Plenty of filmmakers find grist for the mill in their hardscrabble childhoods and adolescences, and though he’s long since moved to and settled in California, Dito Montiel (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” “Fighting”) has made a career in the movies out of delving back into his Queens roots to craft gritty, geographically specific tales in which the shadows of the past loom large. His third teaming with Channing Tatum, however, “The Son of No One,” represents an unfortunate case of muddled overreach.
Tatum stars as Jonathan “Milk” White, a second-generation cop who gets in over his head when he’s assigned to re-open an old double homicide case in his old Astoria neighborhood. His go-along-to-get-along captain, Marion Mathers (Ray Liotta), just wants matters closed, the better to shut down meddling, independent-minded local reporter Loren Bridges (Juliette Binoche). But when evidence seems to suggest a cover-up by the former lead detective on the case – Charles Stanford (Al Pacino), who was also Jonathan’s father’s ex-partner — as well as shine a light on mistakes and secrets of his own, Jonathan finds himself caught up in an ominous downward spiral.
“The Son of No One” is nominally a cold-case cop drama, but it has an extraordinarily wan mystery at its core, and perhaps the stupidest motivations and actions of any cover-up ever committed by any sort of authority figures on film. Ever. As it winds its way toward a yawning finale with requisite rooftop confrontation, one is repeatedly struck by the notion that there is no “win” here for those who might be most burned by old secrets and sins resurfacing, and so they surely would have done better to utilize one of the many chances to handle this more effectively at an earlier date. Plot holes are numerous, settings are stock and arbitrary (oooh, an abandoned factory!), and there’s never are real sense or evidence of Loren’s reporting driving matters. Ergo, Montiel leans on his actors to provide extra “oomph” for every scene, and they oblige with overly calculated emotional escalations. Tatum is actually fine (except for the creepy, hairy caterpillar poised on his upper lip, impersonating a moustache), but the movie is otherwise a vehicle for a litany of unfortunate supporting performances — especially from Tracy Morgan and Katie Holmes, the latter of whom plays a shrill caricature of a harridan.
“The Son of No One” comes to DVD housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover. Somewhat oddly and amusingly, the front-and-center tough-guy shot of Tatum on front is, in the tradition of old “Star Wars” posters, hand-drawn, while pictures of the supporting cast run in a horizontal tile above the title. The movie’s presentation is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, and a Spanish mono track as well, plus optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Bonus features consist of a small collection of deleted and extended scenes, plus a feature-length audio commentary track from Montiel and his longtime collaborator, editor/executive producer Jake Pushinsky, in which the pair genially trade anecdotes and inside jokes.
Comedian Bernie Mac was taken too soon, but he gets a loving tribute in director Robert Small’s “I Ain’t Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac,” a hour-long documentary of reminiscence which shines a spotlight on his unique talents and appeal. Stand-up peers like Chris Rock, Anthony Anderson, Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer and Bill Bellamy — as well as Cameron Diaz, Samuel L. Jackson and many of Mac’s “Ocean” pals, like Carl Reiner, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia and director Steven Soderbergh — provide warm and funny anecdotal remembrances of their shared times on set. And Small does a good job of telling Mac’s story by integrating into the movie his wife and adult daughter, who reflect upon his big breaks (a win at the 1990 Miller Lite Comedy Festival in Chicago, which gave him a $3,000 payday, and later his shortlived HBO series, “Midnight Mac”) and their offscreen lives.
Most of the movie’s punching power, though, lies in its copious footage of Mac during his signature stand-up routines; the film even takes its title from a truncated version of his admonition a rowdy Def Jam crowd at the Apollo. Mac’s comedy was sometimes profane, but always filtered through a very personal lens (poking fun at his skin tone, he joked,” You know you’re dark when you leave fingerprints on charcoal”) that brought you closer to and gave you an affinity for the man behind the performer. “I Ain’t Scared” comes to DVD housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo audio mixes. Bonus content consists of a nice collection of extra interview material, inclusive of more reminiscences from Rock about his time with Mac on “Head of State.”
Robert Townsend has had a long, varied and underrated career. His latest movie is “Diary of a Single Mom,” a solid drama of social uplift starring Monica Calhoun as Ocean, the 27-year-old apartment building manager and title character. Juggling the needs of her own two children along with a niece who hates everything and all the other needs of a diverse and sometimes quirky bunch of tenants keeps Ocean on her toes, but she handles each and every challenge with grace and determination. A solid cast (Richard Roundtree, Valery Ortiz, Leon and Billy Dee Williams also appear) helps anchor this dramatically straightforward movie, which doesn’t necessarily till a lot of new ground. Mostly, though, it’s Townsend’s deft directorial touch that smoothly keeps any overwhelming sappiness at bay. “Diary of a Single Mom” comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16×9 televisions, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. There are motion menus and chapter stops, but unfortunately no other supplemental material.
Plenty of other actresses have shot up the Hollywood buzz meter on the strength of far slimmer resumes, but Juno Temple — the daughter of director Julien Temple and producer Amanda Pirie – is quietly crafting a body of work that should have her graduating to more consistent lead roles in fairly short order. Small roles in “Notes on a Scandal,” “Atonement” and “The Other Boleyn Girl” gave way to a more visible supporting turn in 2009′s broad comedy “Year One,” as the object of Michael Cera’s affection. Other supporting and ensemble roles followed (including “Cracks,” “Greenberg” and “The Three Muskateers”), but it’s writer-director Abe Sylvia’s “Dirty Girl” that serves as the 22-year-old’s most convincing calling card.
