Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

" I’m sorry I ever sent her to that finishing school — I think they finished her there "
— Jessie Royce Landis, To Catch a Thief

MRQE Top Critic

Sponsored links

Everybody has a movie lover on their gift list. This year, get them a DVD they’ll really like. Below are our DVD recommendations from the past 13 months.

Click on any title to read our full DVD review (and print it out for some handy gift wrap). Below the title is our rating of the movie itself. Over in the right-hand box is how well we liked the DVD, along with a list of features. Finally, below each capsule review is a link to the DVD’s page on Amazon.com.

Batman Begins ****

DVD****
Picture****
Sound***
Extras*** 1/2
  • MTV Music Awards clip
  • making-of
  • interviews with director and writer
  • featurettes on suit, car, stunts, and sets
Except for lack of DTS, the DVD is a batastrophic success
Except for lack of DTS, the DVD is a batastrophic success

Bless the bat heavens that director Chris Nolan scrapped all the previous cinematic attempts and started fresh, from the beginning, with a story that explains Bruce Wayne, Gotham, and the psychology of villainy in an oh-so-smart story that shuns all the typical comic book movie formulas.

Gone from this version of Batman is the campiness of the Adam West TV series that was just under the surface of Tim Burton’s off-kilter camera angles and loony characterizations, and that returned with obnoxious grandiosity in Joel Schumacher’s editions. Buoyed by an airtight story that ties all the Batmythology together in one taut thriller involving the multiple faces of terrorism, Batman Begins is elevated even higher by a stellar cast.

The cumulative effect of all the DVD extras is a well-crafted look at the making of the movie, incorporating bits of Bat history while more or less glossing over the Burton/Schumacher epoch. As for the DTS track, there’s no excuse for its absence.

Mary Poppins ****

DVD****
Picture****
Sound****
Extras*** 1/2
  • Audio commentary by the actors and songwriters
  • Making-of featurette
  • Animated short, The Cat that Looked at a King
  • Deconstruction of a scene
  • Pop-up facts
  • Musical Reunion with Richard Sherman, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke
  • Deleted song, Chimpanzoo
  • Footage of the world premiere in Los Angeles
  • Galleries of stills
Delightful DVD mostly for the legions of adult fans
Delightful DVD mostly for the legions of adult fans

Mary Poppins has more than a spoonful of sugar, but it all goes down delightfully. It would be easy to dismiss this film as fluff, but behind the sweetness, Poppins is a well-crafted, entertaining film with engaging performances, good musical numbers and excellent visual effects. The special features on the 40th anniversary DVD give an interesting look into the creative and technical processes behind the making of the film.

The Incredibles ****

DVD****
Picture****
Sound****
Extras****
  • Two audio commentaries
  • Jack-Jack Attack (new short film)
  • Deleted scenes
  • Making of “The Incredibles” featurette
  • Seven additional behind-the-scenes featurettes
  • Boundin’
  • NSA files on all the Supers
  • Mr. Incredible & Pals cartoon with optional commentary
  • Featurette by vocal talent Sarah Vowell (Violet)
Dash and Violet get better with each viewing
Dash and Violet get better with each viewing
Mr. Incredible moves the furniture
Mr. Incredible moves the furniture

The storyline of The Incredibles is too good to be written off as just the stuff of a children’s movie. Following the tradition of sophisticated humor and whimsy found in other digital marvels like Pixar’s own Toy Story movies and Dreamworks’ Shrek flicks, The Incredibles is the kind of animated fare that’s great for adults and kids alike.

What sets The Incredibles apart and makes it, well, incredible, is its sweetly sugar-coated criticism of America’s suburbs today. Ignore it if you prefer, but The Incredibles makes a marvelous commentary on how children are raised today (all the more juicy considering The Incredibles is distributed by that bastion of all things kid-friendly, Disney).

This DVD is a classic. The supplemental materials are superb, the rare kind that actually expand on the movie’s universe. Matching the more sophisticated sensibilities of the feature film, this DVD contains none of the humdrum DVD games that have become a staple of children’s DVDs. In this case, the DVD supplements will probably bring more pleasure to the adults in the family than the kids.

