Video Reviews, November 15, 2011

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FICTION

Megan Is Missing. color. 86 min. Michael Goi, dist. by Anchor Bay Entertainment, www.anchorbayentertainment.com. 2011. DVD UPC 013132280592. $26.98. THRILLER
Wild Megan (Rachel Quinn) and shy Amy (Amber Perkins) are both fairly typical 14-year-old California teenagers. The BFFs are connected constantly via cell phone, Skype, and chat, at least until Megan begins an online romance with skater boy Josh (Dean Waite). One day Megan sets out to meet Josh in person and is never seen alive again. Three weeks later, Amy vanishes as well. A montage of video chat, surveillance footage, home videos, and news broadcasts, this mockumentary dramatizes the disappearances in a believable and disturbing manner. Director Goi has a message to deliver and purportedly based the film on seven documented cases of child abduction, but at times the movie seems prurient, particularly during the last 20 minutes when the footage takes on a sadistic, torture-porn quality more reminiscent of Saw or Hostel than The Blair Witch Project. The subject matter, while difficult, has been addressed more sensitively, and effectively, in films such as David Schwimmer’s Trust. Still, Megan Is Missing is chilling in its realism, a harrowing entry into the found footage fear-fest genre that’s sure to haunt viewers long after the credits roll.‚ Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY

The Far Pavilions. 2 discs. color. 307+ min. Peter Duffell, Geoff Reeve Prod., dist. by Acorn Media, 888-870-8047; www.acornonline.com. 2011. DVD ISBN 9781598286786. $29.99. SDH subtitles. F
Based on the 1978 novel by M.M. Kaye (1908‚ 2004) and originally seen on HBO in 1984, the film portrays the romantic story of British soldier Ashton Pelham-Martyn (Ben Cross) and his forbidden love, Indian Princess Anjuli (Amy Irving). It unfolds in British India in the 19th century as the Empire draws to an end. (John Gielgud appears in a cameo role as Ghandi.) Orphaned as a boy and raised by his nurse in a maharajah’s palace with Anjuli, an out-of-favor princess who trails him like a worshipful little sister, Ashton flees after a falling out with one of the princes‚ the heir to the throne. When his foster mother dies, Ashton is sent to England for a military education. He prizes honor, loyalty, and his father’s advice to stand up for fairness in all things, but his philosophy is at the root of conflicts with peers and superiors, Indian and British. India’s tumultuous effort to throw off British rule and become a sovereign nation is reflected in Ashton’s turbulent career and search for love. Highly recommended for fans of period dramas and of Kaye’s novel in particular.‚ Sheila S. Intner, Prof. Emerita, Simmons GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke Coll., So. Hadley, MA

The Making of Plus One. color. 93 min. Mary McGuckian, Pembridge Picture, Prospero Pictures, dist. by NEHST c/o Victory Multimedia,
310-590-1388; sales@victorymultimedia.com. 2011. DVD UPC 899943002086. $29.95. F

This film follows producer Dave Dallas (Michael Eklund) and director Skye Brown (Pulitzer Prize‚ winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks) through a frantic few days at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as they resort to increasingly desperate measures to raise money for their new movie. The mockumentary-style film was shot on location in Cannes, and every so often it seems to capture the manic intensity of the real-life festival, which becomes the center of the movie making universe for two weeks each year. In the end, though, The Making of Plus One is undone by director McGuckian’s failure to give us a clear sense of Skye’s original artistic vision (making it difficult to care about the “compromises” she is forced to make) and the inability of any cast member other than Eklund to match the energy level of the film’s quick-cut editing style and aggressively jaunty Dixieland score. Library funds would be better spent on a second copy of the classic Hollywood satire McGuckian name-checks, Robert Altman’s The Player (1992).‚ Andrew Horbal, McDaniel Coll. Lib., Westminster, MD

