"WALLACE AND GROMIT: THREE AMAZING ADVENTURES"


        MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Peter Sallis as WALLACE

    Not Rated
    Studio: Aardman Animation

    Directed by: Nick Park

While I wouldn’t consider myself a rabid fan of animation, I have always been fascinated with it. Sure, I like the old Disney fare, the good old Chuck Jones Looney Toons selections and classic Tom & Jerry, I also love the less mainstream animation.

Back in my days of reviewing independent films, I found the work in animation to be miles beyond the quality of the filmed pieces. Maybe it’s because of the meticulous care needed to simply do a short 5-minute animated piece rather. Or maybe those crazy animators just seem to have their feet deeper into the creative waters.

It would seem strange, then, that I never watched any “Wallace and Gromit” material until their 2005 feature film hit the big screen. Of course, after seeing “The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” I was hooked. Now, fans of the series and newbies alike have a chance to go to the roots of the series with a delightful DVD from Aardman Animation.

“Wallace and Gromit: Three Amazing Adventures” present the three main animated episodes that put Nick Park’s wacky inventor and his slightly more respectable dog on the map. Two of these half-hour episodes won Academy Awards, with the first one losing out to another Nick Park short. While fans had to wait years between episodes, viewers can watch them in one sitting with the new DVD.

The first episode is “A Grand Day Out,” which features Wallace building a rocket ship in his basement to fly to the moon, which he believes is made of cheese. The second is “The Wrong Trousers,” which features a tete-a-tete between Gromit and a villainous penguin. It also introduces the audience to some spectacular animated action, which has now become a mainstay to the longer Wallace and Gromit piece.

The DVD wraps up with the most recent – and most visually stunning – episode “A Close Shave.” Not only is the scope of the story grander and the effects more involved, but this episode also introduces audiences to Shaun the Sheep, who has his own cartoons shown on the BBC.

Aside from the joy of watching the Wallace and Gromit franchise as a package, there’s more to get out of this DVD. With all three films together, you can see the evolution of the series, from the finesse of animation to the style of the characters.

The special features provide more than an hour and a half of additional films, many of which are short Wallace and Gromit tidbits about the different inventions. There’s also two bonus episodes of “Shaun the Sheep” stuck in there.

Nick Park and his creative team lend their voices to commentaries for each of the short films, and there are two detailed behind-the-scenes documentaries of the series. One gives an overview of the Wallace and Gromit phenomenon, and the other gives a rather in-depth and detailed look at the animation process that Nick Park goes through to make a short film.

Any fan of Wallace and Gromit will love this DVD, and anyone who liked the film from a few years back should also enjoy watching it. And the kids will just enjoy the movies for what they are – great products of animation.



"ONCE"


        MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Glen Hansard as GUY
    Markéta Irglová as GIRL

    Rated R
    Studio: Fox Searchlight

    Directed by: John Carney

I’m such an ass.

Why? Well, if you don’t know me and can’t fill in the blank yourself on that statement, then I’ll explain. If you know anything about the film “Once,” you’ve probably heard nothing about it but what a spectacular success and inspiration it was. Made in Ireland on a tiny budget, “Once” got a theatrical release and raked in the money (on indie film standards), making it the Cinderella story of the year. Even filmmaking god Steven Spielberg said the film gave him “enough inspiration to last the rest of the year.”

But I hated it. Because I’m an ass.

I guess I failed to be inspired by the story and the characters. Maybe it’s because while I enjoy music, it’s not a passion in my life. Unlike a reviewer friend of mine who checks his milestones in his life by the albums he hears, I love music as a soundtrack, not as a feature.

“Once” tells the story of a struggling Irish street musician who meets a woman while playing one day. The two strike up a quick friendship, and both are aware it could lead to more. She’s nervous because she’s still married to a husband in the Czech Republic. He wants a relationship, but he respects her wishes. Together, they inspire each other as musicians.

The film stars Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames, and he wrote much of the soundtrack. Markéta Irglová herself is a popular musician in her home country as well. While I understand and appreciate the casting of non-actors in such a music-heavy story, my biggest road block was the fact that I didn’t like the music. And if you don’t like the music in a film that is 50 percent music, you’re gonna not like the movie.

Add to the fact that I felt the characters were somewhat shallow and whiney, and they really just needed to get off their butts and change their lives (which is, I guess, the message of the film), I was just too annoyed with everything to enjoy it.

The DVD comes with plenty more music, which should bode well for fans of the film. There’s a film commentary track as well as a commentary on the music. Two featurettes follow the making of a modern musical and give more info on the Guy and the Girl. Wrapping things up is a webisode and a downloadable song from the soundtrack.



"HARRY POTTER INTERACTIVE DVD GAME"


        DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    Not Rated
    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Own it on DVD December 11

    Check out the Harry Potter official site

    Buy the DVD here.