The funniest supplement on Disc Two is a “long lost” animated short, Mr. Incredible and Pals, done in the cheesy, sparsely animated style of the old Hanna-Barbera Justice League of America cartoons.

The Work of Director Anton Corbijn ****

DVD****
Picture*** 1/2
Sound*** 1/2
Extras*** 1/2
  • 29 music videos
  • The Making of Electrical Storm
  • Running commentary on select videos
  • 56-page booklet
Anton Corbijn, U2's favorite photographer, works well during electrical storms
Anton Corbijn, U2’s favorite photographer, works well during electrical storms

Counting U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen among the many highlights, there are plenty of goodies on Corbijn’s résumé; his consistent level of quality and imagination guarantee this collection’s spot in any videophile’s DVD rotation.

Corbijn is a fan of black-and-white photography and he uses it to great effect in Propaganda’s Dr. Mabuse, his second video in 1984. It features the dark stylings of a silent German thriller. Even his most recent video, this year’s All These Things That I’ve Done with The Killers, is a mini-masterpiece. Shot once again in black-and-white, this time Corbijn pays homage to spaghetti westerns and sexploitation flicks. In short, Corbijn makes classic music videos that stand the test of time.

That’s not to mention his eclectic work on several projects with Depeche Mode and Metallica, a classic video for Quiet Eyes with Golden Earring, and Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box. The latter is a marvel that was shot in color, transferred to black-and-white, then meticulously hand-painted in color to great effect.

All told, there are 29 videos presented in all their black-and-white (or color – or black-and-white-and-color) glory.

The Work of Director Mark Romanek ****

DVD****
Picture****
Sound****
Extras*** 1/2
  • Romankeian documentary
  • Running commentary for each video
  • 56-page booklet
Mark Romanek works with Nine Inch Nails and Robin Williams
Mark Romanek works with Nine Inch Nails and Robin Williams

Mark Romanek is probably best known for the Nine Inch Nails video Closer, with such images as a monkey on a crucifix, a nude bald woman, and a floating, spinning Trent Reznor. But the most interesting film on this DVD is the video for Hurt, by Johnny Cash, a video that could easily bring a genuine tear to your eye.

Although Romanek is the kind of director who doesn’t repeat himself, the piece that really seems to capture the essence of his style is Faint, by Linkin Park, with an elaborate lighting rig (something he seems to love), a clever concept, and gorgeous, detailed photography.

Romanek presents his videos in reverse-chronological order, starting with 99 Problems by Jay-Z and ending with kd lang’s Constant Craving. Each video has one or two commentary tracks, one by Romanek, one by someone from the band.

The commentaries are almost all worth listening to. Romanek will almost always explain what was going on in his head when he conceived the video, and it was usually an influence from the world of art or photography. For Janet Jackson’s Got ‘til It’s Gone, Romanek drew inspiration from a South African magazine by and for blacks from the 1950s. For the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Can’t Stop, he borrowed an exhibit called One-Minute Sculptures from Austrian artist Erwin Wurm.

Grass **** Chang ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture***
Sound****
Extras***
  • Audio interview with Merian C. Cooper
A true marvel of filmmaking
A true marvel of filmmaking
Filmmakers finally get to tell the story of a single family
Filmmakers finally get to tell the story of a single family

A decade before King Kong, Merian C. Cooper, an adventurer and aviator, teamed with combat photographer Ernest B. Schoedsack.

The result of their first collaboration is Grass, a true marvel of filmmaking, and a more honest documentary than Nanook of the North. In the early 1920s, Cooper & Schoedsack followed the Baktyari tribe in what is now modern Iran and Turkey. The tribe subsists on their herd animals, which in turn live on the grass. But grass is not available in the same place year-round, so the tribe migrates hundreds of miles, across treacherous rivers and snowy mountains, twice a year, just to survive.

