a spark or two of aliveness, but the dysfunctional vampire family that welcomes Bella with cold open arms is livelier and more intriguing.

Melodramatic beyond imagining, the story still provides plenty for tween-age girls to go gaga over.

Several stores are hosting “Twilight” parties from 10 p.m. March 20  until midnight to “celebrate” the film’s midnight release, in two-disc, three-disc and Blu-ray sets. For store locations visit www.twilightthemovie.com.

Just don’t expect any insights into vampire sex. The implicit message: If a vampire comes on to you at a party, best to just say no.

Extras: Fascinating peek at young, San Diego ComiCon audience members shrieking continuously as the stars take the stage with writer Stephenie Meyer and director Catherine Hardwicke; short with Meyer saying the tale came to her in a dream; commentary with stars and director; extended scenes; more.

Commitment issues
As most women know, some men don’t grow up. They masquerade as adults, at work and at home, and have denial down to a science.

Like David (Ben Kingsley), the philandering, middle-aged professor in “Elegy,” their maturity gene never matriculated beyond the “whoopee” stage.
David, an author and culture critic as well as a teacher, struggles to resist a grow-up call from Consuela (Penelope Cruz), a gorgeous former student with whom he becomes obsessed.

While there’s plenty of nudity and sex, the film focuses on commitment, aging, jealousy, love, loneliness, repression and friendship.
Cruz, almost as impressive here as in her Oscar-winning portrayal in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” creates a playful, witty and wise young woman, more independent than David’s previous lovers. You can almost taste his anxiety as he fights to keep his emotions walled up and impenetrable.

Dennis Hopper
and Patricia Clarkson complement David’s story as, respectively, his best friend and his longtime, no-strings-attached lover.

The ending’s a little shaky. Otherwise, this is a fine drama. Extras: Screenwriter’s commentary; short on the power of words.
Pointless and punishing
About five minutes into “Punisher: War Zone” I got a phone call and put the DVD on mute. Up to that point, the dark and moody movie showcased cartoonish gangsters preening and posturing in that bad-actor way of mimicking tough guys.

It went downhill from there.

The rest looked dreadful — even to someone (mea culpa) usually amused by gratuitous exploding body parts.

The title character (played by Ray Stevenson as a grimacing plank) murders mobsters, at least in part to avenge the killing of his family in an earlier film — I’m guessing here, since the sound was off, but revenge was the plot line in 2004’s Thomas Jane-John Travolta “Punisher,” which, though also pointless, was palatable.

Every time Stevenson’s Punisher (based on a Marvel Comics character) shoots someone in the head, the head blows up and blood goes flying.

He shoots people in the head a lot.

I killed the mute for the final scene. The last line: “Oh God, now I’ve got brains splattered all over me.”

It’s meant as comic relief.

Extras: Digital copy, to play when you’re in that special mood; commentary; more.

Also on DVD

“Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest”: Raised as brothers, two boys from different classes grow up to become rivals in a quest to rescue a pretty princess; classy animated fable.

“Becoming Family”: U.S. doctors and medical students go to work in Sri Lanka six months after the devastating 2004 tsunami; documentary.

“Class Relations”: German film based on Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel “Amerika.”

“Imperial War Museum: Desert Victory”: Oscar-winning 1944 doc about the Battle of El Alamein.

“Imperial War Museum: The True Glory”: Oscar-winning 1946 doc covers D-Day to the fall of Berlin.

“The Velveteen Rabbit”: Live action and animation; with Jane Seymour.


“America’s Hangar”: Story of flight via tour of the National Air and Space Museum, aka “America’s Hangar.”

“Bakugan ‘Good vs. Evil’ Volume 3”: Cartoon Network animated series.

“Bob the Builder ON SITE: Skyscrapers”: Bob and Can-Do Crew can and do.

“Bunnytown: Hello Bunnies!”: ’Nuff said.

“Degrassi: The Next Generation Season 7”: High schoolers deal with adult issues.

“J.A.G. — The Eighth Season”: Military officers who are also lawyers investigate, prosecute, defend.

“Light at the Edge of the World”: Smithsonian series on disappearing cultures.

“Married With Children — The Complete Tenth Season”: Oh, Al.

“UFC 11: The Proving Ground” and “UFC 12: Judgment Day”: Ultimate Fighting Championship contest.

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DVD reviews: “W.,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “My Name Is Bruce”

Stone cold

The year Bush beat Gore, so to speak, many of us were saying that we’d vote for Gore but we’d prefer to hang with G.W. at a dinner party. So here’s the Oliver Stone biopic “W.,” out now on DVD and Blu-ray, claiming the good-old-boy image was an affectation honed by the ex-prez to make him seem more user-friendly. Who knew?
That and some other tidbits, along with a stirring performance by Josh Brolin in the title role, a complementary supporting go-round by James Cromwell as Bush Sr. and Richard Dreyfuss’ cloning of Dick Cheney form the essence of “W.,” a throwaway when Brolin’s not on the screen.

Stone spends most of the first half on a directionless Bush Jr. chugging bottles of booze; there are no Stone-like creative flourishes, just point-and-shoot moviemaking from an unimpressive screenplay. I expected better. Continue reading

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