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'Rock Star' cranks up the cliches

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2002


Rock Star (R)

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[Warner Bros.]
In Rock Star, Mark Wahlberg gets his chance at the big time and goes down a predictable path.
Mark Wahlberg (Planet of the Apes) plays the front man for a garage band who gets a one-in-a-million chance to replace the lead singer in his favorite heavy metal group. Jennifer Aniston (TV's Friends) co-stars as the girl next door he leaves behind on a trail of groupies, drug abuse and the same two songs over and over again.

First impressions: "If friends got together over a bottle of wine and played a game where everyone tried to come up with all the cliches about rock 'n' roll, you'd have a hard time topping Rock Star. This release nails just about every one. . . . With its generic title and lackluster production, Rock Star is a far cry from the insider's point of view that added so much sparkle and insight to last year's underappreciated Almost Famous. . . . (The movie) should fade faster than Spinal Tap on its last American tour." (Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter)

Second thoughts: Should inspire some hilarious wisecracks among friends, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Rental audience: Anyone who can name the members of Judas Priest in chronological order.

Rent it if you enjoy: Behind the Music gossip.

Bully (R)

Filmmaker Larry Clark revisits a 1993 murder case in Broward County in which a group of disaffected teenagers decided on a whim to kill one of their own. Nick Stahl (In the Bedroom) plays the title oppressor/victim, with Brad Renfro and Rachel Miner as leaders of the vengeful pack. Clark never flinches from the sordid lifestyles these teens adopted, making Bully an unsettling experience to the brink of disgust.

First impressions: "Bully, like Clark's 1995 film Kids, sometimes seems like a pedophile's dream. That notion undermines a riveting story gamely acted by performers old enough to keep Clark out of jail. . . . Parts of Bully play like dark comedy, with teens who don't know anything trying to sound worldly. Clark doesn't offer any reasons for such base behavior; it just occurs. Parents are around but ineffective. Their worst mistake is simply being tolerant. Clark makes his movie like those teenagers who murder Bobby; sloppy and brutal, without any concrete plan or purpose and always distracted by sex." Second thoughts: Rough stuff, but certainly not a bad movie.

Rental audience: Art film aficionados; parents who want to know what their children may be doing in their spare time.

Rent it if you enjoy: Kids, Over the Edge.

DVD: New and noteworthy for digital players

Discs delve deeper into two gems

Tombstone: The Director's Cut and The Sixth Sense

Buena Vista Home Entertainment (i.e. Disney) created the Vista Series of DVD releases for, as the slogan states, "celebrating the filmmaker's vision with imagination and content." Sounds like just another alibi to profit again from movies already available on discs, a common ploy among distributors.

This time, however, the two-disc packaging mostly deserves the hype. Only a handful of Vista Series releases are available, including Pearl Harbor and Unbreakable. Two of the most recent, Tombstone and The Sixth Sense, focus on films that arguably represent the best of their respective genres over the past decade.

The results are DVD packages that delve deeper into the filmmaking process and background materials than typical sets, creating cinematic chronicles that may occasionally be a bit too academic for casual viewers, although cinephiles won't have their intelligence insulted. The closest comparison would be those Criterion Collection laser discs coveted by collectors before that format was phased out and replaced by DVDs.

photoTombstone, in particular, is a revelation in the series, a film that has grown in stature through word of mouth and home video after a middling theatrical release. The Vista Series version confirms any hesitant opinions that director George P. Cosmatos' adventure is a great movie.

Cosmatos sounds like an uncommonly astute student of Western history during his audio commentary, especially with regard to the lives of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The director consistently addresses the issue of balancing truth with legends that are more cinematically inviting. Compare his research detailed in the discs' bonus features with the finished product for insight into a filmmaker's choices.

