DVD reviews
February 9, 2007

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
(2-disc Special Edition)

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) team up again in this sequel to the 2003 mega-hit. This time, they’re looking for a heart in a box while fighting a giant squid and a guy with an octopus on his face. Really.

OK, it’s more complicated than that — a lot more. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s script is all over the place (you almost need to take notes), but most of the people who made this a blockbuster didn’t care. They were caught up in the great action scenes, dazzling special effects, and glorious weirdness that is Depp’s Captain Jack.

There are several making-of featurettes on Disc 2, covering every stage of the production in detail. It’s a miracle the movie turned out as well as it did. It was filmed, along with another sequel, at remote island locations, with a massive crew that periodically had to move everything out of the way of hurricanes. But no force of nature could screw things up as well as Elliott and Rossio, who apparently forgot they were supposed to be writing a script. They behave like college students asking for an extension on a very expensive term paper. Their audio commentary on the first disc is a marvel of delusional pomposity (did you know that an incoherent plot is actually a “mosaic structure”?).

Everyone else involved seems creative and hard working, especially the actors and the people in charge of stunts and F/X. Naturally, these are the most enjoyable aspects of Dead Man’s Chest. With ever-patient director Gore Verbinski at the helm, the movie gets completed on time, and work continues on the next installment. Let’s hope the writers don't skip class on that one, too. (PG-13) Rating: 3


The Night Listener

This adaptation of Armistead Maupin's fact-based novel is a tightly wound little thriller that also takes a sensitive look at loneliness and the power of human connection. That's what it tries to be, anyway, and it succeeds about half the time.

Robin Williams plays Maupin's alter ego, Gabriel Noone, a New York radio host who reads a brilliant memoir sent to him by a teenaged boy (Rory Culkin). A survivor of horrific abuse, the boy is now living with his adoptive mother (Toni Collette) in Wisconsin, and he's dying of AIDS. Or so he tells Gabriel, who eventually begins to suspect that the whole thing is a put-on.

The story starts to go off the rails around the time Gabriel decides to investigate. He treks to Wisconsin and promptly acts like a total idiot, eventually stumbling his way to the truth. Things get pretty melodramatic from that point, although the actors keep it under control through sheer force of talent.

The DVD extras are sparse. There's an interesting deleted scene, but the real fun is the short feature on the story behind the story. Maupin and director Patrick Stettner wrote the screenplay with Maupin's ex-boyfriend, Terry Anderson, who was there when much of the real incident took place. Maupin did not travel to discover his fan's identity as Gabriel does, but the script is otherwise filled with references to his and Anderson's real lives. But the creepiest thing about the entire Night Listener disc is the revelation that the woman Maupin believes pulled the hoax sent letters to him during production. The fact that she's still out there, keeping track of the man who is writing about her, is more disturbing than anything in the actual film. (R) Rating: 3


Cars

Cars isn't the best animated film from Pixar Studios. It isn't even the best animated film from 2006. That's just because it has some very stiff competition. It still has the warmth and ingenuity that viewers have come to expect from the groundbreaking company.

Despite the title, the real subject of Cars is the struggle of forgotten towns to make themselves relevant in this age of speedy interstate travel. Owen Wilson voices Lightning McQueen, a race car who just can't slow down and enjoy the road. When he gets stranded in Radiator Springs, a dilapidated former tourist spot along the old Route 66, he has no choice but to learn an appreciation for the quiet life.

John Lasseter, Pixar's creative guru, has co-written the script as well as directed, and the project is clearly close to his heart. He and his team have created a complete, richly detailed world for their automotive characters to inhabit. Lasseter's love for the out-of-the-way places on America's old highways provides the emotional hook, as he both mourns their demise and celebrates their resilience. This is illustrated on the most interesting DVD extra, a (too) brief look at the film's inspirations, which chronicles a road trip along Route 66 taken by members of the crew.

There are also two short films (an original Mater adventure and One Man Band, which played in theatres), as well as early versions of some deleted scenes. These are amusing, but Cars is about 20 minutes too long as it is, so their exclusion was a wise idea. What got left in is more than good enough. (G) Rating: 4


Leroy & Stitch

If you don't have (or work with) young children, you may not realize just how many animated Disney films have been spun off into straight-to-video sequels and TV series. The third "Cinderella" movie just came out, there are Disney Princess DVDs everywhere, and Aladdin and Ariel have both gotten their own shows.

One of the most prolific of the studio's cash cows has been Lilo & Stitch, the modest 2002 hit about an adorable Hawaiian girl and her destructive pet alien. There have already been two DVD sequels and a Disney Channel series, and now the story continues with the feature-length Leroy & Stitch.

After capturing all of Stitch's fellow rogue experiments, Lilo and her pals (including mad scientist Jumba and the fastidious, one-eyed Pleakley) are looking for something useful to do. The Galactic Federation sends them each off to new jobs, but they miss each other's company, and band together again when the evil Dr. Hamsterviel creates a nasty army of Stitch clones.

If none of this makes sense, that's OK — your kids will get it. For adults, there is plenty of offbeat humor and a minimum of sappiness. Lilo is a charmingly strange kid, and although Stitch has been tamed somewhat over the years, he's still a furry little ball of crazy. Throw in some equally zany supporting characters and a quick running time, and you've got a diverting way to blow off some time with the toddlers.

As a bonus, an unaired episode of the TV series is included on the DVD, as is a flight simulator game that my remote control refused to cooperate with. Both will probably entertain the target audience, but in this case, the movie doesn't really need the help. (G) Rating: 3.5

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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