Tattoo Girls


Woman, circa 2018

(2018) Documentary (Green Box) Agata Wisniewska, Katarzyna Stawczyk, Kasia Dominiak, Katarzyna Hubinska, Marta Bochenek, Patrycja Jachymek, Agnieszka Powlowska. Directed by Miguel Gaudêncio

 

It has never been particularly easy to be  a woman and that has never been more true than in 2018. Often they are treated as objects and yet so much is expected of them. Guys can throw on a shirt and pants, glide a stick of deodorant under their arms and flounce out the doors. We would be aghast if women did the same thing.

All of the subjects in Tattoo Girls (and there are seven of them) have tattoos but that is not necessarily who they are. In fact, this really isn’t about the ink at all – this is not about biker chicks with Mohawks and piercings showing off body art to loud heavy metal, or thrash music. These are everyday women who chose to have tattoos as a means of self-expression and not all of the tats are easily visible.These are not alt-girls making a statement with body art; rather these are seven ordinary women in various walks of life – teachers, fashion designers, morticians and students – who are just getting on with things in the Polish city of Szczecin, a city of nearly half a million people on the banks of the river Oder.

We are shown bits and pieces of the daily lives of these women; women at work, women at rest, women exercising, women socializing. There is nothing especially extraordinary on a comparable level – these are just women getting about things as they do all over the world, every day of the week. This is clearly a slice of life, but one demarcated with a variety of aerial shots of Szczecin, taken I assume with a drone. They’re actually quite fascinating although after nearly two hours they begin to wear a little thin.

The women aren’t identified until the closing credits which means you’re watching people without knowing their names. As the dialogue is mostly in Polish with subtitles, that makes it a little hard attaching a name to a face which tends to depersonalize the subjects. Of course, that may be the director’s intention – turn the women into everywomen – but for those of us who want to feel some sort of bond with the subjects it is frustrating.

This is beautifully shot, from the various scenes with the women going about their lives (and Szczecin is a beautiful subject one must admit) to the sometimes breathtaking aerial shots, this feels almost hypnotic, like ambient trance music. I would almost recommend watching this on a rainy day, preferably in comfortable clothes with a glass of wine close at hand.

If I had a real beef, it’s that all of the women are essentially in a certain age group, from college age to early middle age. I’m not sure why there weren’t women of an older demographic included in the film but I suppose wrinkles and grey hair aren’t nearly as photogenic…or perhaps women of a certain age aren’t interesting.

In a year when women are standing up worldwide to patriarchal attitudes and making it clear in no uncertain terms that things must change, this film makes a compelling accompaniment. All the women here take on traditional feminine roles – creators, nurturers, teachers – without appearing to lose anything in the process. If this is what it means to be a woman in 2018, then it’s easy to see that the future of femininity is in safe hands.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography is beautiful; even the aerial shots are works of art. The girls are very real and highly watchable.
REASONS TO STAY: The editing seems a bit arbitrary. There is a definite lack of context.
FAMILY VALUES: This is suitable for the entire family.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sobel was based in Qatar for five years producing pieces for CNN, the Guardian and other news outlets; this allowed him to gain extraordinary access to the laborers and the camps.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Realeyz, Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/10/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Day in the Life
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Would You Like to Be My Neighbor?

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56 Up


Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

(2012) Documentary (First Run) Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker. Directed by Michael Apted and Paul Almond (archival footage)

In 1964, director Paul Almond along with a young researcher named Michael Apted who went on to a successful directing career interviewed fourteen 7-year-old children from around England (mostly the London area) from differing social circumstances. The interviews consisted of the hopes and dreams of the children; what they thought their lives would turn out to be. The television show that resulted in these interviews became a wild success in British and was made a feature film that received a great deal of acclaim here in the United States.

Every seven years since then Apted would return to chat with the fourteen subjects (Peter Davies dropped out after 28 Up in 1985 but returns in time for the newest installment, ostensibly to promote his band the Good Intentions and Charles Furneaux dropped out of the series after 21 Up in 1978 to pursue his own documentary career). Remarkably, all 14 have reached middle age with varying degrees of comfort.

The initial series was supposed to be a commentary on the British class system. What it has become is something else entirely. It has become much more of a personal study, looking at the individuals and how their lives have progressed.

Few lives have been as poignant as that of Neil Hughes. He has skirted on the edge of society, on occasions being homeless. There are certainly demons there; he is asked point blank about his sanity and reflects that he has received some sort of therapy although he doesn’t elaborate. He often seems melancholy, as if disappointed by his own experiences and in where his life has gone. None who saw the ebullient young Neil in Seven Up! and Seven plus Seven Up would have predicted this. In 56 Up he is on a town public works council in Cambria (he seems to prefer Britain’s north) and has become an Anglican canon where he gets to do just about everything a priest does. While he doesn’t seem completely satisfied with his life, he at least seems to be more sanguine than he’s been in recent years.