Wired: An Edge of Your Seat Financial Thriller. color. 134 min. Kenny Glenaan, ITV Global, dist. by Acorn Media, 888-870-8047; www.acornonline.com. 2011. DVD ISBN 9781598285741. $29.99. SDH subtitles. F
In the fast-paced and ruthless world of international banking, the game is a deadly one, where no one can be trusted and inhabitants either play or get played. When thirtysomething Louise Evans receives an important promotion at a large London banking firm, she promptly becomes the target of blackmail. Not an innocent herself, she is forced to become the center of a multi million-dollar scam involving electronic funds transfer and fraudulent accounts. For her own protection, as well as her young daughter’s safety, Louise must quickly find a way to walk a delicate line between suspicious internal auditors and the police, deceitful bank personnel and a violent criminal underworld. This tightly written, suspense-filled three-episode miniseries debuted in Britain in 2008. Featuring attractive actors, action-packed multiple story lines, and high production values, this financial thriller will appeal to adult audiences.‚ Linda Frederiksen, Washington State Univ. Lib., Vancouver

ARTS & HUMANITIES

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. color. 89+ min. Rodman Flender, Abramorama, dist. by Magnolia Home Entertainment, www.magpictures.com. 2011. DVD UPC 87696404183. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 978964004190. $29.98. Rated: R. HUMOR
After his brief, disastrous tenure on The Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien took his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour across North America to keep busy, to blow off steam, and to tell his side of the tale. Unfortunately, Can’t Stop is neither a concert film nor a biopic, only a tired mélange of standard-issue footage from the stage, the road, and, cliché of clichés, behind the scenes. Director Flender (one of O’Brien’s Harvard buddies) hasn’t created a hagiography; O’Brien scores on TV with his mix of smarts, the blandest of charisma and likability, plus some hip, catty edge, but he’s utterly uncompelling as both a comic and a musician, and the dishwater-dull photography and editing do him no favors. Has O’Brien a pathological need to perform for an audience? Even that isn’t novel in show business. Bonus features (not available on the screening copy) include deleted scenes, bonus footage, and a commentary track with O’Brien and cast and crew members. The film, suitable for teens and up, features semifrequent profanity, but why anyone other than a Team Coco‚ nut would bother with this production is anyone’s guess.
J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

Dickens in America with Miriam Margolyes. 3 discs. color. 5 hrs. Christopher Swann & others, Lion Television for BBC, dist. by BFS Entertainment, www.bfsent.com. 2011. DVD UPC 066805310423. $39.98. LIT
English actress Miriam Margolyes (Harry Potter; Ladies in Lavender; The Age of Innocence) is a lifelong Dickens enthusiast. In this ten-part series from 2005 she follows the route that Charles Dickens took on his historic first trip to America in 1842 with his wife, Kate; their maid, Anne Brown; and two pet birds. It was the trip upon which he based his travel book American Notes, a comic and critical look at American manners, morals, and foibles. Margolyes takes an interesting approach, whereby she tries to emulate in a modern context the framework of Dickens’s journey by making the transatlantic passage on the Queen Mary II, then traveling by train, by road, and aboard the Delta Queen riverboat. She juxtaposes quotes and excerpts from Dickens’s writings with interviews of contemporary Americans in the same places that Dickens visited, for example, West Point, a tobacco farm, a school for the deaf, and, most particularly, several prisons that held a special interest for Dickens. Margolyes also uncovers a wealth of Dickens-related artifacts and records in the Unites States and Canada. Just as his trip influenced Dickens, in the course of the journey Margolyes’s own knowledge and opinions about America undergo some interesting changes, and her appreciation of the author deepens. This very thoughtful and rewarding documentary is essential for inclusive Dickens collections and has broad appeal for general audiences.‚ Tom Budlong, Atlanta

SOCIAL SCIENCES

The Flaw. color. 82 min. David Sington, Studio Lambert in assoc. with Dartmouth Films, dist. by Bullfrog Films, 800-543-3764; www.bullfrogfilms.com. 2011. DVD ISBN 9781594588709. $295 (Rental: $95).
Public performance; SDH subtitles. ECON
Filmmaker Sington looks at the economics underlying the housing bubble and resulting 2008 financial crisis. He takes his title from the admission to Congress by former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan that he had found a flaw in his free market ideology. Sington’s documentary explains that income inequality in America had by 2007 reached new heights and that the loosely regulated financial sector employed new, risky strategies to make huge profits lending money to Americans trying to stretch their incomes. The film employs on-screen graphics, news footage, humorous cartoon and live-action clips, interview segments from average Americans caught in the crisis, and commentary from financial authorities. Particularly insightful are the explanations by economists Robert Shiller and Joseph Stiglitz. Not as strident as Charles Ferguson’s Academy Award-winning Inside Job (LJ 5/1/11) nor as comprehensive as Niall Ferguson’s Ascent of Money (LJ 6/1/09), The Flaw strikes a nice balance between being entertaining and informative. This slick, at times glib, and pricey film is highly recommended for all viewers.‚ Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

