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"Mission' fails second time around, too

Here is what we thought of this week's new video releases back when they were released on the big screen. Second thoughts include hindsight about the movies, what they'll be like on video and suggestions about who might want to rent them.

New releases

Mission to Mars (PG)

NASA sends astronauts, led by Tim Robbins and Gary Sinise, to investigate why a previous mission to the Red Planet disappeared.

It has something to do with a sand snake that vacuumed the crew into nothingness, which is a pretty good description of the plot. Director Brian De Palma (Mission: Impossible, Snake Eyes) attempts to meld a meaning-of-life message with the special effects hardware.

First impression: "Since the many computer-generated effects weren't added until long after principal shooting, the excellent actors in (the) cast had no idea how ridiculous they would look when De Palma put this preposterous package together.

"Though the script shamelessly steals from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apollo 13, De Palma pulls some neat visual tricks that entertain (until) the film starts a relentless descent into unintentional hilarity. Even the effects suddenly start to look cheap." (Rick Gershman, Times correspondent)

Second thoughts: Boy, I'm glad Gershman had to sit through this turkey and not me.

Rental audience: Science fiction devotees who aren't very picky.

Rent it if you enjoy: Stargate, Pitch Black, 2010, or any other sci-fi potboiler falling short of Stanley Kubrick's classic.

East Is East (R)

Pakistani-British businessman (Om Puri) living in England creates friction with his wife (Linda Bassett) and seven children by forcing Muslim traditions upon them. His eldest son is homosexual and bristles at his father's attempts to arrange a marriage with a woman. Family conflict erupts into domestic violence.

First impression: "Too earthy and hard-edged for its own good. The script is alternately funny and chilling _ and rather daring in its criticism of Muslim authoritarianism _ and it's uniformly well-acted by its large ensemble cast. . . . Bassett and Puri are quite sympathetic _ which, in Puri's case, is a feat, since his character is shown in several scenes beating his wife and children." (William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Second thoughts: Puri is always an interesting actor to watch, in undervalued films such as City of Joy and My Son, the Fanatic. This small story should fit well on TV screens.

Rental audience: Patrons of art house cinema in places like Beach Theater and Tampa Theatre.

Rent it if you enjoy: My Son, the Fanatic; My Beautiful Laundrette.


New and noteworthy for digital players

This Is Spinal Tap: Special Edition _ Rob Reiner's first movie flopped in theaters in 1984, probably because it was done so well. This is one of my favorite comedies of all time, and the DVD version is one to revisit again and again.

This Is Spinal Tap is so deadpan and dead-on in its satire of heavy metal rock 'n' roll, the banality of road tours and self-indulgence by untalented artists that viewers took it seriously. Many asked why anyone would waste time and film on such an inept band. The answer: That's precisely the point.

Reiner's "mockumentary" coined that term, forcing inevitable comparisons with later spoofs with similar structure, including Bob Roberts and Waiting for Guffman. The difference is that This Is Spinal Tap has survived the test of time, growing in cult popularity and even spawning a "comeback tour" a few years ago.

The DVD special edition features most of the extras from a previous laserdisc version. The film's stars _ co-writers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer _ contribute an alternate audio commentary, complete with British accents and vapid sensibilities.

Rather than explain how scenes were prepared, as other DVDs do, these guys treat the film like a home movie, commenting on people and events with dimness resulting from too many post-show parties.

More than an hour of deleted scenes is available, including an amusing bit by Bruno Kirby as Tap's limousine driver, catching a buzz with the band.

The faux "authenticity" continues with the band starring in TV commercials for Rock'N'Rolls, a frozen snack, plus a commercial for Spinal Tap's greatest hits album and a bogus news conference from the 1960s.

Four music videos and odd preview trailers that are funny, but didn't do much to sell the film to audiences, are included. Even the animated bumpers between extras bring a smile.

The only new material on the DVD is an interview with the so-called documentary's director, Marty DiBergi (actually Reiner doing his best comic acting ever). Hearing DiBergi describe his previous film, Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Godzilla, is a tip-off that nothing should be taken seriously here. Spinal Tap members brag that they love to make ears bleed. The movie is just as hazardous to your funny bone.


Videos worth another look

Looking for a TV alternative to Summer Olympics coverage? Maybe you would like a movie set among athletes going for the gold.

Granted, most entertaining Olympics films (Cool Runnings, The Other Side of the Mountain) deal with Winter Games competitors. Must be all that photogenic snow and ice. However, these nearly forgotten films on home video are worth a rent:

Without Limits and Prefontaine _ Two films that canceled each other out at the box office. Neither got wide release. Both are biographies of 1972 Olympic gold medalist Steve Prefontaine, played well by Billy Crudup in the former and Jared Leto in the latter.

Chariots of Fire _ Two British track athletes prepare for the 1924 Summer Games, for different reasons. One runs for God, the other for his Jewish heritage. Winner of the 1981 Academy Award for best picture.

Personal Best _ Robert Towne wrote and directed this story of two female athletes and lovers (Mariel Hemingway, Patrice Donnelly) shooting for spots on the U.S. Olympic team. Scott Glenn co-stars as the coach who comes between them.

Walk, Don't Run _ Pure fluff, but it's Cary Grant fluff, and that makes a difference. Grant plays matchmaker for a U.S. Olympian (Jim Hutton) and a roommate (Samantha Eggar) during the 1964 Games in Tokyo.

Running Brave _ Robby Benson plays Billy Mills, an American Indian distance runner who beat prejudice and the odds to win gold at the 1964 Olympics. Inspiring story, well done.

Visions of Eight _ The dean of documentaries, David L. Wolper, produced this inside look at the 1972 Games in Munich. Eight directors, including Milos Forman and John Schlesinger, focus on various aspects and athletes of the competitions.

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