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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Adam Jones of The Digital Bits

Species III: Unrated Edition

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Species III
Unrated Edition - 2004 (2004) - MGM

Film Rating: D

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C

Species III sets the tone early for its silliness. During a quick recap of the previous films, a radio caller speaks dialogue that makes George Lucas sound like William Shakespeare. This woman declares that "we are living in a world of high strangeness. The fact is that all this started happening at a certain definite point in our history." Jeez, who farted? She then goes on to blame atomic testing in the 1950's for alien intervention and surveillance of our planet, and "the fact is THEY'RE HERE!" For all the attempts to set an ominous tone, the filmmakers of this third installment in a withering franchise shoot themselves in the foot even further. It's Friday the 13th (that old one?), the dead body of Natasha Henstridge is being transferred by military personnel (that one too?) and, of course, they get lost just long enough for some blood to splash and get the movie going. So much for military intelligence. The only twist is that Miss Henstridge is killed off just moments after the opening credits. Perhaps the producers couldn't afford her.

What follows is your all too typical mish-mash of bad sci-fi that tries to sound smart, filled with expository dialogue that sounds ripped off from the latest Michael Crichton novel, and the obligatory blood and gore to make your girlfriend cringe and grab your arm. Sara (Sunny Mabrey) is the daughter of Eve (Natasha Henstridge), who retains her mother's lust to repopulate the Earth with her kind. The military establishment is, naturally, always sifting through one mysterious death or incident after another, keeping busy enough and not really accomplishing anything until the movie requires them to. Besides, if Sara was to be caught, the movie would be over. Oh yeah, and there's the idea of evolution causing a hybrid of "half-breeds", from which to two alien species end up hating each other. I wasn't aware Alien vs. Predator was good enough to warrant even a rip-off.

The characters don't get much better than the plotting, and are mostly filled with a grab-bag of stereotypes; your all wise, no-nonsense professor with an agenda, the dean with a British accent, the conflicted military private, the hero who's always smarter than he leads on, affix your favorite here. The special effects are decent, but a far cry from H.R. Giger's original creature designs and miles away from the Aliens these movies were clearly influenced. I missed Species II, but the original film did have its moments, so I guess its modest success warrants a series of sequels. However, from this one it appears the budget has been considerably trimmed and the studio is just trying to cash in. And did I mention someone forgot to even try making this movie scary?

You wouldn't be able to tell from the commentary by director Brad Turner, writer Ben Ripley (interesting last name), and actor Robin Dunne. At best, it's a play by play and not the most insightful you're likely to hear on DVD. The four featurettes collected on this edition, titled Alien Odyssey, serve as adequate bonuses to a movie that doesn't really deserve them. The DVD cover declares beauty is only skin deep. Indeed, if only the filmmakers dug a little deeper themselves.

Technically, the anamorphic widescreen picture quality is very clean, with no distortion or pixelizing. The soundtrack, presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, captures all those gooey tentacles flapping about, that icky wet rip whenever someone is slashed open or, in a few cases, split in half, and doesn't seem all that interested in anything else but those gory moments. I guess if you're a fan of the series, then pick this one up... from the used shelf rack. Otherwise, steer clear, with the knowledge that there is far better mean alien sci-fi out there demanding attention, namely the first two Alien films, Predator, or those X-Files episodes containing the "conspiracy" story thread.

Son of The Mask: Platinum Series

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Son of The Mask
Platinum Series - 2005 (2005) - New Line

Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

More mischief! More mayhem! More magic! More Excedrin! God, this movie is a headache. What we have here is a sequel that didn't need to be made and, more pointedly, a sequel that nobody asked for. Ten years after Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz did the one-two step with that mythical mask, New Line Cinema gives us an obnoxious and needless film where its only merits can be seen in terrific cinematography and visual allure. Really, the movie is visually stunning, with each shot very well crafted and designed. Director Lawrence Gutterman seems to be a cinematic talent, so here's hoping he can get his hands on a project worthy of our attention.

As far as the story goes, which is more a series of events, Jamie Kennedy plays Tim Avery (modestly clever), a successful cartoonist who whose newborn son and pet dog manage to get their little hands and paws on The Mask. The household is quite literally destroyed as the son and dog engage in a territorial battle for control. Of course, Tim falls victim to the wild powers of The Mask as well (there's a mildly amusing Halloween party sequence), and things are spinning even more out of control when Loki (Alan Cumming), the god of mischief himself, appears and is hell bent on retrieving his mask from the insolent humans.

That's not a bad premise, except that the story could have been made into any other movie, just take away the mask angle. It would certainly have made things more interesting and make more demands on the writer, Lance Khazei. But since the movie has been sold as a sequel, I guess we're stuck with what we have.