Chang is a travel film and an anthropology movie. This time, they follow Kru, a Lao tribesman living in Siam (modern Thailand/Laos) in his fight for survival against the wild animals of the jungle. If you watch Chang closely, you can see harbingers of King Kong. A dangerous jungle plays home to mysterious, dangerous, and gigantic animals. There is a sense of exploration, discovery, and awe of the natural world. The climax of Chang involves a stampede of 400 elephants, and puny men trying to cage them with tools and brainpower.

Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind **** Porco Rosso *** The Cat Returns **1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture****
Sound***
Extras***
  • Behind the Microphone featurette on the making of the English-language version
  • Storyboards
  • Miscellaneous Japanese TV features and promos
Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, and The Cat Returns highlight animation of Ghibli
Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, and The Cat Returns highlight animation of Ghibli

Three new titles from Studio Ghibli are released by Disney on DVD today: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Porco Rosso, and The Cat Returns. The first two are directed by Hayao Miyazaki, the master behind Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

The three discs, sold separately, are very similar. Each is a two-disc edition with storyboards filling the entire second disc. Each has both Japanese and English audio tracks. Surprisingly often, the English audio track is just as good as the original Japanese track, and often the emotion of the scene is more accessible and engaging in my native tongue. Give credit to the Disney team for so carefully and lovingly re-creating the dialogue tracks.

The best of the three is Nausicaä, which has the thematic depth and visceral, surreal tone of Spirited Away and Mononoke. Porco Rosso may be Miyazaki’s most personal film, but the story isn’t nearly as interesting as the visuals. And The Cat Returns, directed by animator Hiroyuki Morita, feels like “Miyazaki lite”. Nevertheless, all three earn recommendations, and let’s hope Disney will release still more of the buried treasures in the Studio Ghibli chest.

Sling Blade ****

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound****
Extras*** 1/2
  • Audio commentary
  • Interviews with cast and crew
  • Director’s cut of movie
Reckon it's been ten years already? Mmmm hmmm.
Reckon it’s been ten years already? Mmmm hmmm.

It has been ten years since Sling Blade opened. To celebrate its anniversary, Miramax is releasing a new DVD. It has a director’s cut of the film (now 148 minutes long, up from 135 in the theatrical release), an updated commentary track, and three hours of bonus material.

Billy Bob Thornton plays the unforgettable Karl Childers. Karl has become such an icon that almost anyone can do “the voice” and say something like “reckon I could go for some french-fried purtaters, mmm-hmmm” and be recognized. Far from being haunted by his role, as so many typecast actors are, Thornton seems genuinely grateful for the success Karl Childers brought him.

Sling Blade comes on two DVDs. Except for the audio commentary, the extra features fill the second disc. And I do mean fill. Three screens of options are available for starters, and many of these options are an hour long. Most of the extra features are interviews with actors and filmmakers. Notably missing is the short film Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade on which this feature was based.

Dolls *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound***
Extras***
  • interviews with cast and crew
Watch the movie, and save the DVD extras for later
Watch the movie, and save the DVD extras for later

The first of the three main story lines stems from a wedding of love being cancelled so that a wedding of family alliances can happen. The jilted bride from the first wedding is destroyed by the news of the second wedding. When news of her mental collapse reaches the groom on his (new) wedding day, he too is destroyed. They amble through the movie, shells of their former selves, tied together at the waist with a red cord.

They walk, zombielike, past the other two stories. In one, a retirement-aged gangster who had left his girlfriend waiting on a bench, years ago when his career started, wonders if he might still be able to find her. In the other, a devoted fan of a pop singer finds a horrific way to finally meet her in person. Although the three stories are held together by the thinnest of threads, Kitano edits with such a sense of power and form that you know the stories will all link together.

Added to this bold texture is a gorgeously bright color palette. As the bound lovers walk through the seasons, their costumes change to match. Augmenting the texture and color is the minor key of tragic love.

Dolls is the kind of movie that soaks in slowly, and if you watch the DVD too casually or the extras too soon, much of the mystery gets explained away. The interviews with Kitano and his supporting filmmakers are actually quite informative, but the people are too matter-of-fact about decisions that, in the movie, seem artful and weighty.