A coming-of-age road trip dramedy powered as much by a solid sense of emotional honesty as any jokes, “Dirty Girl” unfolds in the late 1980s, in Norman, Oklahoma, where insolent high schooler Danielle (Temple) enjoys a title reputation well earned. Banished to a remedial class and paired on a project with Clarke (Jeremy Dozier), a pathologically introverted gay teen whose lout of a father (Dwight Yoakam) is determined to staighten out his son in more ways than one, Danielle rather unexpectedly locates a kindred lost soul. When her mother (Milla Jovovich) prepares to settle down with a straightlaced Mormon (William H. Macy) looking to introduce a little discipline into her life, Danielle sets out on a road trip with Clarke, in search of her father and wider vistas in general.
Temple wonderfully embodies Danielle, a character with a rough, blunt (even nasty, some might say) edge, while never wholly sacrificing the woundedness stemming from abandonment at her core. Dozier, meanwhile, is equally a revelation — possessing of whipsmart timing and an amiable sense of naturalism and unforced charm. Some plot pivots are a bit too pat, but there’s more than enough realistically character-rooted comedy to lend this curio a recommendation. “Dirty Girl” could even be loosely classified as gay cinema, though it certainly belies viewer expectations of so many heavy-handed “coming-out” dramas, and deftly avoids painting solely in resolute colors. Presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, “Dirty Girl” comes to DVD with a feature-length commentary track from Sylvia and a nine-minute collection of deleted/extended scenes, one of which pads out the movie’s epilogue.
“All Things Fall Apart” represents the continued brand extension of 50 Cent, now just as frequently appearing in movies by his given name of Curtis Jackson. In fact, it’s more than just another starring effort; “All Things Fall Apart” also represents the rapper-turned-actor’s second stab at screenwriting, on the heels of last year’s “Gun.” Directed by Mario van Peebles (who also co-stars, along with Ray Liotta), the film centers around Deon Barnes (Jackson), a star college running back who finds his impending NFL stardom waylaid and possibly forever derailed by a serious physical setback which leaves him battling for his life.
Jackson’s astonishing physical transformation (he lost 50 pounds to portray Barnes in his post-illness stages) gives the movie a thin sheen of credibility, but that dedication is unfortunately counterbalanced — and indeed, outweighed — by trite dialogue, overly familiar scenarios and broadly sketched supporting characters that render the familial drama and putative catharsis that it peddles just kind of risible. Arriving on Blu-ray in 1080p, ”All Things Fall Apart” is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track. The only supplemental extra for the film, alas, is its trailer, along with those of a couple other Image Entertainment titles.
With a PBS special beginning in major markets this weekend, and a big performance on “The Today Show” scheduled for next Tuesday, March 6, Italian singing sensations Il Volo are set for a mini-media blitz that will undoubtedly lay the groundwork for their first North American headline tour later this summer, starting in August. Also stoking those embers is “Il Volo Takes Flight: Live From the Detroit Opera House,” which was shot last year, during part of their successful debut swing through the States. Also dubbed the “Teenage Tenors,” the group is comprised of Piero Barone, Ignazio Borschetto and Gianuca Ginoble (and yes, like the singing animated Chipmunks, one is chubby, one is handsome and one has glasses). This solid little concert doc charts 17 tunes, including Italian classics such as “O Sole Mio” and “Un Amore Cosi Grande,” plus a version of the classic Charlie Chaplin song “Smile.” Presented on DVD in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the title also includes a little behind-the-scenes documentary. For more information on the group and their concert plans, visit www.LiveNation.com/IlVolo.
Last but not least, the first thing that grabs you about “Nude Nuns With Big Guns,” of course, is its title, which makes it sound like it should be playing in Quentin Tarantino’s private screening room, as part of a reel-to-reel double feature with “Unwed Biker Bandit Sluts.” That’s seemingly the entire point and “raison d’etre” of this trashy, poorly cobbled together sub-sexploitation flick, starring Asun Ortega and David Castro.
Having been enslaved and victimized by drug-peddling biker scumbugs who shoot her up with dope, use her as their personal sex toy and put her into service at a local brothel, Sister Sarah (Ortega) sets out on a campaign of revenge against these decidedly unholy men, as well as the priests who enabled and sheltered them. Los Muertos head honcho and chief baddie Chavo (Castro), who ironically takes great offense at any mention of his mother, is the ultimate target, but Sarah works her way through all sorts of scuzzy henchmen leading up to that confrotation, in a litany of gunfights that are staged wildly poorly by director Joseph Guzman. Full of terrible dialogue, unconvincing performances and shoddy technical craftsmanship to boot, “Nude Nuns With Big Guns” does little but pander to a viewer’s base-level expectations of a movie with such a title, and hope that’s somehow enough to satisfy. Think of it as “I Spit On Your Grave” by way of… I don’t know, some fourth-generation Spanish “La Femma Nikita” knock-off, with a budget and production value that fails to match even Robert Rodiguez’s “El Mariachi,” another loose antecedent.
On Blu-ray, “Nude Nuns With Big Guns” is presented in 1080p and 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a DTS-HD master audio 5.1 track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Split up into a dozen chapters with a motion menu, the title also includes a same-titled, four-minute short film from Guzman, in very rough shape, that likely served as some sort of financing-bait calling card. That someone actually viewed that and wished to then bankroll a feature version is more amazing and memorable than anything else about this flick.
Written by: Brent Simon