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Video / DVD

A snapshot of a psychopath

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 20, 2003


One Hour Photo (R)

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[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]
Nothing is funny about Robin Williams’ turn as a stalker who works as a photo technician in One Hour Photo.

Robin Williams nearly lets us forgive the saccharine sappiness of so much of his work over the past 15 years with this tale of a cheery photo-lab technician who's a stalker. Williams' first-rate performance anchors a not-quite-satisfying exercise in suburban horror.

The actor, who played an unrepentant killer in last year's Insomnia, is Sy the photo guy, always at the counter, paying a little bit too much attention to the photos of his customers, particularly those of Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielsen), her husband, Will (Michael Vartan), and their little boy, Jakob (Dylan Smith).

Writer-director Mark Romanek amps up the creepiness, deftly incorporating frightening touches, including a shot of a wall in Sy's apartment that is plastered with photos of his favorite would-be family members. But Romanek lays it on too thick when it comes to the interiors of the Yorkins' immaculate home: No, obsessive materialism isn't to be blamed for the psychopaths in our midst.

DVD extras: A commentary track with Romanek and Williams; the actor's interview on The Charlie Rose Show; and a short feature on the making of the movie.

Rent it if you enjoy: Insomnia, stories about America's dark underbelly.

Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (PG)

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[Photo: Dimension Films]
Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara must find their way through an island adventure (complete with mad scientist) in the second installment of the Spy Kids trilogy.
Pint-size secret agents Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) are back for a second adventure that's nearly as much whiz-bang fun as the 2001 film. Both were directed by Robert Rodriguez, who has said he wanted to make a trilogy (the third installment will be out this summer) so he could take his kids to see his movies.

This time, the junior 007s face competing Spy Kids (Matthew O'Leary and Emily Osment) and wind up on an island where a mad scientist (Steve Buscemi) is holed up with a menagerie of freaky creations he designed. The Cortez siblings are on the trail of the Transmooker Device, which could cause global catastrophe.

Dad and mom (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) show up to help, as do one set of grandparents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor). Cool gadgets again figure into the action, as do, briefly, Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub.

DVD extras: A Rodriguez commentary, behind-the-scenes montages, lost scenes and a music video.

Rent it if you enjoy: Spy Kids, secret-agent spoofs, tales of heroic children.

The Four Feathers (PG-13)

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[Photo: Paramount Pictures]
Heath Ledger, as Harry Faversham, tries to prove himself worthy of the love of Kate Hudson’s Ethne in The Four Feathers.

Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) turns in the seventh adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's century-old novel of war and romance, set during the Victorian era. Heath Ledger is Harry Faversham, a British Army officer trainee who resigns his commission rather than travel to the Sudan to fight Muslim insurgents.

Wes Bentley is Jack Durrance, who considers his friend Faversham a coward. Both men are in love with Ethne Eustace (Kate Hudson). To reclaim his honor, Faversham goes to the Sudan, poses as an Arab and, with the help of an African mercenary (Djimon Hounsou), abets his fellow soldiers.

It's too forced and stiff, and provocative only when it comes to a muted, implicit commentary on world affairs, circa the present: Westerners are still pursuing Middle Eastern enemies.

DVD extras: Kapur's commentary, a collection of short features on the making of the movie.

Rent it if you enjoy: Ledger, slow-moving period pieces.

City By the Sea (R)

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[Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Robert De Niro plays a troubled detective and Frances McDormand plays his girlfriend in City By the Sea.

Although based on a true story, this police drama doesn't feel as authentic as it should, in part because of transparent plotting and contrivances. Director Michael Caton-Jones nevertheless elicits good work from Robert De Niro and James Franco, as a troubled Manhattan police detective and his junkie son, and Frances McDormand as the cop's sympathetic girlfriend. Caton-Jones takes advantage of the locations in Manhattan and in gritty Asbury Park, N.J., the latter doubling for faded resort town Long Beach, N.Y.

Rent it if you enjoy: De Niro, Franco, cop movies with a 1970s vibe.

All or Nothing (R)

Life is tough and getting grimmer by the day in Mike Leigh's depressing drama, set in a public-housing project in South London. The story centers on the bleak grind-it-out existence of tubby taxi driver Phil (Timothy Spall); his wife, Penny (Lesley Manville), a grocery cashier; their chubby daughter, Rachel (Alison Garland); her dangerously obese slacker brother, Rory (James Corden); and the family's friends. The carefully calibrated performances don't compensate for the unrelenting bleakness.

Rent it if you enjoy: Leigh's other films.

DVD CLASSICS

The latest DVD reissues include two-disc editions of Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), a stoner fantasy adapted from Hunter S. Thompson's freaky-deaky 1970s road-trip book of the same name, and The Color Purple (1985), Steven Spielberg's controversial take on Alice Walker's shattering novel about the legacy of slavery.

The Gilliam film's supplements -- particularly Thompson's comments, two short documentaries, a colorful 14-page booklet and readings of the book by Jim Jarmusch, Harry Dean Stanton and Maury Chaykin -- are vastly more entertaining than the rambling movie.

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