Hero *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound****
Extras** 1/2
  • Conversation with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li
  • Featurette
Special features aren't so special, but the movie is
Special features aren’t so special, but the movie is
Broken Sword and Flying Snow in their Green period
Broken Sword and Flying Snow in their Green period

Hero is very good and visually, it’s a knockout. The DVD looks good, too, but it’s surprising how unable modern digital home video is to capture what I saw at the theater this summer. Zhang Yimou is a master of color and detail. Perhaps that’s what it takes to humble the mighty DVD format.

Hero is a historical Chinese epic of love and war. The king invites a constable (Jet Li), who has killed three notorious assassins, to approach him to tell his tale. The movie spends equal time in about six different timelines. The present, with the king and the constable, flashes back to fights between the constable and the assassins he killed. There are also versions of the constable’s tales, introducing a Rashomon-like sense of uncertainty. Hero is a little too aware of its grand ambitions. It sometimes feels like it’s pandering. Still, it’s a very good movie.

The special features on this Miramax release are hardly noteworthy. The two featurettes are marketing-heavy pieces with some information but little real insight.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture***
Sound***
Extras*** 1/2
  • Audio commentary by professor Richard Jewell
  • Trailer
  • Short subject musical comedy
One of the reasons people do -- and should -- watch classic cinema
One of the reasons people do — and should — watch classic cinema

One could argue that I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is dated. But deep down, the movie is still vibrant, engaging, tense, and suspenseful. It’s one of the reasons people do — and should — watch classic cinema.

Nominated for 1932’s Best Picture Oscar, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang stars Paul Muni (nominated for Best Actor). Somewhere in the south, he falls in with a decent-seeming fellow who pulls a gun in a diner. Allen is quickly caught, and as the crook’s “accomplice” he is sentenced to ten years on a chain gang.

Over the course of a year, Allen makes plans to escape, and when he does, he goes up north, where he makes a new name for himself in construction, working his way up from laborer to foreman, from management to tycoon. The film’s final conflict kicks in when representatives from the southern state track him down in Chicago and demand his extradition.

As “James Allen’s” story unfolds, the commentary fills us in on the true story of Robert Burns, who wrote the autobiography I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang. “Warner [Brothers] really did not exaggerate the conditions in these camps,” says Jewell, which is probably one reason the movie is still fascinating today.

Sky High *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound*** 1/2
Extras***
  • Bloopers
  • Original opening
  • Interviews
What to do when your parents are superheroes
What to do when your parents are superheroes

The film mostly focuses around the unique school for superheroes and our protagonist, son of the two greatest superheroes this world has ever seen, as he learns to cope with the everyday hassles of being a super kid. When his parents are captured by an old arch nemesis, he must step up and show that he can save the day.

The film does boast some of the best special effects I’ve seen Disney produce, but uses them lightly. Computer graphics, especially when overdone, can be quite a distraction to the viewer and take away from the story at hand. The script is well done; simple enough for kids to understand, but not childish enough to bore adults.

The American Astronaut *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound*** 1/2
Extras***
  • Live director’s commentary
  • Ceres jump test footage
  • Tons o’ stills galleries
Irony, mystery, and poetry, liven up this space-western musical
Irony, mystery, and poetry, liven up this space-western musical

The American Astronaut is a cult phenomenon. Without established fans, you might not have as much fun watching this DVD as we did, but it should at least get you started on the road to fanaticism.

The movie is a low-budget, blue-collar, rockabilly space-western. It’s also a musical, and it’s pretty funny, too. Shot in black and white, the film follows a roguish space captain, Samuel Curtis (McAbee), who transports cargo from one place to the next. He’s trailed by Professor Hess (Rocco Sisto), our narrator, a sociopath who kills (almost) everybody in his wake.

Curtis’ travels take him all over the solar system. At the bar on the asteroid Ceres, Curtis gets jumped in the bathroom, hears the longest mis-told joke on film, and enters a dance contest. At the all-male mining colony on Jupiter he picks up The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman’s Breast (Gregory Russell Cook) and escapes just before Professor Hess shows up with his disintegrator gun.