It is hard to ignore the incidence of divorce in the lives of these kids. While some have been blessed with long marriages (some rocky – Tony Walker dealt with his own infidelity but he and his wife managed to work things out without divorcing) five of the kids have been divorced at least once with one having never married (Neil).

Their lives have turned out quite a bit differently than they would have predicted I think. At 56 the gaze is turning more to the past than the future; ahead lies retirement and grandchildren (some of them are already enjoying the latter) and at this time of life one becomes more or less resigned if not content with one’s position in life or at the very least accepting of it.

These movies are a bit of a mixed blessing. They are fascinating on the one hand to see the progression of life from youth to middle age but these are mere snapshots. It’s like taking a Polaroid of a life and extrapolating from it. As Nick Hitchon, now teaching electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin says that this “is not an absolutely accurate picture (of me) but it’s the picture of somebody and that’s the value of it.”

It is not for me to judge a life and in some ways we are forced to do just that in viewing this. We become as voyeurs, making opinions of these lives and passing judgment on those who have lived them and while that’s inevitable, it’s also something to be resisted. Keep in mind that we are seeing these people through interviews that last approximately six hours out of seven years. We really aren’t getting to know them as people, just the surface facts. And for some of them, it is more compelling than it is for others.

This is a fairly long movie (about two hours) and it can be tedious in places. There is certainly a value to these movies – this was reality television before there was reality television – but it isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. If all you want out of a movie is to be taken out of your own life and transported to more exciting and wonderful places, this isn’t going to do much for you. But those who look to find insight into their own lives by seeing the lives of others will find much value here.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating, particularly if you’ve been following the series for 49 years.

REASONS TO STAY: Not every life is interesting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of foul language but that’s about it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The series began on British television and continues there to this day; it is in the United States that a compilation has been released as a feature film for almost every installment.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100; the documentary got outstanding reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 49 Up

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jack the Giant Slayer

Cold Weather


Cold Weather(2010) Mystery (IFC) Chris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon, Jeb Pearson, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler, Katy Rothert, Paul Rothert, Jerry Moyer, Virgil L. Howell, Barry Seltzer, Orianna Herrmann, Elliott Glick, Joshua Locy. Directed by Aaron Katz

In Portland (the one in Oregon) it rains a lot. The weather is often a misty rain-soaked grey that carries a chilly hint of the northwest.  A lot of hipsters live in Portland; a lot of young people who work menial or arts-oriented jobs trying to get a handle on who they are as they transition from being teens to being adults. There’s a lot of energy there when the rain and the grey don’t weigh it down and waterlog it.

Doug (Lankenau) has just moved to Portland from Chicago. He is living there with his sister Gail (Dunn) in a small apartment. He works at an ice plant moving bags of ice all day with his friend Carlos (Castillo). Doug is a Sherlock Holmes fan, so much so that he has taken to smoking a pipe and had plans to be a detective at one time, going to college to study Forensics but eventually dropping out for reasons undisclosed.

Doug’s former girlfriend Rachel (Rikoon) comes to town and spends time with Doug, Carlos and Gail. Carlos becomes sweet on her. Asks her out on a date. Gets stood up. Looks for Rachel to get an explanation. Rachel is nowhere to be found. Carlos freaks out. Asks Doug, the forensics expert of the group, to investigate.

And that’s it in a nutshell. Katz is using kind of a mumblecore style here; the movie is not so much about the investigation into Rachel’s disappearance but more about how it affects the lives of the three left behind. The first third of the movie is more of a slacker diary, looking at the lives of these four people who have very little inertia in them. The dialogue is realistic for the people and place but at the end of the day they really do or say little of interest during that time.

When Rachel disappears the film picks up a little and not a moment too soon because quite frankly I was beginning to nod off. I’m all for slice of life films but those slices need to have some sort of meaning, some kind of insight for me. Something more than young people stuck in the current of life and not particularly interested or motivated to get out of the stream.

The performers are all unknowns and quite frankly don’t take the material and run with it. While I will grant you that the movie looks beautiful (particularly the scene at the waterfall, depicted above) and that the images of Portland rainfall are clever and artistic, I needed a bit more from the movie. Of course, I did see it late at night and I might have been too tired to really appreciate it so take all of this with a grain of salt – but I didn’t connect with the characters and I wasn’t captured by the story. Those are troubling results for a movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Hits the right notes on realism. Beautiful cinematography.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The performances are uninspiring. So low-key and dry that boredom could set in.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of language and some smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Aaron Katz’ first film as a director was Dance Party USA.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $141,358 on an unreported production budget; while it’s possible that it was profitable, it’s more likely that it broke even at best or lost money at worst..