Over the years, I’ve seen many different games presented on DVD releases. At first, when I first bought a DVD player, I thought these were somewhat fun. However, having plowed through many different ones – often on children’s DVDs – I’ve found them to be more annoying than helpful.

With the exception of an archive release that was made for laserdisc originally (like “Dragon’s Lair”), I’ve found them to be awkward and hard to play. My kids always make me play the ones on the Disney releases, and occasionally I’ve found some that I’ve liked. However, most have been woefully substandard to what you’d get in a regular game format.

In time for the Christmas release of the “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” DVD, Warner Bros. has released a complete set-top game for the Harry Potter universe. I understand the appeal for families without a full gaming system to get a stand-alone game in one DVD. However, this release does bring to light the reason why there are gaming systems separate from a DVD player.

The “Harry Potter Interactive DVD Game” takes the players (in single-player or multi-player format) through the years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Players have a chance to choose their house, or to be sorted into a house by the Sorting Hat. Then they have to attend classes and amass house points before moving on to the next year.

Some of the activities are interesting and fun enough, such as the wand skills or the transfiguration exercises. However, too many of the instructions involve guess-work and very little coaching on how the DVD remote must be used.

To be honest, I never got past the first year because I just couldn’t figure out how to work the Quidditch match, which is required to pass for graduation to a new year. The viewer is to navigate through the Quidditch pitch, dodging bludgers and trying to catch the snitch. However, the on-screen navigation is entirely confusing, requiring the player to press the right button at just the right time, which I never achieved.

Perhaps this just shows that I don’t have what it takes to make it as a wizard. Or perhaps it has more to do with the fact that the speed of your DVD player and the clunky use of the directional arrows are no substitute for a good, old fashioned game controller.

This release may be good for the rabid “Harry Potter” fan, but for me, I’d rather play it on a Playstation or Nintendo.



"LOST: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON"


        MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as MR. EKO
    Naveen Andrews as SAYID
    Emilie de Raven as CLAIRE
    Matthew Fox as JACK
    Jorge Garcia as HURLEY
    Josh Holloway as SAWYER
    Daniel Dae Kim as JIN
    Yunjin Kim as SUN
    Evangeline Lilly as KATE
    Dominic Monaghan as CHARLIE
    Terry O’Quinn as LOCKE
    Michael Emmerson as BEN
    Elizabeth Mitchell as JULIET

    Rated TV-14
    Studio: ABC

    Created by: Jeffrey Lieber and J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof

Let’s just get this out there... I love “Lost.” I have loved the series ever since I watched the first season on DVD and got swept into watching it on the broadcast channel. While there are parts that bog down, and some things don’t happen with the logic they should, I absolutely love the show and hope it never goes away.

Sadly, that won’t happen. After the third season took a break in the middle and lost viewership, they planned on running season four straight through... until the writers strike killed that. Now, the future of the show is up in the air, and I hope things are resolved so that we can continue to see what happens to the modern-day television castaways.

In the mean time, I can lose myself in “Lost: The Compete Third Season.” While it is one of the best shows on television today, the “Lost” DVDs are also some of the best DVDs released. This release comes in a seven-disc set that gives all the episodes from the year and includes an entire extra disc of bonus features.

I know that some of the audience complained about this season, claiming that things got too complicated and nothing was resolved. However, I wasn’t one of those people. Each year of “Lost” is another step through a maze. Some things are explained, but more questions are discovered around every corner.

The third season focused on the “Others,” especially Ben (Michael Emmerson) and Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell). We realize that this is more than just a tropical island, but a station for experimentation that has connections to the mainland. We see the castaways split again, with Jack, Kate and Sawyer in custody of the Others. We also get flashbacks into Juliet’s life – and Ben’s life at times – that shows us more secrets in the “Lost” universe.

The DVD set comes with oodles of special features, including cast and crew speculations of the Others, missing flashbacks, a featurette the locations, background on the toy development, deleted scenes and bloopers. Select episodes throughout the other discs include audio commentaries as well.

My personal favorite features include the “Lost Book Club” which analyzes the choice of reading material in the series and how it relates to the show. There’s also a feature called “Lost in a Day,” which follows a documentary crew as it examines how multiple episodes are produced simultaneously.

I will be keeping my fingers crossed into the new year that the ongoing writers strike doesn’t kill the series. Because aside from dropping everything and saying, “It was all a dream,” it’s going to be hard to lose me on this show.



