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last update 20.Apr.08
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Born Survivor: Bear Grylls   3.5/5   aka Man vs Wild
dir Mike Warner
with Bear Grylls
grylls release UK Jan-Mar.08 dvd
07/UK Discovery
2h00 (Sahara),
2h30 (Patagonia),
2h43 (Panama)
born survivor There are three DVDs in this set, taken from the TV series Born Survivor (titled Man vs Wild in America). We follow survivalist Grylls into the icy mountains of Patagonia, the vast Sahara desert and the dense jungles of Panama.

Now 33, Grylls hold the Guinness Record as the youngest man to climb Mt Everest; in addition he successfully completed training for the French Foreign Legion, spent three years with the SAS and is a black belt in karate. And he's also a rather sexy beast, willing to throw himself into the most ludicrous situations and then survive by his sheer wits. He's apparently willing to eat just about anything (bugs, worms, snails, snakes, crabs), and he seem to have an outrageous tolerance to extreme temperatures and severe pain. Not to mention a fascinating resourcefulness in any situation. But he shows us in sometimes stomach-churning detail, exactly how to stay alive in these potentially deadly places.

His constant Steve Irwin-style chatter gets a little annoying at times, especially when it goes all macho-man tough, constantly using words like "gnarly". And yet he's also deeply likeable, while his astonishing intrepid spirit is truly inspiring as we watch him leap out of helicopters in the worst imaginable places. In the Sahara he faces extreme heat and water deprivation, and shows us how to get out of quicksand. In Patagonia he braves avalanches, crevasses and a frozen bog. And in Panama he prowls through crocodile and viper-infested magroves before indulging in a little local chicha and going skinny dipping with the natives.

He is also, of course, accompanied by a camera crew, which kind of undermines the sense that he's out there all on his own. But they capture everything with gorgeous camera work that's just as extreme as everything Grylls goes through. These are truly amazing situations that show the raw endurance we are all capable of. And With such a thoroughly engaging figure at the centre, we can't help but be deeply entertained by his outrageous adventures.

E some grisliness
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The Oh in Ohio   2.5/5
dir Billy Kent
scr Adam Wierzbianski
with Parker Posey, Paul Rudd, Mischa Barton, Danny DeVito, Heather Graham, Liza Minnelli, Keith David, Miranda Bailey, Tim Russ, Robert John Burke, Toby Radloff, James P Kisicki
posey and minnelli release US 14.Jul.06,
UK 14.Apr.08
06/US AV Club 1h25
the oh in ohio There's an odd tension in this sex comedy between the script's moralising and the outlandishly free-spirited acting. In the end, it doesn't quite work, but there are some hilarious moments getting there.

Everyone in Cleveland congratulates Jack (Rudd) for marrying the prettiest girl in town, Priscilla (Posey). But he feels like a complete failure, since he can't satisfy her in bed. Then Priscilla attends a "self-help" seminar and becomes addicted to her new vibrator. Which makes Jack feel even worse, so he moves out and gives in to an affair with a high school student (Barton). Despite all of this--and much more--Jack and Priscilla still love each other. But is that enough?

Despite the fact that everyone in this film is obsessed with sex in one form or another, the fixation turns each person into someone deeply unlikeable. And this somewhat harsh and preachy angle is a strange approach for a film to take if it's going for a goofy, sexy-romp vibe. As result it's very difficult to sit back and enjoy this movie, because it's constantly undermining the fun with something truly unpleasant. And I'm not just talking about the rather gruesome second-act fling between DeVito (as a pool salesman) and Posey.

Frankly, Rudd and Posey are underserved by both the writing and direction here, which sabotage their gifts for madcap characterisations and expert comical timing. Both of them suffer through some seriously lame story elements and corny set pieces (the requisite vibrating mobile phone gag goes way over the top). What's most interesting is how the two actors swap places in our affections as the film progresses.