The whole movie, including the music, is infused with an odd mix of working-class sensibilities and intellectual irony. In music, if you mix the aggression of hard rock with ironic lyrics, you get something like punk. Add a little country, and you have the music from The American Astronaut. Maybe the fact that it’s all so incongruous and puzzling (and still funny) is what makes the movie watchable over repeated viewings.

The Muppet Movie *** 1/2
The Great Muppet Caper ** 1/2
The Muppet Christmas Carol ***
Muppet Treasure Island ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound*** 1/2
Extras*
  • Pepe Profiles Presents: Kermit
Fewer puns, more cultural references in Treasure Island
Fewer puns, more cultural references in Treasure Island
Gonzo comes forward, Kermit goes back
Gonzo comes forward, Kermit goes back
DVDs fail to explain how muppeteers did their tricks
DVDs fail to explain how muppeteers did their tricks
Kermit and friends are moving right a long (dooga doong, dooga doong)
Kermit and friends are moving right a long (dooga doong, dooga doong)

It was in 1955 that Kermit the Frog (created, operated, and voiced by puppeteer Jim Henson) made his television debut. To commemorate this milestone, four DVDs of movies starring Kermit and his fellow Muppets have been released, billed as “Kermit’s 50th Anniversary Edition.”

Fans of the Muppets may be disappointed that the DVDs (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Treasure Island) have no extra features that delve into the history of the famous puppets. In fact, they don’t differ much from earlier video releases of these movies, but at prices starting at $13.99, they are a good value for those who want to revisit these fun films.

The Nomi Song *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture***
Sound*** 1/2
Extras*** 1/2
  • Interviews with friends and colleagues
  • Photo gallery
  • Deleted scenes
  • 2 Nomi performances
He came from outer space to save the human race
He came from outer space to save the human race

This visually splendid documentary follows the rise and fall of ’70s musician Klaus Sperber, later known as Klaus Nomi. It tells the tale of his supernova career that suddenly burned out with his premature death in 1983.

This skinny German has a breathtaking voice, singing opera ballads that could bring the heavens to tears, while sporting a wardrobe that would put Marilyn Manson to shame.

Written and directed by Andrew Horn, this documentary (assembled without narration) vividly captures Nomi’s life and stardom, from home movies to taped live performances to early hypnotic music videos. After becoming a success in Manhattan’s performance-art underground, Nomi was invited by David Bowie to perform on Saturday Night Live, which increased his popularity in Europe and New York. Just as he was gaining recognition, he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1982. He died the following year.

The DVD bonus supplements are fantastic. The interviews with songwriters Kristian Hoffman, Lou Chrisitie, and other artists are particularly satisfying. They tell stories and discuss Klaus Nomi with big smiles and great enthusiasm, letting us know that although he may be gone, the joyful memories remains untouched. Why these conversations weren’t put into the film is beyond me. I can only guess they were taped after the film was released.

The Phantom of the Opera *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture****
Sound****
Extras** 1/2
  • Documentary on making the stage production
  • Documentary on making the film
  • Deleted scene & song
Warners doesn't manage DVD editions well
Warners doesn’t manage DVD editions well

The Phantom of the Opera gets off to a crackling good start and, luckily, even director Joel Schumacher can’t muff it up the way he did the Batman franchise.

While this Phantom is a more straightforward adaptation of its stage progenitor than Chicago’s film version, it’s still been made with equal amounts of tender loving care and innovation.

In casting relatively unknown faces for the lead roles, the production gains a sense of freshness rather than “been there, done that” performances that might have resulted from more obvious choices. It also doesn’t hurt that both Rossum and Butler had never even seen the stage show prior to getting their roles.

Billed as the most expensive independent production ever made (somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million), this is one case where every single cent can be seen on screen (or heard through the surround sound). It’s truly an extravaganza that has rethought the entire production for presentation on the big screen.

Instead of wasting budget on marketing, manufacturing, tracking, and distributing the three different editions, Warners should have spent the money on one edition to rule them all, with more bonus supplements and both full and wide editions.

