DVD reviews
April 2007

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby

Casino Royale

After years of coasting on pretty stars and sci-fi gadgets, the owners of the James Bond franchise have finally decided to start again from scratch. An adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale brings a fresh, swaggering energy to a series that long ago lost its edge.

Most of this can be attributed to star Daniel Craig, who earned his tough-guy credentials in films like Road to Perdition, Layer Cake and Munich. His Bond is ruthless and focused, but also vulnerable in a way that his suave predecessors seldom were. We’re going back to his first assignment here, and he makes his share of mistakes, including falling for the charming Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).

Director Martin Campbell (who also directed the last good Bond movie, GoldenEye) clearly relishes the chance to break out of the old formula. His energy helps make the convoluted plot less irritating than it might otherwise have been. When you’re watching Craig fight a bad guy up and down a massive construction site, it doesn’t really matter whether the ensuing talk of terrorist financing and double-crosses makes any sense. Casino Royale is that rare 007 film whose sheer entertainment value makes up for its narrative lapses.

The 2-disc DVD has a solid set of extras, including a documentary chronicling Craig’s ascension to the role and another detailing the elaborate stunt work. Throughout both, the star comes across as dryly funny and self-effacing, qualities that should serve him well as this madness continues. Also included is Bond Girls Are Forever, a recent TV special highlighting the role of women in the franchise. It’s slight but interesting, and shows just much things have — and haven’t — changed over the years. (PG-13) Rating: 4


Volver

Pedro Almodovar made a name for himself in the ‘80s with his outrageous comedies, mixing mayhem and melodrama in films like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Kika. In recent years, he has toned down the silliness, earning praise for the more dramatic All About My Mother, Talk to Her and last year’s Volver.

Meaning literally “to return,” Volver features a middle-aged mother (Carmen Maura) who seemingly comes back from the dead to look after her struggling daughters (Penelope Cruz and Lola Duenas). They need the help, too, and their travails are the kind that Almodovar might have played for sick laughs 20 years ago. His approach this time is subdued and sensitive, and as usual, he gets tremendous work out of his actresses, especially the luminous (and Oscar-nominated) Cruz.

Not that there isn’t humor here, but it takes a backseat to the loving, supportive bonds between the main characters. Almodovar has a great affection for these women, and his interview and commentary on the DVD reveal just how much he drew on the female-dominated world of his childhood to create the film's tone. Strangely, the commentary (on which Cruz also participates, barely) is only sporadically worthwhile, as Almodovar spends much of his time blandly describing the action and interrupting his leading lady.

The interview is much better, as is the 20-minute discussion between Cruz and film critic Kenneth Turan at the 2006 AFI Fest. These features bring out the dedication and devotion that went into Volver, and they make this beautiful film even more entrancing. (R) Rating: 5


Happy Feet

George Miller must have a thing for anthropomorphic misfit animals. The director of Babe has ventured into the world of family movies once again, and the adorable lead character of Happy Feet could almost be an Antarctic version of that endearing little pig.

Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is an emperor penguin, but instead of singing like all the others, he expresses himself through dance. Far from being impressed with his talents, Mumble's fellow penguins ostracize him, and he has to venture out into the world to find himself and prove his worth.

If this sounds like it could get overly sentimental in a hurry, it does. The platitudes and life lessons share running time with a pounding obvious environmental message. It's great to encourage individuality and care for the wonders of nature, but it can be done with a little more finesse. Fitting it all in requires letting the story drag on too long on too many tangents.

So why did Happy Feet still win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature? Because, at its best, it has a bold spirit and infectious joy that simply can't be resisted. When hundreds of penguins are shakin' it to "Boogie Wonderland," the only sensible response is to shake it right along with them.

Extras are sparse, consisting of a couple of deleted scenes (one of which pays tribute to the late Steve Irwin), a dance lesson from choreographer Savion Glover and a few other odds and ends. Happy Feet may not have deserved an Oscar, but it should at least have gotten a commentary track. (PG) Rating: 3


Children of Men

Children of Men is set in a world without a future. It's 2027, and human beings have mysteriously stopped reproducing. The reality of impending extinction has had time to sink in, and the resultant despair has led to widespread violence. England is surviving the carnage by becoming a police state, monitoring its citizens and kicking out everyone else.

Theo (Clive Owen) drifts through his days in London, numbly performing his job and avoiding trouble. His ex-wife (Julianne Moore) is part of an insurgent movement, and his life suddenly takes on meaning when she asks for help with a shocking assignment. Theo is asked to transport a young pregnant woman (Clare-Hope Ashitey) — possibly the only one on earth — to safety outside the country. Despite his reluctance to get involved, Theo begins to understand what this baby represents, and becomes a stoic hero in the process.

Director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) creates a detailed, immediate environment, conveying just how bleak a society will become when its days are clearly numbered. When Cuaron's characters see a ray of light, it matters more because we've seen just how dark their lives have become.

Skip the rambling philosophical discussions on the disc's first two special features and head for the making-of documentaries, which provide an excellent look into the creative process of Cuaron and his crew. Fans of P.D. James' original novel may be disappointed in some of the changes that have been made to the story, but Children of Men more than stands on its own as a thought-provoking testament to the power of hope. (R) Rating: 5

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


              
              
                 

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