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‘Circo’ explores circus life; Haunted Hills provides spooky laughs

‘Circo’ explores circus life; Haunted Hills provides spooky laughs
Oct. 3, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
Three new DVDs are in this week’s review column.
Circo

This outstanding documentary takes the viewer inside a world that is familiar, yet very foreign — the circus.
Specifically, in this case, a small Mexican circus run by a family and dedicated to preserving a lifestyle that is daunting and yet oddly poetic.
Director Aaron Schock followed one such circus as they criss-crossed through small villages. The Ponce family is a group of multi-generational circus performers with all the members taking multiple roles in the show. They set up the tents, feed the animals and perform a wide variety of acts.
Their life is a hardscrabble one and Tito, who runs the show for his father who owns it, clearly enjoys the challenges and embraces the traditions. His wife, though, is tired of the pittance they receive out of the profits and wants their children to live in a home, go to school and have more conventional jobs.
There is one scene in which a member of the troupe lifts a wire up into an electrical line to steal electricity for their stay in town. The dangerous act shows the level of dedication or desperation in this family.
Great documentaries can take a subject so removed from our daily lives and present it in away that is absolutely compelling. This is a great documentary.
The special features include the family reacting to a screening of the finished film and an update on their life in the circus.
Elvira’s Haunted Hills

This 2001 horror comedy starring Cassandra Peterson as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is a pretty funny and competently made spoof of the Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe movies and I’m glad to see it re-issued on DVD.
What makes this new edition worth watching is not only the film itself, but also the newly taped look back on the film’s production by Peterson, her cast and director Sam Irwin.
Made in Romania, where their budget could stretch further, the new documentary spins a tale much more horrifying than any scene in the movie. The new commentary track adds more even details – many of them hilarious — to the making-of yarn.
Elvira is a showgirl who by accident winds up at the spooky old mansion that is the home of Lord Vladimere Hellsubus, played with hammy intensity by Richard O’Brien, the creator of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the man who played Riff Raff in that film. O’Brien approximates Vincent Price at his hammiest.
Elvira happens to be the spitting image of the lord’s dead wife and that proves not to be a good coincidence for our heroine.
Horror fans should enjoy the inside jokes this affectionate send-up offers.
Happy Endings: The First Complete Season

Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and it seems to be that since “Friends” damn near made television history, TV viewers have been barraged with hopefully clever sitcoms involving a group of good looking young people trying to make sense out of their jobs and relationships.
“Happy Endings” involves Dave (Zachery Knighton) who has broken up with his fiancée Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), but is still friends with her — yes, that’s realistic. Alex’s Yuppie sister Jane (Eliza Coupe) is married to Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.). Dave has a roommate who is both gay and a slob played by Adam Polly and everyone is friends with Penny, (Casey Wilson) who is looking for love.
So you can see the creators of this show have cleverly put together a hopeful love story, an interracial couple, a gay guy and an on-the-prowl girl in order to bounce off comedic ideas. Does it work like “Friends?”
Like “Friends,” it’s hard to believe all of these bright beautiful people actually work and try to survive in the big city. There is no grounding of the comedy that would help make the characters a bit more believable.
For instance, in one show Penny discovers that when she is really drunk, she can speak and understand Italian, which helps her out with her new Italian boy friend. That’s a sort of funny concept on paper that really doesn’t hold up in execution.
Unlike other such sitcoms that strive to be like “Friends,” “Happy Endings” is at least occasionally funny.

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