Gift Guide Goodies: ‘Band of Brothers/The Pacific Special Edition Gift Set’

In lieu of a traditional gift guide this season, I’ll be spotlighting deluxe editions and special releases as they roll out through the holiday gift season. We begin with…

Band of Brothers/The Pacific Special Edition Gift Set (HBO) pairs up the two acclaimed HBO World War II mini-series on DVD and Blu-ray.

After “Saving Private Ryan” in a single mission, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks teamed up to produce a chronicle of the European theater of WWII from a soldier’s eye view on a vast canvas. The resulting ten-hour 2001 mini-series Band of Brothers won six Emmy Awards (out of 19 nominations) and is, simply put, one of the most powerful and entrancing portraits of men in war ever put on screen. Shot in same khaki and gray tones and combat staccato flicker of “Ryan,” as if viewed through the adrenaline-enhanced fear and hyper-alert eyes of a soldier under fire, it captures the texture of battle, the dynamics of platoon life, the wear of fatigue and experience, and the sudden bursts that break a lull, like a lightning attack or a deadly volley of bombs.

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DVD of the Week – ‘WALL•E’ – November 18, 2008

An animated robot love story with an environmental theme and a slapstick delivery, WALL•E is a charmer of a film and a delightful piece of storytelling. Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) with the animation wizards at Pixar, it takes on the challenge of delivering an animated feature that is predominantly wordless (and even some of those used are closer to sound effects than dialogue) and succeeds with both creative humor and visual grace.

walle.jpgWALL•E is a little mobile trash compactor who putters around a junked and abandoned Earth, sharing his days with a skittering cockroach and finding his pleasures in the little treasures he scavenges from his loads.

The nervous little guy has evolved a personality over the centuries, which makes his isolation all the more poignant as he pines for someone (something?) to hold hands (or whatever you call his clamp-like digits) with. And so he falls in love with a sleek, specimen-gathering pod named Eve and follows her back to her ship, becoming one of those unlikely heroes whose pluck and perseverance overcome impossible odds.

With its long, wordless scenes and mix of slapstick gags and delicate mechanical dances, it doesn’t look or feel like your usual animated feature by Pixar or anyone else, at least until WALL•E finds himself with the physically inert future of the human race. It’s almost like two movies cut together, one with the robots and a somewhat more obvious and less magical one with the fat and complacent mankind willingly bound to a luxury liner spaceship.

The mechanical heroes are more expressive and more engaging than the tubby humans, solely through the mechanics of robot eyes and body language and a symphony of beeps and whistles. If it reminds you of a certain little iconic robot from a hit space opera epic, it’s no coincidence. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt not only does the audio honors here, he’s credited as the voice of WALL•E.

Adults will pick up on a social satire in the portrait of a sedentary population lulled to distraction by a non-stop stream of media signals and small talk while the kids won’t miss the message of ecological responsibility, but the bright gags and childlike expressions of robot affection are so joyous that you can be completely charmed without even noticing the themes.

The DVD release includes two bonus animated shorts – the hilarious Presto (a daffy battle of wits between a stage magician and the rabbit which played before the film in theaters) and the new BURN*E (which takes place in the margins of  WALL•E’s odyssey) – but if you want to want to learn why Pixar creates such magic, explore the supplements: the commentary by director Andrew Staunton, the superb “Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from The Sound Up” (a journey through the technical wizardry and artistic creativity behind the magnificent sound design hosted by Oscar winner Ben Burtt) and the deleted scenes with Staunton explaining the hows and whys. There’s much more on the “Special Edition” releases…

Read the rest of it at my DVD column on MSN here.

Also new and notable this week: The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus Collector’s Edition. And now for something completely different: all 45 episodes of the perhaps the most influential, and almost certainly the funniest, sketch comedy show in the history of TV. A bearded and bedraggled Michael Palin croaks the famous “It’s…,” the “Liberty Bell March” chimes in with the theme song, and for thirty minutes five overeducated British comics (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) and an American illustrator (Terry Gilliam) deliver the strangest, most absurd collection of skits to ever emanate from a TV tube. Monty Python rewrote the rules of television comedy and provided some of the most loved comic bits of all time: the Dead Parrot sketch, the Funniest Joke in the World, Nudge Nudge, the classic sing-a-long The Lumberjack Song, The Spanish Inquisition, Argument Clinic, The Cheese Shop, Olympic Hide and Seek Final, and the ever-popular Robin Hood-turned social economist Dennis Moore (“This redistribution of the wealth is trickier than I thought”).

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