The Work of Director Jonathan Glazer *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture***
Sound***
Extras*** 1/2
  • Collection of commercials by Glazer
  • Excerpts from Sexy Beast and Birth
  • 56-page booklet
Jonathan Glazer works with Guinness and sexy beasts
Jonathan Glazer works with Guinness and sexy beasts

Jonathan Glazer is probably best known as the director of the dark crime comedy Sexy Beast, but the most memorable film on this DVD is a music video of UNKLE’s Rabbit in Your Headlights, with its disturbing imagery of a madman in the middle of traffic.

It’s hard to pinpoint a particular style or attitude in Glazer’s work, but his music videos, commercials and feature films are striking – some for their emotional content, some for their playfulness and others for their visuals which are sometimes incomprehensible.

In the Rabbit in Your Headlights video, a man, bruised and ranting incoherently, walks down the middle of a busy traffic tunnel. Cars hit him several times and drive on, but he gets up and continues his journey. The video’s imagery is shocking and disturbing (and got it banned in some places), but it leads up to a satisfying payoff at the end.

The Work of Director Stéphane Sednaoui *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture****
Sound****
Extras****
  • Talent interviews
  • Four short movies
  • 56-page booklet
Stephane Sednaoui works in mysterious ways
Stephane Sednaoui works in mysterious ways

Early in his photography career, Stéphane Sednaoui hit the big time when he made a video of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give it Away,” with the band slathered in silver paint and glitter. He keyed their pumped-up punk-reggae sound to imagery that added to the band’s youth and tribal energy and in one fell swoop made the band more visible to the whole world.

Sednaoui’s success with the Chili Peppers opened the door for his music-video work with other bands: U2, Björk, Alanis Morissette, Garbage, and Tricky. Interviews with Sednaoui and the musicians give us more insight into this engaging young director.

Sednaoui’s expertise is in getting out of the way of the performers and the song. The musicians clearly trust him enough to let him get close; each of the best performers here reveals something personal. The videos may be contrived, or about other characters, but the best ones all capture something elemental about that person or group. When The Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Michael Stipe, and Björk truly throw themselves into these performances with abandon, Sednaoui shows us what makes them great performers.

Toy Story *** 1/2

DVD*** 1/2
Picture****
Sound****
Extras*** 1/2
  • Running commentary
  • The Claw DVD game
  • Numerous behind=the-scenes featurettes

Toy Story, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, was the first computer-animated feature film and it’s still one of the best.

Toy Story raised the bar for all-ages entertainment masquerading as a G-rated children’s film. One of its greatest strengths is its ability to tap into that one bit of childhood just about everybody should be able to relate to, when the imagination ruled and toys weren’t just playthings, but best friends with monumental significance.

In some respects, the uber-accomplishments of later Pixar pictures, particularly last year’s The Incredibles, make Toy Story seem technically quaint already. But it’s a quaintness that suits the innocence of the story and the characters.

Bambi ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture****
Sound*** 1/2
Extras*** 1/2
  • The Making of Bambi
  • Restoring Bambi
  • Disney Time Capsule: 1942 The Year of Bambi
  • The Art of Bambi
  • Tricks of the Trade excerpt
  • Inside Walt’s Story Meetings
  • The Old Mill animated short
  • Games and Activities
  • Bambi’s Forest Friends
  • Deleted Scenes
Disney releases Bambi on 2-disc DVD
Disney releases Bambi on 2-disc DVD

Before The Lion King, Bambi was Disney’s story of the circle of life. Disney has finally released Bambi on DVD in glorious restored Technicolor with a package of extra features intended to please audiences of all ages. The movie itself is a mixed bag — the shifts in tone between cuteness and tragedy are awkward at times. Still, it’s hard not to be a little charmed by the woodland creatures and their gorgeous, forest home.

Lost: The Complete First Season ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound*** 1/2
Extras*** 1/2
  • Back-story to the series
  • Featurette on getting plane wreck on a Hawaii beach
  • Visit to the set by Jimmy Kimmel
  • Audio commentaries
A must-have for the rabid fan, a good start for the uninitiated
A must-have for the rabid fan, a good start for the uninitiated

Imagine 48 modern, urban civilians cast suddenly upon the beach of a tropical island. But (rising spooky music), this is no normal island paradise… something strange is going on here; strange even for an exotic tropical island. The survivors find themselves neighbors with polar bears, a gigantic yet unseen and possibly mechanical monster, cryptic radio messages in French and the Mysterious Hatch.

