(ThinkFilm, 2005) D: Harry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro. Rating:NNN
The name says it all. It's a fast, hard, high-impact, violent game played by exactly the people you'd expect - serious jocks with major competitive attitude. Which pretty well wipes out any pity you might feel for the wheelchair-bound quadriplegics of Team USA as they train and struggle for gold at the Athens Paralympics. The players are stars and they know it. They're aggressive, competent and funny, and they get laid a lot. They give the film the inspirational charge that filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro are smart enough, mostly, to allow to emerge on its own. Only the score occasionally gets a little sentimental. For the most part the film slams along like the game it covers.
The players are very open, except when it comes to the mutual hatred between team star Mark Zupan and coach Joe Soares. Soares, once Murderball's most valuable player, left the U.S. to coach for Canada. Some of the players consider him a traitor, especially after their team lost to Canada in Sweden. But his and Zupan's battle goes further back.
Soares's story provides the film's strongest emotional line. By the end, he's had one heart attack and reconciled with his non-jock son. He represents what the rest of the team could become.
The extensive extras and solid commentary tracks provide further character insight and a lot of lowbrow jock humour.
Extras - Filmmaker and team commentaries, Soares update interview, Jackass murderball episode, Larry King interview, New York premiere, deleted scenes, game explanation doc. Wide-screen.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
(Fox, 2005) D: Doug Liman, w/ Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie. Rating: NN
Thanks to the marketing campaign, we know going in that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the titular couple, are both assassins, destined to target one another, but that doesn't happen till 40 minutes in. Until then the movie stars play a bored and boring married couple, and the tedium is unbelievable, giving ample time to consider how ridiculous the premise is and how despicable our leads are. Heartless professional killers - who cares if their marriage tanks? In the end, charisma, big bangs and a lively, funny score produce mindless, amusing froth, but cannot trump the dud opening and queasy taste of psychos in love. Pitt and Jolie are fun once they're in motion, and writer Simon Kinberg and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) have come up with some good situations and dialogue. Pitt has a flair for comedy, but Jolie is so intense that you can't forget she's a murderous psychopath, which dampens the fun.
The film also seems to have benefited greatly from a production hiatus, during which everyone seems to have figured out what movie they were making. It's not often you'll hear moviemakers speak so frankly about their own total cluelessness in a commentary. Liman even grouses about working with big stars. It puts a whole new spin on that cliché about film being a collaborative art.
Extras - Director and writer commentary, producers commentary, editor, designer and effects commentary, deleted scenes, making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
Jay & Silent Bob Do Degrassi: The Next Generation
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Graeme Campbell, w/ Kevin Smith, Stacie Mistysyn. Rating: NNN
Cult movie director Kevin Smith (Clerks), a long-time Degrassi fan, shows up as himself, a film director shooting Jay And Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh, and falls for long-time Degrassi character Caitlin Ryan (wonderfully played by Stacie Mistysyn), who's contemplating leaving her long-time love. Meanwhile, teenage bipolar musician Craig (Jake Epstein) goes off his meds and onto the street when girlfriend Ashley (Melissa McIntyre) ditches him for a summer in England. Smith and Jason Mewes, his buddy Jay, add a deeply wacky dimension to three episodes of the tight, fast, well-written and realistic teen drama. Its biggest flaws are a bit of overacting by young performers and a tendency to end scenes with someone saying "Wait!" as someone else stalks out in a huff. Smith's laid-back underplaying contrasts well with the soap opera heat.
Wackier still are the segments of the Jay & Silent Bob movie, which feature Alanis Morissette as a hoser principal who disciplines with a hockey stick, and an attack by Canadian ninjas.
Smith's sense of humour - deadpan, self-deprecating and sexually creepy - takes over the commentary tracks completely, which are largely devoted to trying to embarrass Mistysyn, possibly in revenge for Smith's long-time crush on her character. She holds her own, but just barely.
Extras - Three Smith, Mewes, Mistysyn and producers commentaries; Smith interview; bloopers; deleted scenes; making-of ninja scene doc; cast and character bios and photo galleries. Full frame. English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
(BVHE, 2005) D: Darnell Martin, w/ Halle Berry, Michael Ealy. Rating: NNN
It's safe and definitely made for television, but this Oprah Winfrey- sponsored version of Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel offers lovely visuals, a solid story and a terrific turn by Halle Berry. Berry is Janie Starks, a Florida back- country girl in 1910. Married at 17 to a respectable old farmer, she runs off with a windbag politician obsessed with respectability. Widowed at 38, she finds love with a drifter who everyone but she knows is only after her money. Berry gets lots of big scenes, and she's effective without excessive makeup as both the naive young girl and the emotionally closed older woman.
This isn't the Oscar-winning calibre of work she did in Monster's Ball, but it's moving and fun. She's surrounded by solid character actors, and the intelligent script soft-pedals its inspirational message.
Berry shines brightest, and the film does, too, when she's happy with the drifter and the movie can revel in scenery, lighting and inexplicit but strong erotic interludes. It effectively communicates the high emotions that come with themes of abandonment, natural disaster and disease.
High emotion, of course, is what this is really about, though the film goes nowhere near over the top. All the characters, even the bad guys, have moments that keep them believable and sympathetic.
Extras - Original ratio. English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, December 6
(Fox, 2005) Comic book CGI adventures with a stretchy hero.
(Universal, 2005) Director Ron Howard's inspirational boxing movie with Russell Crowe.
The Rockford Files
(Universal, 1974) Classic private-eye series with James Garner, smart writing and good acting.
Fox In A Box: Featuring Pam Grier
Foxy Brown (1974), Sheba, Baby (1975) and Coffy (1973), and a bonus disc on the star and the blaxploitation genre.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb