UltimateDisney.com Presents: April 2006 DVD Roundup

By Renata Joy and Aaron Wallace

Touchstone Pictures released both Shopgirl and Casanova within the final months of last year. The R-rated films, timed to attract award buzz, both failed to receive any major honors or generate much interest from the public, each ending up with a domestic gross slightly over $10 million. Initially planned for February release, they were always envisioned to bow on DVD in tandem, so it only makes sense they get critiqued on the same page. The third DVD covered in this roundup, Spymate, doesn't have anything besides an April release in common with its fellow subjects. A chimpanzee action/comedy from a Canadian studio fixated on animal cinema, this independent family-friendly film is merely distributed by Disney following a very limited theatrical engagement and bears none of the company's usual logos. Together, these three form our second DVD roundup.

Casanova | Shopgirl | Spymate

Index of all UD's DVD Reviews

111 Minutes / Rating: R / Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2005
Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Heath Ledger (Casanova), Sienna Miller (Francesca), Jeremy Irons (Pucci), Oliver Platt (Paprizzio), Lena Olin (Andrea), Omid Djalili (Lupo), Stephen Greif (Donato), Tim McInnery (The Doge), Charlie Cox (Giovanni Bruni), Natalie Dormer (Victoria), Helen McCrory (Casanova's Mother)
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish); Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 / DVD Release Date: April 25, 2006 / Sneak Peeks: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Annapolis, Shopgirl, anti-DVD piracy, Goal: The Dream Begins, An Unfinished Life, Shadows in the Sun/Everything You Want, "TV on DVD", Disney's cable soap opera channel SoapNet, and "Grey's Anatomy" on ABC

Everybody knows a rounder (I myself can think of at least one). Based very loosely on the memoirs of the 17th century's most notorious charmer (the real guy never permanently ended his affairs for one woman), Casanova presents the story with a twist that seems original at first. Upon more thought, however, this story has been told before. Sienna Miller plays heroine Francesca Bruni, a very early feminist who pens pamphlets concerning women's rights (with a section on corset burning) under a male pen name, cross-dresses at times, and has excellent sword fighting skills, all while maintaining an immaculate wardrobe and coiffure. Francesca is also plagued with a portly and none-too-appealing fiancé whom she is obliged to marry in order to preserve her family's rank. Casanova (Heath Ledger), who has up until now devoted his time pursuing giggling (and easy) girls sees Francesca, disguised as a man, nonetheless, and decides immediately that she is the one and only love of the life, even though she refuses to give him the time of day. Reminding you of any other period romances yet? If you like this sort of thing (and I generally do), there are many delights to be had. However, the amount of plot holes and loose ends, as well as a horrendous aging job on one of the male characters, puts a damper on an otherwise likeable, yet underwhelming film.

Francesca enjoys the view from a hot air balloon, while Casanova's attentions are drawn elsewhere. Jeremy Irons is playing the wrong Disney villain! (He's Scar, not Frollo!) Being bald must be cool...in Australia!

Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and enhanced for 16x9 television, the transfer does an overall exceptional job at displaying the grandeur of 17th century Venice, although there are a few moments of fuzziness. There are no complaints, however, with the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack which does an excellent job of presenting the upbeat musical score while at the same time making sure the dialogue isn't lost. The bonus features, which at first sound like they have a lot to offer, are actually quite lightweight. In the making-of featurette entitled "Creating an Adventure" (12:50), the cast and crew look back at the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Venice. The viewer is also "treated" to a glimpse of a rather goonish-looking Heath Ledger, who sports a buzz cut and an earring in each ear. Broken up into segments that spend mere seconds on each main character, "Dressing In Style" (5:18) takes a look at the 18th century fashions that were created for the film, as well as the preparation of many extras for the ball scene. One extended sequence is included. At 5½ minutes, it shows Casanova and Francesca taking on parts as actors in order to disguise themselves, while at the same time developing their relationship. "Visions of Venice" (3:50) focuses a bit more on the filming location by glorifying the romantic setting and makes no note concerning the musty smell which I am told is abundant in the area. The final feature is an audio commentary with director Lasse Hallestrom, who continues the trend of praising the film's Venetian location, but does so with many pauses throughout his one-sided conversation.

UD Rating: ¾ out of 5

Buy Casanova on DVD from Amazon.com

Related Reviews: The VillageThe Lion KingThe Hunchback of Notre DameFinding NeverlandProof

106 Minutes / Rating: R / Theatrical Release Date: October 21, 2005
Director: Anand Tucker
Cast: Steve Martin (Ray Porter), Claire Danes (Mirabelle), Jason Schwartzman (Jeremy), Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (Lisa Cramer), Sam Bottoms (Dan Buttersfield), Frances Conroy (Catherine Buttersfield), Rebecca Pidgeon (Christie Richards) 2:35:1 Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish); Subtitles (French, Spanish); Closed Captioned
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish); Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: April 25, 2006 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99

Those who watch Shopgirl expecting the fresh and witty romantic comedy advertised on the back of the DVD case might be a bit disappointed, while others may possibly be pleasantly surprised. The film, based on Steve Martin's 2000 novella of the same title follows the affairs of 20-something Mirabelle Buttersfield (Claire Danes), a part-time artist and full-time sales clerk at the glove counter of a Los Angeles-based Saks 5th Avenue department store. Living in a low-grade apartment, completely alone except for an infrequently-appearing cat named Sylvia and barely able to afford the minimum monthly payment on her college loans, Mirabelle leads a monotonous and lonely existence. Then, two male figures enter her life. There is Jeremy Kraft, an over-the-top eccentric (portrayed very greasily by Jason Schwartzman) who lacks any sort of male chivalry and believes that Jiffy bags are a good substitution for prophylactics. There is also the wealthy (and rather elderly) Ray Porter (Steve Martin), who treats Mirabelle like a queen but doesn't want a serious relationship. The final choice in male companion is fairly predictable, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who, while watching, felt that Mirabelle just might have been better off with neither. Steve Martin, while suave in his own way, comes off a little too much as a creepy older gentleman, while Jeremy, for the majority of the movie, is downright apalling.

Although quirkiness ensues at times (mainly having to do with the oddness of Jeremy), there is more drama than comedy. Even before listening to the commentary, one gets the idea that it was filmed very carefully and and is consciously artistic. It doesn't take much to notice that all shades of the color green play an important role in the film (apparently to some extent coinciding with Mirabelle's feeling of loneliness), as well as the less frequent splattering of red (passion). For the most part, this works, even if its meticulousness in design creates some difficulty in settling into the style.

Maybe Claire Danes reminds Steve Martin of his granddaughter. Peace, man ok. Director Anand Tucker has beautiful hair. For a lady!

The movie is presented in 2:35:1 widescreen and the muted tones of the color scheme are presented nicely. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound is also employed and while there is some reinforcement from the rear speakers, it is not a movie where that is an entirely noticeable occurance.

Bonus features are few but relatively substantial. "Evolution of a Novella: The Making of Shopgirl" (21:44) is the best offering. It features interviews with cast and crew alike and focuses mostly on the novella's transformation to screenplay (which was also written by Steve Martin). The most interesting relevation here is that Mirabelle originally worked at Neiman Marcus and was changed in the film because the Saks 5th Avenue public relations crew approached the filmmakers asking to be involved (I can imagine some money was involved in that decision). The two deleted scenes when played together total up to just over six minutes (6:07, to be exact) and are unimportant additions, but with the paltry amount of extras included they are nice to have. Director Anand Tucker is the only person presented in the audio commentary. He is definitely good at talking for long amounts of time and giving out valuable information without many gaps. Nevertheless, some insight from the actors, Steve Martin especially, would also have been welcome.

The disc opens with trailers for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Annapolis, and Casanova, as well as the awesome anti-pirated DVDs ad. From the menu, there is access to the Eight Below trailer and spots for TV on DVD, "Grey's Anatomy": Season 1, the amazing Shadows in the Sun/Everything You Want duo, and "Gilmore Girls" on ABC Family.

