How to Spend $20
By Kim Hollis
February 17, 2009

The cool kids never use umbrellas.

Welcome to How to Spend $20, BOP's look at the latest DVDs to hit stores nationwide. This week: it's an all-dancing, all-singing edition of the column! Special guest stars include Russ Crowe, Chuck Palahniuk, Angelina Jolie, and the Cloverfield monster.

Pick of the Week

For people who frequently find themselves breaking out into song and dance routines in the middle of a busy day: High School Musical 3: Senior Year

You read that right. Eric isn't here this week, and that means that I get to make any movie I want my Pick of the Week. And if you complain about it, I'm going to come back next week and recommend a slate of Pokemon films, whether they're new releases or not.

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, HBO started airing a little movie called Grease numerous times every week. This movie musical was set in a 1950s high school, and featured people who looked a lot older than high school age, but whatever, because John Travolta could sure sing, couldn't he? And Jeff Conaway was sort of cute in a really old dude kind of way. I would estimate that I saw Grease 54 times over the three years that followed, and to this day I know every line, every song, and every little nuance, assuming that such a film has nuances.

Why did I just share this little vignette? It's to show that adult me completely understands the reasons that tweens and teens might obsess over the High School Musical series of films. Of course they're ludicrous, unrealistic and cloying, but none of that matters when you're 12- or 13-years-old. And frankly, adult me thinks that it's the ridiculous aspect of these movies that somehow turns them into something utterly charming and watchable. When I watch the High School Musical movies, that teenage girl locked up inside of me bursts out and remembers how much I loved singing along to all kinds of movie musicals. I grant that HSM and its sequels are never going to be mistaken for such classics as Cabaret, Oklahoma, South Pacific or Singin' in the Rain. I maintain that the movies' hearts (if films can have hearts) are in the right place, and mean to be nothing more than a bit of fluffy escapism. I'll be renting HSM3 and chortling at the silliness of it all, but I bet that at least one of the songs sticks with me. This is the stuff that camp is made of, and really, if The Rocky Horror Picture Show can become a cult classic, why not High School Musical?

For people who think that maybe Ridley Scott needs to stop working with Russell Crowe for a little while: Body of Lies

On paper, Body of Lies sounded like it should have been solid entertainment, and a potential awards-bait film. Three-time Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott was at the helm, and his two primary stars were Russell Crowe (Academy Award winner) and Leonardo DiCaprio (a three-time nominee). The screenplay was by William Monahan, who knocked it out of the park and won an Oscar for The Departed. It was based on a fairly popular novel by David Ignatius. And it looked like it could be a pretty decent thriller set around the world of terrorism prevention.

The sum of Body of Lies wound up being much less than its parts, however. Or at least that's what I'm told by an awful lot of critics. Body of Lies sits at only 51% fresh at RottenTomatoes, and it was more or less ignored at the box office after finishing in third place during its opening weekend (losing out to Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Quarantine, a movie we'll get to in a bit).

Still, DVD is a place where underperformers like this one can thrive, particularly given the names attached. I'm sure I'll be renting it at some point, as I'm a pretty devoted fan of DiCaprio. I'm sure it's not his best outing, but I'm a bit of a completionist where certain actors are concerned.

For you freaky fans of Chuck Palahniuk. You know who you are. And what I'm talking about: Choke

I really don't know what to say about Choke. I'm not a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's books. In fact, I almost actively dislike them but I think there are redeemable qualities that keep me from going that far. Thus, I was quite ambivalent about the prospect of an adaptation of Choke, not because I cared one way or another about the novel, but rather because it starred the great Sam Rockwell and was written and directed by Clark Gregg (the guy who played Calvin Trager on Sports Night. For those of you who don't read this site regularly, our annual awards are named after that character. We like Clark Gregg).

Unfortunately, the Palahniuk is all too strong in this film. It's weird, sometimes unwatchable and offensive for no good reason. I want to say that I really hated the movie, but there are a lot of things going on that are actually quite good and deserving of praise. Rockwell is absolutely terrific as a guy who shouldn't be likable at all. And Gregg himself has a pretty nice supporting role. The most honest thing I can say here is that it's not a movie for everyone. It's probably not for many people. But I do think there are people who will really like it, so if you think a movie about a sex-addicted guy who works at a historical park and visits his mother in a nursing home might be for you, well, give it a shot.

For people who think that Angelina Jolie has enough children that she probably wouldn't miss one or two of them: Changeling

Most critics seem to be in agreement that Changeling isn't one of director Clint Eastwood's better outings. The complaints seem to come from the fact that the story is told in a very black and white fashion, which disappoints viewers who are used to seeing Eastwood work more in shades of gray.

Many of those same reviewers commented that Angelina Jolie didn't give the best performance of her career here, either. That didn't stop her from getting an Academy Award nomination, though I'm sure it will be quite a shocker if she does manage to win a second statue for her collection on Sunday.

Now that Changeling is available on DVD, it gives a wide audience a chance to determine their own opinion about the film. I know that for myself, I skipped the movie in theaters after reading reviews and hearing friends comment about it. I think it's probably DVD rental-worthy, though.

For the Cloverfield Monster, who's a little ticked that someone seems to have stolen his shtick: Quarantine

A masterful marketing campaign helped propel Quarantine to a terrific $14.2 million opening and an eventual $36 million take, which is all pretty fantastic news for Screen Gems when you consider that the horror film had a $12 million budget. A movie that presented itself as "found footage" that comes out as the result of a TV reporter and her cameraman trapped in an apartment building that is quarantined by the CDC. It seems people have come down with a little virus that turns them into killers. Perhaps someone should have given Alice from Resident Evil a call.

I've been bored with horror films lately, but this is one I'm willing to give a chance. It feels different and fresh even though it's borrowed just about every element from some other film. I guess it's just nice to not see more slasher flicks or torture porn.

February 17, 2009
Body of Lies (2008)
Body of Lies (2-Disc Special Edition) (2008)
Changeling (2008)
Choke (2008)
Dead Like Me: Life After Death (2008)
Feast III: The Happy Finish (2008)
Flash of Genius (2008)
High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Extended Edition) (2008)
High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Widescreen) (2008)
Hobson's Choice (Criterion Collection) (1954)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008)
I Served the King of England (2006)
Midnight Meat Train (Director's Cut) (2008)
Mr. Average (2006)
One Long Night (2007)
Palo Alto, CA (2007)
Quarantine (2008)
Religulous (2008)
Screamers: The Hunting (2009)
Still Waiting... (2008)
Touch the Top of the World (2006)