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brick

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Memento

Intermission


 

Intermission
Colin Farrell unmasked.

(2003) Crime Comedy (IFC/MGM) Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Colm Meaney, Shirley Henderson, Bryan F. O’Byrne, Deirdre O’Kane, Kelly Macdonald, Neili Conroy, David Wilmot, John Rogan, Kerry Condon, Owen Roe, Tom Farrelly, Michael McElhatton, Ger Ryan. Directed by John Crowley

Some movies are referred to as “slices of life,” and that can be a two-edged sword. For one, most of us go to the movies to escape life. Seeing a slice of someone else’s can serve to remind us of the things we went to the movies to escape from in the first place. Still, when done right, slice of life movies can give you a great deal of insight into the things that are happening in your own life, and a little wisdom never hurts in that regard.

The movie opens with a charming young man named Lehiff (Farrell) flirting with a young convenience store clerk (Condon) in Dublin. However, things take a shocking turn and Lehiff winds up being chased by the police. Meanwhile, on a nearby bus, a dissatisfied grocery clerk named John (Murphy) commiserates with a dissatisfied bus driver named Mick (O’Byrne) and John’s equally dissatisfied co-worker and friend named Oscar (Wilmot). John has just broken up with his gorgeous girlfriend Deirdre (Macdonald) and Oscar is having no luck with the ladies at all.

Deirdre responds by getting into an affair with Sam (McElhatton), a married banker. Sam’s wife Noeleen (O’Kane) is devastated. John, Oscar and Deirdre wind up at a pub where older folks hang out; Oscar and Deirdre wind up hooking up. In the meantime, Deirdre’s sister Sally (Henderson), who has a noticeable mustache, lashes out at nearly everyone who crosses her path despite the best efforts of their mum (Ryan). When Deirdre brings her new boyfriend home to meet the family, Sally can’t hide her contempt. At last, when Sam is about to leave, she stops him. “You stay right there, I’ll go – there’s a stench of adultery in here.”

Lehiff, who is mates with both John and Mick, manages to convince the two of them to aid him in a kidnapping and bank robbery involving Sam, which of course John is more than happy to participate in. However, police detective Jerry Lynch (Meaney), a man with a Celtic soul if ever there was one, is trolling the mean streets of Dublin to bring hoodlums to justice. So what if his car gets stolen during a drug bust? Lynch is as tough as nails, and he doesn’t like scumbags like Lehiff much. As all these stories are getting told, it is inevitable that these lives are going to collide.

This is a comedy that is so dark that you find yourself laughing and cringing simultaneously at times. Crowley has assembled a tremendous cast and they respond with solid performances that vie with one another for your attention. In fact, some of the performances are so good they create a little bit of a problem; you get so interested in the storyline of that particular character that you find yourself getting annoyed when another character’s storyline takes over. In fact, it is interesting to note that Ferrell, clearly the biggest star of the bunch, is not missed when he’s offscreen. Murphy gets the lion’s share of the screen time. While he’s done a couple of high-profile villain roles (in Batman Returns and Red Eye) he might be remembered best as the hero in 28 Days Later; those who liked him in that part will not be unsatisfied with his performance here. Meaney, best known here as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek, is gruff and rough around the edges, and while he’s a bit on the hypermale side, he’s still charming enough to make the character fascinating.

Frankly, the women are given fairly short shrift here (although Henderson is marvelous as the nasty-tempered Sally), but I found O’Kane’s performance as Noeleen to be a cut above most of the rest. As a middle-aged woman who has the rug cut out from under her when her husband takes up with a younger, prettier woman, she finds herself exploring her own sexuality and it is to our surprise (and no doubt, hers) that she turns out to be fairly aggressive in the bedroom.

There are several running jokes throughout. Although most will remember the constant conceit of John and cohorts putting brown steak sauce into their tea (sounds terribly revolting), I was particularly fond of the vile little boy in a red jacket, whose only function here is to periodically come onscreen and do terrible things to the main characters.

One of the things I liked the most about the movie was it’s setting. This is not the city center of Dublin, but rather its outskirts and you get a real feel for how people live there. Da Queen, who spent some time in Dublin in her youth (on a student exchange program), looked for landmarks she could recognize but at last realized that she was far more interested in the story and its characters and kind of gave up on the landmark search.

Lest we forget, let me tell you about the soundtrack. There are a number of Irish institutions who contribute songs, including U2 and Clannad, but also Farrell himself sings a credible version of the Bobby Fuller classic “I Fought the Law.” There are a number of other wonderful tracks, including songs by Magnetic Fields, Spandau Ballet, Ron Sexsmith, Turin Brakes and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals.

This is one of those movies you sometimes rent on a lark and are pleasantly surprised. I didn’t know much about Intermission before I rented it, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Now I feel compelled to turn others onto this very enjoyable movie. If you’re looking to take a chance on a movie you’re not familiar with, this is a movie worth seeking out.

WHY RENT THIS: Enjoyable performances from Meaney, O’Kane and Murphy and an awesome soundtrack. An interesting slice of life from the outskirts of Dublin.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Farrell’s character is a little bit underdeveloped.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of sexuality and a lot of crude language. Some mature teenagers might find this enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want kids younger than that watching this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the feature film directing debut of Crowley.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4.9M on a $5M production budget. The movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Hereafter

Sunshine Cleaning


Sunshine Cleaning

Mary Lynn Rajskub and Emily Blunt share an awkward moment on an elevator.

(Overture) Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr., Jason Spevack, Paul Dooley, Eric Christian Olsen. Directed by Christine Jeffs

Life is a messy business, so you might as well get paid for cleaning up after it. At least, that’s the theory.

Rose (Adams) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet. She works as a maid in a low-rent New Mexico hotel, worries with a high-strung 7-year-old boy causing chaos in a public school that would just as soon see him drugged. She carries on an affair with Mac (Zahn) the high school quarterback who fathered her child then abandoned her to marry someone else.

It is Mac who gives her the idea to start up a new business when he mentions off-handedly that crime scene clean-up pays very well. With no idea what is involved in the disposal of blood, guts ‘n’ gore from a living space, she approaches the idea with moxie and spunk, roping her shiftless sister Norah (Blunt) into helping her out with the encouragement of her Dad (Arkin) who never met a get-rich-quick scheme he didn’t like – and that didn’t send him fleeing for the poorhouse.

Rose begins to feel that the job is a bit of a calling. Norah, who does her own thing (and it’s usually the wrong thing), becomes involved in the life of the daughter (Rajskub) of a client who had committed suicide, and in a somewhat awkward way as well. Norah is the polar opposite of the straitlaced, slightly anal Rose. Where one likes to plan, the other prefers spontaneity. Where one is ambitious, the other is a slacker. I’m sure you know which one is which.

Rose has issues of her own, however. She has an inferiority complex stemming from her high school years, when she was the cheerleader and the belle of the ball. Ashamed of her lowly station in life, her new business is giving her self-confidence for the first time since her glory days. Attending a baby shower at which many of her former schoolmates will be in attendance becomes nearly as important to her as getting her son into a private school. This leads to a disaster that could spell the end of nearly every one of Rose’s dreams, as well as her relationship with her sister.

The producers of this film have another movie to their credit to which they are anxious to compare this one to: Little Miss Sunshine. Unfortunately, all the two films really have in common is their New Mexico setting, the word “Sunshine” in their titles and Alan Arkin. This is, I think, meant to be a black comedy. I’m not really sure. Something tells me that the filmmakers aren’t either.

That’s not to say that this movie isn’t without its charms. Adams is an accomplished actress who delivers a nicely layered performance. She is at once the mousy maid who has been smacked around overly much by life, the efficient and organized boss, the enthusiastic lover and the compassionate friend, not to mention the fiercely defensive mom. For my money, it’s some of the Oscar-nominated actress’ best work ever, although it was sadly overlooked.

Blunt is a talented actress in her own right as well, and she gives a solid performance in a role that is not written as well as Rose is. I got the impression at times that some of the things Norah does to screw up are done merely to advance the story along. They don’t seem terribly organic with the character that is not as brainless as her actions seem to make out she is.

Arkin delivers his usual fine work in a role that has come to define him pretty much over the last several years; the crotchety but eccentric dad/granddad. It’s a role he’s been playing for a couple of decades now (you can see the germs of it in Edward Scissorhands) and he does it better than anybody.

I tend to have a soft spot for movies that show a side of real life that we don’t often get to see portrayed onscreen. Truthfully, I never wondered who cleaned up a murder scene after the forensics team leaves the scene but obviously somebody must. Roger Ebert mused that there was a documentary in this movie somewhere and he’s right; unfortunately, there’s also a better movie in here as well.

I’m a big believer in the theory that characters should drive the actions, not the other way around. A good movie will take a set of characters, plop them into a situation and then see what they make of it. A movie that has to resort to having a stock idiot character in the mix is suffering from lazy writing and in almost every case will be flawed and not nearly as good as it could have been.