For those expecting to lie back and enjoy another thoughtless romantic comedy, Shopgirl might not be the best choice. Even so, it is not without its merits. Its attempt to be artistic is less than subtle, but the storytelling is solid and the movie itself is worth a rental if not a buy. Fans may not be altogether content with the small amount of bonus features included, but with the number of barebone DVDs released, the selection here might leave some things to be desired but at least not everything.

UD Rating: ¼ out of 5

Buy Shopgirl on DVD from Amazon.com

Related Reviews: Father of the Bride: 15th Anniversary Special EditionThe Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouFantasia 2000
Grey's Anatomy: Season 1The Princess Diaries 2: Royal EngagementBride & PrejudiceCarolinaLady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition

84 Minutes / Rating: PG / Theatrical Release Date (Canada Only): February 24, 2006
Director: Robert Vince
Cast: Chris Potter (Mike Muggins), Emma Roberts (Amelia Muggins), Richard Kind (Dr. Farley), Musetta Vander (Dr. Amour), Pat Morita (Kiro), Debra Jo Rupp (Edith), Barry Bostwick (President)
1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French); Subtitles: English, French; Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99 / DVD Release Date: April 11, 2006 / Sneak Peeks: The Little Mermaid, Cars, Eight Below, Brother Bear 2, Air Buddies, Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest, Leroy & Stitch, The Shaggy Dog

A 2003 production that made a limited theatrical debut in Canada just two months ago, Spymate comes to most viewers for the first time on DVD, a path that feels more appropriate. The film opens with a flashback to the glory days of Mike Muggins (Chris Potter), an ex-spy who was famously partnered with Secret Agent Minkey, who happens to be a chimpanzee. Nowadays, Mike's in the business of parenthood, where his genius young daughter Amelia (Emma Roberts, niece to the Pretty Woman herself) has made a revolutionary scientific discovery. That's all the set-up info that's given and it's all that's needed. The narrative cuts to the chase: Amelia is kidnapped by a mad scientist (Richard Kind of "Spin City" fame) in need of her knowledge. Disappointingly, the caper isn't at all related to her father's spy-work of yesteryear, but it does mean that Mike and Minkey have to suit up and return to action in order to save the young Ms. Muggins.

Amelia is slow to catch on to her own kidnapping. Richard ain't so Kind in Spymate! The main menu is rather thematic, employing some basic animation and catchy music.

As you might imagine, Spymate is a pretty silly affair. It borrows heavily from spy kid flicks like Agent Cody Banks and, well, Spy Kids, as well as kid/monkey comedies such as Monkey Trouble and Dunston Checks In but eludes their appeal. Despite having no real human-like qualities (one bizarre song-and-dance scene notwithstanding), all the characters interact with Minkey as if he actually is an anthropomorphic spy, a set-up that lends itself to corny scripts and poor acting, both of which are problematic here. Roberts is apparently supposed to be the star, though Potter and Kind get as much screen time; and despite being the one character who should stand out, Minkey the monkey doesn't do much or even really factor into the story beyond cutesy (yet annoying) monkey-make-noise, monkey-punch-face gags. Highlights in the acting department come from Kind, a cameo from his "Spin City" mayoral co-star, Barry Bostwick, and "That 70's Show"'s Debra Jo Rupp, who plays Muggins' comical crime-fighting office assistant.

The movie's treatment on DVD is extremely standard: a 16x9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track both serve aptly with no major complaints. The surround sound is actually even pretty dynamic, though a little light on the bass. The lone bonus feature is a behind-the-scenes piece (7:10) which really should be titled, "How'd That Monkey Do That?" It doesn't amount to much, but should please the movie's fans. There won't be too many of those, of course, but young viewers may find something to like in this action-comedy. Just make sure they've seen the aforementioned shining examples of its ilk first.

UD Rating: out of 5

Buy Spymate on DVD from Amazon.com

Related Reviews: The Barefoot ExecutiveMonkeys, Go Home!The Misadventures of Merlin Jones
Kim Possible Movie: So the DramaToby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a CircusLt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.

Roundup posted April 23, 2006.

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