DVD Gift Guide 2008 at the Seattle P-I

My DVD Gift Guide, a very brief survey of the biggest and coolest DVDs for the folks on your Christmas list, was published in the Seattle P-I today. This isn’t a “Best of the Year” list, mind your, nor is it comprehensive, as it was limited by space and by deadline (a lot of worthy titles just weren’t available for review by press time). Given that, here is a thumbnail sketch of a few titles I’d recommend for Christmas.

Blockbusters

Pixar’s magnificent, magical “WALL-E” is one of the best films of the year and one of the most wonderful special-edition DVD releases, with activities for kids and lovingly made behind-the-scenes featurettes for everyone else. If there’s a superhero buff on your Christmas list, the special-edition releases of “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” (not to mention alt-hero adventure “Hancock”) are very cool, and “The Dark Knight” is due out next week in a deluxe edition. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” isn’t the best of the series, but completists will want this bookend. “Sex and the City: The Movie” is the chick flick answer to action-movie overkill. On the more cerebral side, Oscar winners “No Country for Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” and nominees “Into the Wild,”Gone Baby Gone” and (for the Dylan fan in the mix) “I’m Not There” are the kinds of gifts that keep on giving.

"My Blueberry Nights" - a deliriously romantic cult film for the art movie crowdThe cult and the cool

For kids who are too hip for Disney and adults with a taste for the offbeat, think about “Juno.” The feel-good film of pregnant teenager comedies was the indie hit of 2007 and a terrific little DVD. Wong Kar-wai’s English language debut, “My Blueberry Nights,” and Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall,” a vividly visual phantasmagoria of an adventure fantasy, found small but passionate followings. The Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski,” the king of modern cult films, is back in an anniversary edition that pays tribute to its fans, and there’s a new director’s cut of Alex Proyas’ 1998 sci-fi noir “Dark City.” There’s both classic and kitsch in “The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection Volumes 1 & 2,” including the 1957 “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Tim Burton’s animated musical “The Nightmare Before Christmas” comes with plenty of supplements, but the selling point of the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” is an exclusive foot-high bust of Jack Skellington: movie with accompanying conversation piece.

Other sections focus on classics, foreign  films, TV sets and Blu-ray releases.

Read the complete piece here.

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”).

Continue reading “DVD of the Week – ‘WALL•E’ – November 18, 2008”

New Reviews: ‘WALL•E,’ ‘Wanted’ and ‘My Winnipeg’

WALL•E (dir: Andrew Stanton)

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.jpg
The little robot that could cradles the revival of life on earth

WALL•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. Continue reading “New Reviews: ‘WALL•E,’ ‘Wanted’ and ‘My Winnipeg’”