Three featurettes illustrate what Cosmatos learned and invested into his film, especially Making an Authentic Western and The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the event Tombstone builds toward with colorful suspense. Set aside lots of time (and your reading glasses, since the print's small) to read the actual Tombstone Epitaph newspaper account of the shootout printed the next day. An interactive time line is a minor disappointment for its sketchy detail, but storyboards indicate how clear Cosmatos' vision was before the cameras rolled.

Just for fun, the set includes a DVD-ROM feature enabling users to play Wyatt and Doc's favorite card game, faro, in a virtual saloon against the gunfighters "themselves." The most imaginative extra, however, is a faux parchment reproduction of a map of the 1881 gunfight drawn by Earp in 1919 detailing the positions of each participant. It's a nice touch in an impressive set.

photoThe Sixth Sense has been released in basic and enhanced DVD versions, so much of the Vista Series edition is repetitive: deleted scenes, a different ending and M. Night Shyamalan describing the clues dropped along the way to a surprise ending. The DVD producer smartly realized that fans have seen that material, so more was created.

Shyamalan hosts a documentary on paranormal activity that's creepy and informative. A collection of reflections from the cast and crew hasn't been seen before. A feature on storyboarding techniques is a sharp analysis of sketch-to-screen craftsmanship, demonstrated in great detail with scenes from The Sixth Sense.

Viewers can argue that such bonuses should be included when a film makes the transition to home video rather than teasing consumers through escalating editions. But the DVD industry is still sorting out what frugal studios are prepared to offer and, more importantly, what consumers are willing to buy. If they build it, will we come?

Rewind: Videos worth another look

Belushi could be more than Bluto

He made only seven films but occasionally offered a glimpse of where he might have gone from there.

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[AP: 1981]
In Continental Divide, John Belushi displays his potential, giving his best “straight” performance.
John Belushi would be celebrating his 53rd birthday today if he had taken his own advice for everyone else. A drug overdose killed him in 1982, when his career was shifting into an interesting phase, away from the primal comedy that made him famous on Saturday Night Live and in his first movie hits.

Belushi made only seven films, and some critics will say it was all downhill from Animal House. Take another look at his film work in chronological order and you may disagree.

National Lampoon's Animal House -- Bluto Blutarsky is still a college campus icon. Belushi was a P-I-G in the most cravenly adorable sense, peeping on coeds and spewing mashed potatoes to jump-start the most famous food fight ever. The movie would be great without Belushi, but it's a classic because of him.

Going South -- Bluto goes West in a spunky, funny Western directed by Jack Nicholson. Belushi plays a Mexican bandito before political correctness, a sketch character in the midst of an entertaining movie. Nicholson also discovered future Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen.

1941 -- Bluto enlists in World War II. Belushi plays fighter pilot Wild Bill Kelso, battling an imaginary invasion of Los Angeles the day after Pearl Harbor. Steven Spielberg's wildly uneven comedy simply wasn't funny unless Belushi was onscreen.

Old Boyfriends -- Now we see some maturity in Belushi's acting style. Talia Shire plays a perkily disillusioned woman revisiting her former lovers. Belushi was the one who thankfully got away, but not without a sweetness the actor hadn't displayed before. Joan Tewkesbury's film is out of print, but maybe a friend has an old copy.

The Blues Brothers -- Belushi teams with Dan Aykroyd to create a memorable collision of music and automotive mayhem. Sure, Joliet Jake was a chilly role when Belushi wasn't singing, but the only time he raises his sunglasses and we see his eyes is a classic Hollywood moment.

Continental Divide -- Belushi's best "straight" performance, playing a Chicago columnist stuck in a forest with nature girl Blair Brown. He played a real person, not a cartoon, while retaining the charm suggested in previous roles and, of course, his blustery humor. This movie displays Belushi's lost potential better than any other.

Neighbors -- Not a pretty swan song, but who knew? Belushi switched personalities with Dan Aykroyd by playing a dull suburban guy with a psycho next door. Neither actor suited his role, and the movie has a mean streak a mile wide. But it was a creative stretch for Belushi, leaving us to wonder where he might have gone from there.

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