All reviews by Loey Lockerby
Who knew a bug-eyed hunk of tin could be the cutest star of 2008? The title robot of Pixar’s latest is sweet, clever, even romantic — not bad for something that looks like a cross between E.T. and D.A.R.Y.L., and sounds like R2D2’s goofy little brother.
Left alone on an abandoned Earth, WALL*E compacts the mountains of garbage humans discarded before leaving on a gigantic spaceship. Over the years, he has developed a quirky personality, influenced by the odd items he discovers in the trash (including old movies). When the humans send a robot called EVE to search for organic material on their old home, WALL*E falls in love with his sleek visitor and they embark on an adventure that takes them all the way to humanity’s new habitat.
WALL*E makes its environmental message louder and clearer than it really needs to be, especially given that it’s a product of the Disney marketing juggernaut. Of course, the Pixar animators could be making fun of their parent company when they ridicule the massive corporations that encourage wasteful over-consumption. Or, they could be preaching at us while contributing to the problem. Either way, they do it with their patented charm and creativity, and that’s all that really matters.
Extras: Disc 1 has a commentary from director Andrew Stanton, two short films, deleted scenes, previews and a feature on sound design for animation; Disc 2 has a documentary on the history of Pixar, more deleted scenes & shorts, and over an hour of detailed making-of material; Disc 3 is a digital copy for legal downloading. (G) Rating: 4.5
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy is a most unusual comic book superhero. First of all, he’s a demon brought to this realm by Nazis. He’s got a bad attitude. And he works for the U.S. government, albeit reluctantly. (He’d rather be smoking cigars.)
But Hellboy is one of the good guys, and his bluster covers up a soft side. In this sequel to the 2004 hit, director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman team up again to bring “Red” to the screen, along with his fiery girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and fish-man Abe (Doug Jones). The plot is preposterous (something about a supernatural prince trying to destroy humanity), but it gives del Toro a chance to indulge his vividly twisted imagination. There are creatures and locations in this film that rival anything in Pan’s Labyrinth, and they bring just the right note of menace, especially when real emotion and tragedy come into the story.
Mostly, however, Hellboy II is focused on fun, with plenty of spectacular action scenes and silly humor. The sight of a reformed demon and his aquatic buddy getting drunk to a Barry Manilow record (yes, this really happens) is all the proof you need that Hellboy is a unique creature all his own.
Extras: Disc 1 contains a commentary track by del Toro and another with Blair and co-stars Jeffrey Tambor and Luke Goss, set visit features, deleted scenes and an animated short; Disc 2 has an extremely long, in-depth production feature and a wealth of design galleries and info, as well as a printable version of the script for DVD-ROM; Disc 3 is a digital copy. (PG-13) Rating: 4
The Pevensie children are growing up, and so is the Narnia franchise as the bright eye candy of the first epic gives way to a darker, more fully realized experience. Director Andrew Adamson and the original’s cast return to continue C.S. Lewis’ legendary fantasy world, and it’s one of those rare sequels that improves on its predecessor.
It’s been a year since their last adventure, but when Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Poppelwell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are swept away to Narnia again they discover that several centuries have passed in their alternate home. They grew up to be great rulers, but their kingdom has faded and the magical creatures they befriended have disappeared. When they meet the exiled Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), they learn that they have a role to play in a coming rebellion against the ruthless human usurpers, the Telemarines.
The stakes are higher this time around, and Adamson rightly makes Prince Caspian a more adult experience. This is occasionally at variance with the fact that this is a Disney production, aimed at children. It’s really too violent for the PG rating, something many parents unhappily discovered in theatres.
Prince Caspian will still appeal to older kids, especially those inclined to swoon over the blandly handsome Barnes. It’s just not as much of a glossy Sunday school lesson as the original. That makes it much better for anyone over the age of ten but not so great for the little ones.
Extras: Disc 1 is the film with commentary by Adamson and his young cast, including Barnes; Disc 2 has comprehensive behind-the-scenes features, focusing on everything from pre-visualization to set design to the small town that hosted part of the shoot, as well as deleted scenes and outtakes; Disc 3 is yet another digital copy. (PG) Rating: 3.5
After losing its planned 7th season to the writers’ strike, 24 is back with a feature-length reintroduction to Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and the real-time tension that has made the Fox series famous. It’s accessible for those who haven’t watched the series before, and has all the strengths and flaws fans have come to expect.
Jack is hiding out in the fictional African country of Sangala, helping an old Special Forces colleague (Robert Carlyle) run a school for the local children. It’s not a bad way to live for Jack, who needs a way to escape from his past as a violent counter-terrorism agent. Of course, the past comes calling, in the form of a subpoena to appear before Congress on charges of illegally detaining and torturing suspects. If you’ve seen even 5 minutes of any 24 episode you know how long that hearing could last.
Bigger problems arise when a regional warlord (Tony Todd) sends his soldiers to recruit boys for their army — an army whose weapons are being supplied by corrupt Americans. As a new president (Cherry Jones) is being sworn in, the conspiracy swirls around the Washington power structure, while back in Africa Jack tries to lead his charges to safety.
The scenes with Jack have the kind of nail-biting intensity 24 is famous for, with few opportunities to lapse into bizarre filler and misdirection (that will come later in the season). The events on the home front are less exciting by design, but they do build what should be an interesting plotline.
The show’s producers fall back on lazy writing once in a while, especially in setting up villains (including a comically useless U.N. peacekeeper). But it’s better than almost anything from the show’s lame 6th season and should draw in new viewers who are willing to give the indestructible Agent Bauer a try.
Extras: A second disc contains an extended cut of the movie, with commentary by Sutherland, producer/director Jon Cassar, and executive producer Howard Gordon; a making-of featurette; a PSA on the real problem of child soldiers in Africa; an overview of Season 6 and preview of Season 7. (NR) Rating: 3.5
Loey Lockerby can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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