Eco School House. color. 39+ min. Ken Leija & Avery Danziger, Eco School House Films, dist. by Microcinema, www.microcinema.com. 2011. DVD UPC 780977875634. $20; acad. libs. $100. Public performance. ED/ENVIRONMENT
Imagine the unimaginable: a fire destroys a classroom trailer at a 100-year-old Midwest elementary school. As a result, the school’s principal, Beverly Bourdin, and forward-thinking architect Nick Peckham join forces with the school team and community members to replace that lost classroom with a sustainable building. The entire town aids in the project; local construction companies donate labor and materials. None of this is easy, though, as the building team faces terrible weather, tight deadlines, and financial constraints. The finished, completely sustainable building sets in motion an ecological curriculum for the school. The program provides an excellent rationale for eco school buildings and reinforces the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. The materials that make this film most useful are its bonus features, including the architect’s plans and the school’s ecocurriculum. Recommended for educators and citizens concerned with education and the environment.‚ Ernest Jaeger, formerly with North Plainfield Schs., NJ

Fest Selects‚Ñ¢ Best Gay Shorts. Vol. 1. 104 min. DVD UPC 720229914680.
Fest Selects‚Ñ¢ Best Lesbian Shorts. Vol. 1. 101 min. DVD UPC 720229914697. ea. vol: color. dist. by First Run Features, 800-229-8575; www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2011. $24.95. GENDER STUDIES

These two DVDs feature selected shorts from recent LGBT film festivals, for example, Sundance, Outfest, and Frameline. Like most compilations, they are a mixed bag. The male collection delivers the most bang for the buck‚Ķin more ways than one. (The first few minutes of Steam could easily be mistaken for soft porn.) Especially strong are the comedies Gaybe, about a straight girl and her gay friend who try to make a baby the old-fashioned way, and GaySharkTank.com, a send-up of gay chat sites. Other pieces in Gay Shorts are interesting for their narrative techniques and fantastical elements. Most of the lesbian shorts try too hard to be funny‚ with the delightful exception of Tech Support, about a customer service call that takes an unexpected turn. The two dramatic lesbian entries are broody European shorts about jealousy. Overall, the two programs lack a bit in diversity: New York and L.A. are heavily represented, as are white, middle-class perspectives. While these films are mostly enjoyable, it’s hard to believe they represent the cream of the crop of gay short filmmaking. In an age of ubiquitous short videos online, they are less than essential purchases. David Gibbs, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, DC

The Duel. color. 60 min. Carl Byker & Mitch Wilson, Oregon Public Broadcasting & Red Hill Prods., for American Experience, PBS, shoppbs.org/education. 2011. DVD ISBN 9781608834655. $19.99; limited public performance $49.99. SDH subtitles. HIST
The Duel is as much about the two men who participated on July 11, 1804, in what may be the most famous duel in American history as it is about the tragic event itself. Alexander Hamilton, a poor immigrant, rose to play a pivotal role in the creation of the Constitution and the development of American capitalism. Aaron Burr, wealthy and privileged, eschewed a career in the family business (religion) and instead went from soldier to lawyer to politician. Hamilton and Burr had opposing political and personal views, which saw them in conflict over senate races, an electoral college ballot, and character issues. The Duel effectively uses reenactments, interviews with historians and scholars, and narration by Oscar-winning actress Linda Hunt to relate the history, background, and events leading to that fateful morning. It will be of interest to students, history aficionados, and general viewers.‚ Denise A. Garofalo, Mount Saint Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY

For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots. 3 discs. color & b/w. 9 hrs. Frank Martin, Eleventh Day Entertainment, www.forloveoflibertyeducation.org. 2010. DVD ISBN 9780983072423; acad. libs. ISBN 9780983072416. $299. Closed-captioned.
Freedom Flyers of Tuskegee. color & b/w. 49+ min. Choices, www.choicesvideo.net. 2011. DVD ISBN 9781933724362. $24.95. MILITARY studies

These two videos examine the contributions and sacrifices made by black Americans in service to the United States ever since the country was founded. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American pilots in the U.S. military, volunteers who fought overseas during World War II at a time when they were subjected to Jim Crow laws and intense discrimination at home. Told through interviews with these aviators and historians along with archival video footage and still photos, Freedom Flyers of Tuskegee details the amazing story of these men. Despite being viewed initially with skepticism, the pilots started to win respect through outstanding performance, and racial attitudes gradually began to change. Although some older footage is grainy, the production quality overall is excellent. Interesting bonus features include additional interviews, historical photos, and a lesson plan.

For Love of Liberty is much broader in scope and examines contributions of black Americans from the Revolutionary War up to the war on terror. Hosted by Halle Berry and introduced by Colin Powell, this PBS documentary features archival footage, numerous reenactments, interviews, and the voices of prominent Americans including Bill Cosby, Walter Cronkite, and Morgan Freeman. The three-DVD set includes a huge amount of content: the four-hour documentary divided into segments for classroom viewing; an abridged version of the main feature; a 35-minute film that chronicles African American contributions during the Civil War; and 3.5 hours of raw footage and photos intended for use by students and teachers to create their own documentaries. The production quality is outstanding, though viewers with young children should be cautioned that some scenes are graphic in nature. Although differing widely in scope and focus, these two films relate important chapters of U.S. history that are frequently overlooked and need to be acknowledged. Both are recommended for public and academic libraries.‚ Rod Bustos, Augusta State Univ. Lib., GA

The Parking Lot Movie. color. 71+ min. Meghan Eckman, Independent Lens, dist. by Passion River, 732-321-0711; www.passionriver.com. 2011. DVD UPC 823857149520. $19.99; acad. libs. $145. SOC SCI
To paraphrase Marge Simpson, one doesn’t have to make a documentary about a semilegendary Charlottesville, VA, parking lot and its attendants just because the opportunity comes along. Nevertheless, here’s The Parking Lot Movie, the fruit of three years’ labor by the either fearless or extremely suggestible director Eckman. A documentary with mediocre production values, it is slight, albeit fitfully funny and insightful regarding customer service, consumer culture, and the resulting delusions of entitlement, especially among the rich. The title notwithstanding, its main subject is the employee culture engendered by lot owner Chris Farina’s policy of hiring smart, creative, well-(over)educated guys (but apparently no ladies) who are working their way through school or fending off the real world until an opportunity presents itself. Anyone who has worked with the public will experience multiple shocks of recognition, but significance is beyond its reach. Bonus features include deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and a music video. Even though the many past and present attendants interviewed might deny it, sometimes a parking lot is just a parking lot. Featuring some profanity, this program is an optional purchase for young adults and up.‚ J. Osicki, Saint John Free P.L., NB

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders. color. 93+ min. Mark Hopkins, dist. by First Run Features, 800-229-8575; www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2011. DVD UPC 720229914734. $27.95. MED
Médecins Sans Frontières, in English Doctors Without Borders, provides medical care to parts of the world that have been torn apart by revolution, civil war, and all manner of bloody strife. This moving documentary takes a look at the daily lives of several of these physicians, both new to and veterans of the program. Their task is like trying to empty the ocean with a soup spoon. Many of the people they see have been without any medical assistance for 20 years or more. Many die of what we would consider minor complaints because they couldn’t get care in time. Many are victims of random violence that is often inflicted not just randomly but seemingly for the amusement of the soldiers involved. This is a bitter yet inspiring vision of how one person can indeed make a tremendous difference‚ and of the toll it can take on that individual. Critically acclaimed and winner of several awards, this is an excellent if disturbing film. Highly recommended for viewers interested in the world’s health.‚ Susan B. Hagloch, formerly with Tuscarawas Cty. P.L., New Philadelphia, OH

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Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Celebrating her 42nd year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"

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