It’s too bad that the movie wasn’t better written because it has a lot going for it. I like the premise, I like the setting, I like the acting, heck I even like the gruesome crime scenes. This is a movie that swayed between being a black comedy and a slice-of-life drama and winds up somewhere in-between in a no man’s land of indecision. It’s worth seeing for the performances of the leads, but only just.

WHY RENT THIS: Adams, Blunt and Arkin give solid performances. A twisted slice of real life served up in New Mexico, where movies don’t film often enough.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the imagery and subject matter is squirm-inducing. Norah is such a screw-up at times that you wonder if she was written that way just as a plot device.

FAMILY VALUES: Some very disturbing images not suitable for children; also there is a goodly amount of foul language as well as some drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the first two seasons of “The Office,” Adams played John Krasinski’s girlfriend. Blunt was Krasinski’s girlfriend in real life at the time of filming.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on the realities of crime scene cleaning with some people who do the job in real life.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: I Love You, Man

Duck Season


Duck Season

A lazy Sunday afternoon, and there's nothing to do.

(Warner Independent) Enrique Arreola, Daniel Miranda, Diego Cantano, Danny Perea, Carolina Politi. Directed by Fernando Eimbcke

When you are 14 years old, a single day can stretch out into an eternity of boredom, particularly on a Sunday afternoon with nothing in particular to do. Sometimes, a day can define you in ways you cannot conceive of.

Flama (Miranda) and his best friend Moko (Cantano) are stuck in the high-rise apartment in Mexico City where Flama lives with his mother (Politi). She is going out for the day and has left the two of them with a gallon of soda and enough money for a pizza. They proceed to divvy up the soda into two huge glasses and set about playing a soccer game on the X-Box.

The door knocks and it is Rita (Perea), the 16-year-old neighbor girl who needs to use their oven to bake a cake. The two boys are at first a bit reluctant but Rita pushes past their objections with the acerbic sharpness that only a 16-year-old girl can muster. The boys order their pizza, but when Ulises (Arreola) shows up at the door with their food, there is a dispute over whether he arrived in the allotted window of time before the pizza is free. He refuses to leave until he gets paid. The boys offer to play him at the X-Box game they’ve been playing with the winner getting the pizza money but the ending to even that wind up in dispute.

Rita’s cake is a disaster and she sensibly decides to bake brownies instead because they’re much easier. She adds a little extra something and away the quartet goes, flying high.

Flama’s mother is in the process of divorcing Flama’s father and Flama is unsure if he will remain with his mother in the apartment. In fact, the one thing that Flama is quite sure of is that his parents are far concerned with the distribution of their possessions than with Flama himself.

Reading the synopsis of the movie’s plot sounds like an exercise in boredom and to a certain extent, that’s what the movie is all about. Director Eimbcke, filming his first feature-length film, chooses to shoot in drab black and white which perfectly augments the mood and creates a tone of desperate boredom in the way that 14-year-olds get bored. This is very low key, which actually is part of what captures your attention.

The actors, mostly juveniles, do a marvelous job. All of them feel authentic for their age and social circumstance. These are upper middle class kids who have most of the comforts that middle class kids here in the States have, although conspicuous by its absence is the Internet. Still, despite the location and the language differences, this could easily have taken place in any big city in the United States as well. Sure, there are no action sequences and there really is no resolution to the movie. It’s just a day in the life and not a particularly interesting one, but all the same it is an important day, one that gives us a good deal of insight into not only Flama, Moko, Rita and Ulises but also into ourselves as well.

If I were reading this review, I’d probably choose to give this movie a pass which is more a function of my limited skills rather than of the merits of the movie. I’m not sure I adequately captured how enjoyable this movie is and how appealing the performances are. It has the right lilt of a Sunday afternoon at a time of life when you’re on the cusp of the best time of your life. It’s bittersweet, charming and ultimately gives you a glimpse back at your own adolescence. That’s a pretty good special effect right there.

WHY RENT THIS: Those who like slice of life movies will be thrilled with this one. The relationships and the characters feel very authentic. The black and white photography enhances the mood and the subject very nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There isn’t a great deal of action and the movie lacks inertia which I believe is the point – however, the attention span-challenged might find this difficult to watch.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of foul language, an unnerving but not graphic scene at a dog pound and some drug usage. I’m not sure why this got an “R” rating but quite frankly it didn’t deserve it. This is perfectly suitable for the young teens that are the subject of this movie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won 11 Ariel Awards, the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars. No other movie had won that many prior to Duck Season.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The International