video/dvd
April '05

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All Reviews by Jason Aaron

The Incredibles

Despite how much some parents gripe about there not being enough worthwhile, family friendly films at the theater, almost none of them saw writer/director Brand Bird’s 1999 animated adventure film The Iron Giant, one of the best animated films of recent memory. Some of those parents may also have been initially turned off by The Incredibles, since it’s the first Pixar film geared toward all-out action, without a cute animal, talking toy or adorable monster in sight.

Now, however, with Oscar in hand for Best Animated Feature, Bird is finally vindicated. This story of a family of superheroes is the most visually enthralling of Pixar’s long line of modern classics, including Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. It also boasts lightning-paced action scenes that outshine most of the year’s mega-budget live-action efforts. As usual, Pixar’s DVD release offers tons of features worthy of being dubbed “special,” including an all-new animated short-film, The Jack-Jack Attack, a goofy retro cartoon, top secret files on all of “the supers,” bloopers, documentaries and more.

Not since the golden age of Walt Disney in the ‘30s and ‘40s has an animation studio generated such a string of hits. Chances are it won’t last, but for now, the geniuses behind The Incredibles can do no wrong. (PG) Rating: 5

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Maverick director Sam Peckinpah is best known for his 1969 western The Wild Bunch and its beautiful ballets of blood, grit and gunfire. To a lesser extent, he’s known for 1971’s Straw Dogs, an extremely dark, and some would say misogynistic, examination of violence in a small English town.

Thanks to this new DVD release, maybe film lovers will finally come to know Peckinpah for his darkest and most demented yet lesser known masterpiece, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo
Garcia. Filmed on the cheap in Mexico after Peckinpah‚s uncompromising style and excessive drinking had already run him afoul of several major studio execs, this is the story of a shady expatriate American piano player who takes the job of tracking down a ladies man named Alfredo Garcia, who has invoked the wrath of a powerful and merciless landowner.

When the American, played to the hilt by Warren Oates, learns that Garcia has been killed in a car accident, he figures it’ll be not any trouble to dig up the body, cut off the head and bring it in for a load of cash. Unfortunately for him, holding on to the head proves far more difficult than he ever imagined.

Oates (who also appeared in The Wild Bunch) gives a bravura performance as the slimy expat who loses far more than he ever thought possible, thanks to the rotting, filthy head of Mr. Garcia. Apparently, the director was the last person on the film’s set to catch on that Oates was actually playing Peckinpah himself, right down to the director’s trademark sunglasses, worn at all times of the day and night.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is pure Peckinpah: dark, bitter, merciless, violent and gorgeous in it ugliness. It’s also one of the most underrated films of the last 30 years. (R) Rating: 5

Bambi

While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs may have been the first, Sleeping Beauty the most visually exquisite and The Lion King the most financially successful, you could still make a pretty strong case for Bambi being Disney’s all-time greatest animated film. Certainly It’s no exaggeration to rank its pivotal scene, the death of Bambi’s mother, among the most memorable moments in movie history. No animated film before Bambi, and very few since, have achieved the same level of emotional power as this forest critter coming-of-age tale from 1942.

Produced in the midst of WWII, when Walt Disney was dealing with labor and financial problems, Bambi aspired to a greatest sense of realism and intensity than what had previously been animated for the screen. With its first ever DVD release, the film is returned to its original glory thanks to 9,600 hours of meticulous restoration. This two-disc Special Edition also includes a glimpse inside Walt’s original story meetings, extensive documentaries on the film’s production and restoration, and a cool tour of the Disney Animation Research Library, where the actual animation cells from past films are stored.

Thankfully, there are no Jessica Simpson music videos or other such worthless extras that Disney usually likes to include on their DVDs. Even their new direct-to-video Bambi sequel comes across as remarkably sincere in its attempt to honor the original. This is easily the best DVD release of a Disney classic, and one that’s sure to inspire countless future generations of toddlers to ask that age-old question, “What happened to Bambi’s mother?” (G) Rating: 5

Sideways

From Alexander Payne, writer/director of About Schmidt and Election, comes the oddball indie hit of 2004.

The story of two men driving through California wine country, sampling different brands, doesn’t exactly sound like the set-up for a riveting film. But Sideways was easily the funniest, most consistently entertaining film of the year. Paul Giamatti’s performance, as a wine connoisseur and failed novelist unable to get over his divorce, is almost as good as his turn in 2003’s American Splendor (where he played a neurotic mail clerk and comic book writer), proving that Giamatti has truly perfected the art of being seeming utterly pathetic.

While Clint Eastwood’s dreary Million Dollar melodrama may have hoarded all the Oscars, Sideways is easily the better film. It’s that rarest of Hollywood rarities: a worthwhile romantic comedy that offers moments of honest tenderness as well as a belly shaking laugh or two.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know shit from shinola when it comes to wine, Sideways is still worth a taste. (R) Rating: 4

 


              
              
                 

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