Director Kent certainly keeps things bright and sunny from the start, filling the movie with silly side characters and ridiculous situations. Wacky bit parts for the likes of Minnelli (the "orgasmic dysfunction" workshop leader) and Graham (the too-helpful sex-store clerk) liven things up considerably, while the constant attention to sexuality does manage to examine the issue from every conceivable angle. And then some. But by the time we get to the end, the film feels pointless and underdeveloped.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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Poor Boy’s Game   4/5
dir Clément Virgo
scr Chaz Thorne, Clément Virgo
with Rossif Sutherland, Danny Glover, Greg Bryk, Flex Alexander, Laura Regan, Stephen McHattie, Tonya Lee Williams, KC Collins, Carol Sinclair, Cory Bowles, Jeremy Akerman, Hugh Thompson
glover and sutherland
release US 14.Mar.08,
UK 14.Apr.08 dvd
07/Canada 1h44
poor boy's game A bold script improves this drama about masculinity and bigotry in a small community. It also helps to have a terrific actor like Danny Glover on board.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, Donnie (Sutherland) has been released after nine years in prison for beating Charles (Collins) so badly that it left him mentally disabled. Donnie reconnects with his brother (Bryk) and pals, although he's no longer as racist or homophobic as they are. Meanwhile, Charles' parents George and Ruth (Glover and Williams) encourage a local boxing pro (Alexander) to challenge Donnie to a match, with the intention of inflicting physical retribution. But George has second thoughts, and begins to secretly help train Donnie.

This George-Donnie connection makes this far more interesting than most films in this genre, because it dares to let the characters think and change, realising they have to take responsibility for their actions and live with the fall-out. Sutherland is very good in the central role, with a soft, likeable acting style (more like dad Donald than big brother Keifer). And Glover gets well beneath George's skin to really chew on the themes.

As the tension increases, the film's charged atmosphere escalates. Donnie's tentative romance with his brother's estranged girlfriend (Regan) is nicely underplayed, for the most part, as is Donnie's questioning sexuality. More fiery is the racial issue, which explodes in horrific violence and awful confrontations as the big fight approaches.

Along with the complex characterisations, director-cowriter Virgo is examining masculinity through sensitive relationships and brutish peer pressure. There are clear echoes of On the Waterfront, as these tough guys try not to let their emotions show, and as Donnie is haunted by his past (he coulda been a contender!). And the best aspect of the film is the way Virgo allows his characters to be genuinely twisted in knots by the churning events around them.

The plot itself may be a bit simplistic, but the film has a gritty, tough feel, even as it remains finely focussed on Donnie's and George's individual journeys to redemption. It also dares to end on a provocatively thoughtful note, rather than tying everything up neatly.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Shock to the System: A Donald Strachey Mystery   3.4/5
dir Ron Oliver
scr Ron McGee
with Chad Allen, Sebastian Spence, Morgan Fairchild, Michael Woods, Anne Marie DeLuise, Daryl Shuttleworth, Shawn Roberts, Rikki Gagne, Nelson Wong, Stephen Huszar, Ryan Kennedy, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman
allen and roberts release US 4.Aug.06 tv;
UK 24.Mar.08 dvd
06/Canada Insight 1h31
shock to the system This second Strachey mystery is a great improvement on the first film, Third Man Out, as it deepens the characters significantly while eliminating the corny TV whodunit vibe.

Private investigator Donald Strachey (Allen) is taken aback when his newest client turns up dead before he even starts work. With the retainer in the bank, he investigates the apparent suicide, following the trail to the deceased young man's protective mother (Fairchild) as well as a centre dedicated to helping gay men turn straight. So Donald goes undercover as a patient, meeting the founders (Woods and DeLuise) and various patients, all of whom have shadowy motives for murder. Meanwhile, Donald's partner Timmy (Spence) is struggling with the dark questions Donald is raising.

The best thing here is Allen, and the entire film hinges on his vivid performance as a flippant man who inadvertently opens a door into his emotions. There's a terrific sense of discovery in each scene, and it has nothing to do with the film's somewhat basic mystery or the slightly cheesy action sequences. The other performances are more in the style of a 1970s TV movie, with knowing glances, mysterious grimaces and comical mugging. But Allen holds it together and brings out resonance in every scene.

There's also a sense that the story is actually commenting on the serious issue of gay-healing ministries. Without being simplistic, there's a surprising balance in the way the counselling scenes are shown, even as it also reveals the gaping problems in the whole concept. Even so, the script lets these people off fairly lightly, leaving the serious issues in the background to focus on the twisty plot.

Frankly, in a film like this, in which everyone has a motive, we don't really care who turns out to be the killer. We watch because it's fun to see the detective uncover information, face up to the danger, confront the villains and maybe have a bit of fun along the way. And in this sense, the film works perfectly for what it is. Kind of makes me look forward to the third film in the series.

15 themes, language, nudity, some violence
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall