reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits
2004 (2004) - 20th Century Fox
Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B-
There has been a run lately of what I called "juvenile
comedies for adults" which seem aimed more at the audience
who consumed fare such as Fast Times
at Ridgemont High and Porky's
during their original theatrical runs than the stereotypical
young moviegoer of today. Even the hilarious Not
Another Teen Movie drew as many references from
Eighties John Hughes films as recent works such as She's
All That and 10 Things I
Hate About You.
Starring a round-robin group of actors including Vince Vaughn,
Ben Stiller, Luke and Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell and Steve
Carrel, this new breed of JCFA shows that being an aging member
of Generation X doesn't mean that you can't provide amusement
for your cohort. Recent smash hits Wedding
Crashers and The
40-Year-Old Virgin prove there is a sizeable audience
for quality funny stuff starring funny adults.
year's Dodgeball is a modest
effort telling the story of competing gyms and their owners. White
Goodman (Ben Stiller) is a Tony Robbins-meets-Richard Simmons guru
who owns Globo Gym, a shiny edifice of glass, steel and neon that is
populated by perfect specimens of physical fitness. (If Leni
Riefenstahl had done Bally's Fitness commercials, they would've
looked like this.)
Across the street is Average Joe's, a run-down sweatbox operated,
poorly, by Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn in typical Vince Vaughn
mode) and patronized by your typical movie comedy cast of lovable
losers. Peter's behind on the mortgage and unless he comes up with
$25,000 within a month, the bank will foreclose and White will snap
up the property to provide parking for his place.
One of Peter's customers, Gordon (Steven Root), discovers in
Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine that there is a conveniently-timed
dodgeball tournament with a top prize that somehow is exactly what
Peter needs to save his gym. While they manage to beat their
regional opponents, a Girl Scout troop - OK, the troop has to
forfeit on a technicality - they realize their motley crew needs
help... and it comes in the coaching form of Patches O'Houlihan (Rip
Torn), a wheelchair-bound former dodgeball champion.
The team heads to Las Vegas and the inevitable final round showdown
with White's Purple Cobras... and for a movie subtitled A
True Underdog Story, you'd think the ending wouldn't be
in doubt, but there are a few twists that occur along the way (that
really don't add much to the story because what this movie is - and
should be - about is people getting whacked in the head and groin
If you aren't a fan of Three Stooges-style
physical humor, you're not likely to enjoy this movie, because a
huge amount of the comedy comes from our beleaguered characters
getting thwonked upside the head with the attendant ringing "boing"
of the red rubber ball. While I've long outgrown Larry, Curly and
Moe, and generally prefer witty dialogue to kicks in the family
jewels, I never failed to smile (and go "ooooh!") at the
numerous occurrences of boinging beatdowns. (It's probably the sound
of the ball that makes this work.)
Vaughn seems to have settled into a comfy career rut of playing the
same fast-talking pseudo-slacker on the make, but it suits him well
and he's a likeable presence. Even better is Stiller who creates an
odd nutball of a character that is a welcome change of pace from the
tired nebbish/put-upon victim he seems to have repeatedly been
playing lately. The scenes in which he deals on real-life wife
Christine Taylor look like they probably cracked up a lot on the set
(and the outtakes reel proves it.) It's also funny that they didn't
try to hide the vast height difference between him and Vaughn.
The supporting cast is also fun; especially Alan Tudyk as Steve the
Pirate and Rip Torn as the crotchety coach who deals the pain that
toughens our heroes. Details like the wrong uniforms they have to
wear to their tournament game, the fact that it's being broadcast on
ESPN8 ("the Ocho") and that the slogan for the event is "Go
Balls Deep" up the comedic score nicely.
As far as the disc goes, the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer does an
adequate job with OK detail. However, too much filtering leads to
some serious macroblocking on occasion - for example in the bar
scene, where the smoky red background disintegrates into chunks of
crimson Legos. Colors are generally OK, but this will never be a
reference disc for your home theater.
Just as with the picture, the English Dolby 5.1 Surround audio is
workmanlike, with decent use of the surround channels, but it's
nothing to demo your sub-woofer. Dialogue is clear and no serious
defects were noticed. Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is
also available as are subtitles in English or Spanish.
While the movie is a minor triffle, there is a decent assortment of
extras, kicking off with the feature audio commentary by
writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber - previously known for the
Terry Tate - Office Linebacker
commercials - as well as Stiller and Vaughn. As you might expect,
there's plenty of cutting up along with the chatter.
Seven deleted and extended scenes (totaling 7:51) and an alternate
ending (with optional commentary by Thurber) are also included. Many
of the deleted bits are pretty funny, but were cut for pacing.
However, the alternate ending - which is actually the original
ending - is a perfect example why studio interference isn't always a
bad thing. While Thurber says the stars were on-board with this
ending, it would've been a disaster and slapped the audience in the
The Dodgeball Boot Camp: Training for
Dodgeball featurette (3:25) covers the cast's training
for the games, while The Anatomy of a Hit
(3:21) explains that if you want the big laughs, you've got to hit
people in the head. Plus, the actors discuss the challenge of not
Justin Long: A Study in Ham & Cheese
(3:33) opens with a manic single-take improv that runs a couple of
minutes (watch the reaction of the extras when they call "cut").
It ends with an excruciating montage of him suffering endless
Dodgeball: Go for the Gold
(1:17) has Vaughn and Stiller pitching dodgeball as an Olympic
sport. It rates a wan smile, but no laughs.
The bloopers/gag reel (3:00) is your usual batch of blown lines and
accidents highlighted by an ad lib from the actor playing the German
team's coach (I'm not saying who, because it's a killer cameo) and
the problems caused by Vaughn's constant cracking up during another
A half-dozen Easter eggs are included as well, and if you pop the
DVD into your computer's ROM drive, you can read the script via the
included Hotllama Player software, which works on both PC and Mac.
Dodgeball isn't a landmark
comedy destined for any Hall of Fame, but it does provide some
laughs and entertainment for those seeking a humorous take on the
traumatic torment that's sold as sport to children around the world.
Magic of the White City
2005 (2005) - Inecom (Inecom)
Program Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C+
Since my public school education seemed to have a hard enough
time getting the basics of our Founding Fathers and the birth of
America across, I guess there's a legitimate reason why I had no
knowledge of the Columbian Exposition of 1893 - aka the Chicago
World's Fair. Still, anyone wanting to get a two-hour crash
course on this massive historical event could do worse than
watching EXPO: Magic of the White
Narrated by Gene Wilder, EXPO
provides an exhaustive (and exhausting) primer on the event that
drew 28 million visitors to a reclaimed swamp on the south shore
of Lake Michigan over a span of only six months. Intended to
one-up the 1889 Paris World's Fair - which saw the building of
the Eiffel Tower - and also to celebrate the 400th Anniversary
of Columbus' "discovery" of America, the organizers
missed the mark by a year, but made up for it with a gleaming
faux marble facades and electric lights earned it the "White
City" nickname - it was like nothing people had seen before or
since (unless you count the planet Krypton in Superman.)
Future revolutionaries in their fields like Frank Lloyd Wright and
Henry Ford were inspired by what they saw. The sheer number of "largest"
things that were on display boggles even the modern mind.
In addition to exhibits from nations and corporations the world
over, the Fair saw the introduction of the Ferris wheel and the
snack that would become Cracker Jacks. So extensive were the wonders
of the Fair that the sheer quantity becomes EXPO's
biggest liability: There's just too much material for this sort of
Eschewing the PBS historical documentary model of breaking up the
static visuals with talking head segments and recreations,
producer/director Mark Bussler has relied on an avalanche of
photographs and illustrations (narrated by Wilder). After a time, it
becomes a hypnotic drone of facts and statistics that lull the
viewer into inattention, to put it politely. When color live-action
shots of beer mugs being filled, a belly dancer performing or
aquarium footage to portray the sights and sounds are thrown in the
mix, they feel out of place and amateurish.
Shot on hi-def video, the 1.78:1 anamorphic picture on this disc
allows the super-fine details of the art to really come through,
though there are occasions when the step down to DVD resolution
causes some moiré shimmer on a large HD television; even more
so on standard televisions where it becomes quite frequent. Minor
noise artifacts crop up in a few of the live action shots, but they
aren't too frequent. Overall, it's a good-looking picture.
The English Dolby 5.1 audio is rich enough sounding considering the
simple demands of narration and the atmospheric score and sound
effects. Surround activity is light, but this isn't Revenge
of the Sith, so it's OK.
The primary extra is a feature-length commentary by World's Fair
historian David Cope. It's an interesting talk which allows for more
comprehensive discussion of the finer points (points that the main
recitation of facts and figures doesn't allow for).
The featurettes are somewhat odd, because they're just loose
montages of B-roll footage. You either have the option of watching
them with just musical score or with commentaries. With music alone,
Making the Fair (7:27) and
Art of the Fair (10:02) don't
really make any sense, as we watch shots of musical and computer
gear being manipulated or random images. However, the tracks by
Bussler alone (and also with writer Brian Connelly) are as close to
a filmmaker's commentary as we get. (Note that Art
of the Fair only has both together.)
Storyboards of the Fair (4:56)
has Bussler talking about the boards for the original opening and
the recreation of Chicago Mayor Harrison's shooting. Pictures
of the Fair (4:41) has additional pix from the Library of
Congress along with Bussler's solicitation for oral histories for a
contemplated follow-on film. Be sure to watch all the way to the end
for a secret last shot.
There are eight deleted scenes that average about two minutes each.
They're just more of what is in the final product, but were likely
cut for time. There is no "Play All" option and the
general menu navigation a little counter-intuitive. A half-dozen
trailers for other Inecom projects round out the extras.
There's a reason why public television and Ken Burns in particular
are lauded for their historical programming: They've got the formula
down. Because EXPO: Magic of the White
City chose not to follow this proven road map of
information presentation, the overall effect isn't as strong as it
could've been, especially considering the phenomenal amount of
wonderment this World's Fair possessed. Still, for history buffs (or
poorly-served public school students), it's worth a look.