If WALL*E hadnít come out last year, Bolt would have been a shoe-in for every possible animated film award. It doesnít quite reach brilliance, but itís so cute, clever and exciting, it deserves accolades it didnít get. Darn that lovable robot.
John Travolta voices the title character, a showbiz dog that doesnít realize heís the star of a TV show. Raised in the studio, Bolt considers himself a super-powered hero, deeply attached to his human co-star, Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus). When he believes Penny is in danger, Bolt ventures into the outside world to rescue her. Heís in for a few surprises.
The story plays out in typical road trip fashion, as the main character meets oddball new friends, escapes dangerous situations and learns important life lessons. The key here is making the adventure snappy enough to hold audience interest, and Bolt does so easily. The animation is stunning, of course, but itís the movieís heart and humor that make it worthwhile. Plus, thereís a breakout star in Rhino the hamster (voiced by animator Mark Walton), a giddy fan of Boltís show who could easily have his own franchise. His deliriously nerdy presence turns a sweet family film into one of 2008ís best comedies, animated or not.
Extras: A Rhino-centric short film; deleted scenes; docs on the filmmakers, the voice cast and the animation style; the music video and recording session for the song ďI Thought I Lost YouĒ; a digital copy of the film. (PG) Rating: 4.
Daniel Craig was born to play James Bond, and his turn in the Casino Royale reboot helped bring the series back to relevance (not to mention massive box office success). Craig is still terrific in this second outing, but the movie that surrounds him is less impressive.
Director Marc Forster (Monsterís Ball) does a reasonable job of keeping the convoluted narrative moving. Unlike most Bond films, Quantum of Solace picks up immediately after its predecessor, and features Bond seeking revenge for the death of his Casino Royale love interest. Thereís also a creepy business magnate (Mathieu Amalric) whose suspicious land acquisitions lead Bond into a labyrinth of high-level corruption.
The dry humor and intelligent script go a long way, and Forster has no trouble getting good performances from his cast. Sadly, he canít handle one of the most important aspects of any James Bond movie ó the action scenes. Several of these sequences would be mind-blowing in the hands of someone more skilled, but Forster constantly falls back on shaky camera work and choppy editing, the standard techniques of under-qualified directors. And no matter what else you accomplish with a Bond flick, the action is the one thing you HAVE to get right.
Extras: A little over 30 minutes of making-of features; profiles of Forster and composer David Arnold; video diaries and promos on the complicated work of the crew. (PG-13) Rating: 3.
Iím not always on the Sean Penn bandwagon. Itís too easy to see the wheels turning when heís tackling a dramatic role, which is most of the time. His Oscar-winning performance in Mystic River was a prime example, and I always thought it was more of an award for his career than for his work in that film.
His second Oscar was much more deserved. Pennís portrayal of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold public office in America, is extraordinary not just for its mimicry of Milkís personality, but for the way it goes deeper into who he was as a person.
Gus Van Santís biopic follows Milkís personal evolution from low-key businessman to charismatic activist, with an emphasis on his mixture of idealism and savvy. The script ó by another Oscar-winner, Dustin Lance Black ó doesnít shy away from Milkís failed personal relationships or his political maneuverings. It also shows some sympathy toward Dan White (nominee Josh Brolin), the unstable fellow supervisor who murdered Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978.
Itís always difficult to encapsulate the life of a complex figure like Milk, even if that life was tragically short, and the movie occasionally gets bogged down in its details. Itís a testament to the talent of everyone involved that Milk still does the job without vilifying or sanctifying its subject.
Extras: Remembrances from Milkís real-life friends; two features on the filmís production; a short collection of deleted scenes. (R) Rating: 4.5.
Thanks to the Twilight movie, vampire romance was big business last fall. The real classic was this Swedish import, a quiet, unblinking portrayal of adolescent loneliness and the impact of violence.
Shy 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is bullied at school and ignored at home, until he meets his mysterious new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who appears to be his age. Actually, sheís been that age for a very, very long time.
Oskar is the kind of kid who would open fire on his classmates in the real world, and his relationship with Eli functions, in part, as a metaphor for such revenge scenarios. As they become closer, and he realizes what she really is, he shows no reluctance to hang out with a bloodsucking killer. In fact, Eli brings the only warmth Oskar feels in his (literally) icy small town, and she allows him to finally get back at the monstrous classmates who torment him.
Directed with notable restraint by Tomas Alfredson, Let the Right One In is alternately sweet and deeply disturbing, which makes for a distinctive viewing experience to say the least. An American remake is in the works, and we can only hope itís not turned into a dumb gorefest. Or worse, a Twilight clone.
Extras: Deleted scenes; a making-of featurette. In Swedish with English subtitles. (R) Rating: 5.
Loey Lockerby can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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