DVD reviews
December 2009

 

 

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


Up

You practically have to rub onions in my eyes to make me cry during a movie, but the first 20 minutes of Up had me (and every other adult in the audience) reaching for the tissues. In a nearly dialogue-free sequence, it tells the love story of Carl Fredericksen (voiced by KCK native Ed Asner) and his wife, Ellie, from their childhood meeting to his lonely widowhood. Kids may not fully understand the significance of this passage, but it is equal parts sweet and heartbreaking for those who do get it.

This being a Pixar cartoon, however, the tone becomes much brighter as things move along.  Threatened with eviction from his home, Carl attaches thousands of balloons to it and lifts off to South America, hoping to make a trip he and Ellie never got around to. He has an unexpected passenger in Russell (Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Scout who offers to “help” the elderly traveler. Along the way, they meet an assortment of memorable characters, including a legendary explorer (Christopher Plummer) and his sweetly goofy golden retriever, Dug (co-director Bob Peterson).

The heavy emotional content seems out of place at first, but it gives a depth to the purely entertaining material that most animated films wouldn’t even attempt. Very few studios could make millions with a geriatric lead character and no crotch jokes, but leave it to Disney/Pixar to rake in the money AND create another beautiful classic.

Extras: Commentary by directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson; the shorts “Dug’s Special Mission” and “Partly Cloudy”; features on the fate of the villain and the filmmakers’ research; a digital copy; the Blu-Ray also contains several segments on design, character development and the musical score, plus interactive games and commentary features. (PG) Rating: 5 —LL


Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Documentaries about rock musicians tend to focus on how bands attained fame and fortune and then either blew it or regained their glory after arduous struggles, usually with substance abuse.

Yawn.

What’s so refreshing about Anvil: The Story of Anvil is that it focuses on a Toronto band named Anvil who have been playing for 30 years despite having no commercial success to show for it. Now in their early 50s, singer guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner perform when they can get time off from their day jobs and are raising families.

While they have devoted fans, who occasionally provide them with side jobs, their quest for wide recognition (and the cash that goes with it) lead them to take a disastrous tour through Europe where the band plays in front of non-existent crowds in huge arenas or gets stiffed after shows. Making things worse, Lips and Reiner behave like an old married couple, alternately feuding and making up on the same day, even during recording sessions.

Because of their horrendous luck, it’s tempting to call Anvil: The Story of Anvil, a real-life This is Spinal Tap, but this is totally unfair to the band and to what director Sacha Gervasi has accomplished with the film. Yes, much of the new documentary is as funny as the parody film. But whereas Spinal Tap is a broad parody of heavy metal silliness and excess, Anvil actually has talent.

During the film, heavyweight rockers like Slash and Lars Ulrich explain how Lips’ showmanship and Reiner’s distinctive drumming influenced their own bands and why their Canadian predecessors shouldn’t be dismissed. It should be added that these guys can still play with their youthful vigor even if they no longer look like young rock gods.

They also have moving personal stories. Reiner is the son of a Holocaust survivor, and Lips has spent his life trying to prove to his family that being a metalhead can be a viable way of life. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL


Star Trek

J.J. Abrams may be the bravest man alive. The admitted non-fan signed on to recharge the Star Trek franchise, risking not only the hostility of the series' die-hard devotees, but the indifference of those who think Han Solo was captain of the Enterprise. How could the guy hope to succeed?

By being incredibly clever. Teaming up with writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Abrams has found a way to tell the Enterprise crew's origin story without rehashing stale material or alienating those who know it all by heart. To avoid spoilers, let's just say it involves the kind of mind-bending time travel issues that Abrams loves to explore on his TV series Lost.

Chris Pine takes over for William Shatner as James T. Kirk, the cocky delinquent who learns to be a leader under fire. He's thrown into a confrontation with a crazed Romulan (Eric Bana), who has come from the future to seek revenge on Spock (Zachary Quinto). The explanation for all this is pretty lame, but it does provide an excuse to bring the older Spock into the story, allowing Leonard Nimoy's presence to connect the original series to its new incarnation.

It's to his credit that Quinto can hold his own against the man who IS Spock, and it shows how carefully the film was cast and written. All the new actors are perfect fits — Pine, Quinto, Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekhov) and Simon Pegg (Scotty) could easily be younger versions of the people who brought these characters to life in the 1960s. Combined with inside jokes, lots of action and some surprising plot twists, these performances bring Star Trek back to life in a way that should make everyone happy.

Extras: Commentary by Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci and producers Bryan Burk and Damon Lindelof; production feature; gag reel; the 2-disc set contains several more features, deleted scenes and a digital copy; the Blu-Ray adds even more features, plus a Starfleet vessel simulator & live NASA newsfeed.  (PG-13) Rating: 4 —LL


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The early Harry Potter movies coasted by on their visual effects. But as the young performers in the series have learned their craft, the stories have become richer and more entertaining.

While still being kid-friendly (the romances are chaste), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince cleverly explores real-world adolescent issues in the magical world of Hogarts. This time around Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) has to confront an assassination plot in the school and the fact that teenage crushes can be even more problematic when students are working with love potions. As a result, his pal Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) has two different young ladies (Emma Watson and Jessie Cave) wanting him, one of whom has no qualms about using supernatural medicine to lure the lad.

In addition, the school’s headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Sir Michael Gambon, in a moving and wily performance) is trying to discover how the evil wizard Lord Valdemort fell into darkness during his school cays in order to help Harry face him in their inevitable showdown.

Director David Yates thankfully underplays the CGIs and concentrates on the performers and the story. As a result, when the special effects are used, the events look genuinely amazing instead of being part of the wallpaper at the school.

While the threat of death is omnipresent at Hogwarts (one wonders how it has stayed in business despite child endangerment laws), the new installment is the most tense and dark of the series. Conversely, it’s also the most entertaining because Radcliffe and his cast mates can now hold their own against the special effects. (

Extras: There are several different editions. Viewers can choose between widescreen and full screen versions. The two-disc editions are loaded with featurettes, including presentations on the special effects, comments from series author J.K Rowling and footage from the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. PG) Rating: 4 —DL


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.