What’s there not to like?

Not much, apparently, as Lost was one of the most successful TV shows of the 2004 season. If all you are looking for is the ride itself, Lost will satisfy. But if you want some substance or insight, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Lost: The Complete First Season is a must-have for the rabid fan, a good start for the uninitiated, and worth borrowing from a friend for anyone who doesn’t usually watch broadcast TV.

Pocahontas ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound*** 1/2
Extras*** 1/2
  • Commentary by producer James Pentecost, directors Eric Goldberg & Mike Gabriel
  • The song “If I Never Knew You”, with all-new animation
  • “Follow your Heart” & “Art Project” Set-Top Games
  • Music video
  • The Making of Pocahontas featurette
  • Early Presentation Reels
  • Storyboards
  • Production progression
  • Deleted scenes
  • “The Music of Pocahontas”
  • Promotional materials
  • Multi-language reel
  • Design galleries
New DVD edition proves Mel Gibson can sing
New DVD edition proves Mel Gibson can sing

Disney filmmakers attempt to tackle the troubled history of interactions between early European settlers in Virginia and Native Americans in Pocahontas. The movie mostly avoids turning the conflict into a simple good-versus-evil struggle. Its weakest points come when Pocahontas follows the formula for Disney’s animated features that requires show tunes and wacky animal sidekicks. The 10th anniversary edition of Pocahontas includes two versions of the movie, one with a song removed from the theatrical version, as well as two discs with the usual mix of extras for various age groups.

Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture*** 1/2
Sound***
Extras****
  • Mother Goose Stories
  • Harryhausen’s Fairy Tales
  • Early films from his back yard
  • Early films from his days in the army
  • The Making of The Tortoise and the Hare
  • Video tributes
  • Interviews
  • Restoration projects
  • Stills galleries
An exhaustive and exhausting look at the work of a stop-motion master
An exhaustive and exhausting look at the work of a stop-motion master

On two DVDs and at 233 minutes, Ray Harryhausen: The Early Years Collection is an exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) look at the early career of one of cinema’s most renowned and prolific stop-motion animators.

Although Willis O’Brien was the grandfather of stop-motion animation behind King Kong (and a half dozen other films), his most famous and most prolific protege was Ray Harryhausen, who carried O’Brien’s torch through another four decades.

Harryhausen served as an Executive Producer for this DVD, and one gets the sense that he is compiling all the important highlights of his career while he’s still young enough to do so (he’ll be 85 this year). As a time capsule, a diary, a video memoir, this DVD makes sense. It’s a repository for a lifetime’s work, or at least “The Early Years.”

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou ***

DVD*** 1/2
Picture****
Sound****
Extras*** 1/2
  • Audio commentary
  • Interview with composer Mark Mothersbaugh
  • 10 complete performances by Seu Jorge
  • Al Maysles’ documentary This is an Adventure
  • Trailer
  • Video journal by “Intern #1”
  • Many more featurettes
Packed with extra features, most of which are lean, informative, and entertaining
Packed with extra features, most of which are lean, informative, and entertaining
Steve Zissou is legally distinct from Jacques Cousteau. Yeah, right.
Steve Zissou is legally distinct from Jacques Cousteau. Yeah, right.

Anderson’s wry sense of humor is again prevalent but is more subdued than in Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. Little jokes, too small to be funny on their own, are packed in to the screen to make a wry, witty tapestry.

Bill Murray again offers his deadpan, dead-tired mug to Anderson’s movie cameras. For The Life Aquatic he brings his baggage from Lost in Translation as well, giving his character depth and resonance beyond his performance.

Both discs are chock full of features, most of which are lean, informative, and entertaining. The best of them is a bona fide documentary made by master documentarian Al Maysles. The most interesting subject among the DVD extras is composer Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo, and long-time collaborator with Anderson.

They say familiarity breeds contempt, but the opposite is true in the case of