The biggest problem is that Son of The Mask isn't nearly as funny or original as... the original. The animation sequences are creative enough, but whenever that kid gets the mask, it's totally unconvincing and downright freaky. It makes me wonder why anyone older than the ten-year old mindset would find anything entertaining about watching a tweaked-out looking kid wreak havoc on his parents. Since the movie is directed with such kinetic energy, much like the Tex Avery cartoons that inspired the film, by the time we reach the end we are exhausted. It's overkill. Imagine riding Goliath at Six Flags Magic Mountain over and over and over... until it stops being fun. That's what we have here. The cast is suitably enthusiastic, but their talents aren't served well by a weak script. Sure, they know they're making something silly, but being self-aware doesn't give them license to make the audience nauseated either.

Ironically, the audio commentary is far funnier than the film itself. Gutterman, Khazei and Kennedy fly off each other's comments, are quick, witty, and basically everything the film is not. All one can ask is, what happened? You get a handful of deleted scenes, and you can see why they were deleted. There are three documentaries, each touching upon the special effects (which are quite good, actually) and making of the film. It looks as if everybody had a great time making the movie, but this is juvenile humor at best.

Not to knock the film completely, the DVD picture (in anamorphic widescreen) is fantastic. Ditto for the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix. Such wild special effects demands equally convincing sound design, and they are both superb. Since this is mainly a kids movie, I can guarantee kids will really want to crank up the home theater system. Parents, just make sure you have earplugs. I can't really recommend this movie based on entertainment value, but it is certainly not boring and will keep the kids entertained until they discover something better. Which shouldn't take that long, considering what else is out there. You're best bet would be to check out the movies and animation that inspired this one. Any Looney Tunes volume will serve, along with the original Mask, The Goonies, The NeverEnding Story, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?... you see? It's quite obvious you can skip this one.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Adventures in Friendship

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Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Adventures in Friendship
1968-2001 (2005) - Anchor Bay

Program Rating: A (for kids)

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/A (for kids)

Once I got over the DVD packaging (the case is literally wrapped in Mr. Rogers' signature cashmere sweater), I was able to once again hark back to my childhood, when Mister Rogers' Neighborhood played alongside Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock on PBS, and darn it if Mister Rogers wasn't the nicest guy to greet young eyes and young minds. The earnestness of the show is still appealing after all this time. The model neighborhood is still delightfully "modeled", even back then the show never tried to hide that. The "Make-Believe" Trolley still zips around town. The puppet characters Henrietta Pussycat, X the Owl, King Friday and Queen Sara, are all here, and will no doubt delight and charm the youngsters.

In these days when the majority of kids programming is frenetic and high-tech, here you have a show that is benign and decidedly low-tech. But that's part of the appeal here, and parents would be hard pressed to find a modern show that can match the overall Pleasantville tone consistent throughout the episodes. Everybody's so nice and eager to learn something, whether it be learning lessons in friendship, how to make a sandwich at Mister Rogers' favorite restaurant, or make fruit salad in Make-Believe Land.

To be cynical over this show would be pointless. Sure, you could say Mister Rogers is a little too smiley, as if he's taken one too many uppers. In this day and age where nobody trusts anyone anymore, and neighbors aren't what they used to be, Mister Rogers would probably be looked upon as some kind of creep. But this show was produced during a time when these ideas, while certainly idealized on the show, weren't so far gone as they seem to be now. Highly recommended for parents who are terrified over what their kids can watch these days. It's only a matter of time before those kids get corrupted by something or another, so why not give them a little sugar before things get sour? The show will obviously test parents' patience, but it's certainly more watchable than an episode of Barney.

Presented on DVD, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood gets fine treatment in terms of video quality. Being originally shot on video, this is clear as you're going to get it, and you can throw away those crummy tape copies without looking back. The audio is pretty basic, but unless your kids are 3-year old techno wizards, you don't need to introduce them to the JVC DTS Dolby Digital Surround Sound System just yet. There is also a nice serving of extra features to keep the young ones busy. Along with the Teddy Bear Factory tour, sing-alongs, and a recipe for pizza bagels, the DVD package features something that is really missing these days; parent involvement. There are many activities and games to play that would at least require an adult to handle the remote control of the DVD player. When's the last time a DVD made simple demands of parents? Cookie-cutter and overly lovey-dovey for sure, but Mister Rogers' makes up for that in earnestness and honesty. Rest assured, your kids won't turn into pansies from watching this show, but they may turn out a little nicer.

Adam Jones
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