"OCTOBER ROAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON"


        MOVIE: * (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Bryan Greenberg as NICK GARRETT
    Laura Prepon as HANNAH DANIELS
    Tom Berenger as BOB GARRETT
    Warren Christie as RAY CATALDO
    Brad William Henke as OWEN ROWAN
    Evan Jones as IKEY
    Jay Paulson as PHYSICAL PHIL
    Sade Pearce as SAM DANIELS
    Geoff Stults as EDDIE LATEKKA
    Odette Yustman as AUBREY DIAZ
    Rebecca Field as JANET MEADOWS

    Rated TV-PG
    Studio: Touchstone Television

Is there life after the seventies? Apparently Laura Prepon has found it, playing a version of Donna without the comedy. The result is “October Road,” which is available in its first season on DVD. The story follows a guy named Nick (Bryan Greenberg), who leaves his small town for college with the promise of return. However, he stays away for a decade and writes the great American novel which paints his friends back home as a bunch of douche-bags.

When a book lecture brings him back home, he meets his old friends – and his old girlfriend – with a mixture of love and hate. However, to get in touch with himself, Nick plans on staying. So, after having a taste of the high life, Nick comes home again and finds his friends once more, to wallow in self pity, play in a ten-year-old air band and whine about which girl he wants.

What’s wrong with this series? Well, let’s start with the minutia. First, there’s no such thing as the “great American novel.” The only people who believe in these things are wannabe writers who hope to write it some day. The fact is that critical acclaim usually means it won’t be well read, and popular books will never be considered great by the critics. Heck, if there were ever a recent novel that touched people across demographics, it’d be the Harry Potter series, and that’s not even written by an American.

Next, let’s look at the writing? This is some of the hokiest, corniest and forced dialogue I’ve ever heard. It’s clear that they people writing the scripts are trying to write the elusive “great American novel” for television. You don’t believe me? Try this metaphor on for size: “under a lipstick sky.” What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Finally, lets talk characters. Everyone in this television universe is a tool. They are riddled with angst, being held back from their dreams by their own insecurities. It’s as if J.J. Abrams pulled a boat-load of old “Felicity” scripts and gave them to a lesser television producer.

Sure, the cinematography of the series is beautiful, featuring a town that is perpetually in the autumn season. But it’s not like you can just watch the show with the sound off.

The only thing likable about this DVD is that it is mercifully short. As a mid-season start, “October Road: The Complete First Season” only has six episodes. But that was enough for me to hate the show.

The DVD extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette on the series, deleted scenes, bloopers and a message from Satan himself: a preview of Season Two. Egads!



"MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION: WALKING ON THE MOON"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)

    Rated G
    Studio: HBO Video

My first introduction to the documentary “Magnificent Desolation” was on the IMAX screen. And while I almost always enjoy an IMAX experience, this is one film that proves the rule that bigger isn’t always better.

It’s not to say that “Magnificent Desolation” is a film that is better in the DVD format, but you definitely come to it with less expectations. In the IMAX experience, it was in 3D, but the most spectacular shots were digitally recreated since no one has sent 3D IMAX cameras to the moon yet.

On DVD, you’re left with an inspirational documentary about man’s exploring of the moon. Narrated by Tom Hanks, this film gives the background of the moon landings and the space experience. While not as awe-inspiring as “For All Mankind,” which used a majority of footage from the space missions, “Magnificent Desolation” can serve to inspire anyone about going to the moon.

Told in a PBS documentary style, “Magnificent Desolation” is a nice film about the history of our going to the moon. By the end, I was hoping that we’ll go back, even if it’s not in the cards for me to be an astronaut.

The special features include an Apollo 11 video diary, a trivia game, a photo gallery, mechanics of Apollo 16 and a look inside the Lunar Roving Vehicle of Apollo 15 and the Extra Vehicular Activity of Apollo 17

For the space buff, “Magnificent Desolation” is a good film with keen special effects and a nice allotment of history.



"MY FRIENDS TIGGER & POOH: SUPER SLEUTH CHRISTMAS MOVIE"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    Not Rated
    Studio: Disney

One of the newest preschool programs on television is the latest incarnation of the Winnie the Pooh franchise. “My Friends Tigger & Pooh” takes all the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood and puts them into a CGI environment, similar to the style of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Instead of Christopher Robin, the human companion is Darby, a young girl who interacts with the stuffed animals.

It didn’t take the Mouse House long after the show premiered to put together a special Christmas episode. The characters gather as Super Sleuths to solve mysteries in the show. This special mystery occurs when Santa’s magical toy sack goes missing. It’s up to the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood to find out where it went.

While the show runs only a half-hour on television (which amounts to only 22 minutes of story), this Christmas special is twice as long. The rudimentary nature of the show grinds a bit on the grown-up nerve, but still it’s one of the better preschool programs out there. The show itself, and the Christmas special, teach fine lessons to kids and keeps them interested with characters that have proved their worth for decades.

In the new CGI format, the show isn’t as heartwarming as the original animated shorts from 40 years ago or so, but they’re also far better than the crappy animated television series that ran in the 1980s.

The DVD comes with a bonus episode of the series and a set-top game that kids will enjoy playing with a grown-up’s help.

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