DVD Releases: Prince Caspian, Kung Fu Panda, The Fall

Prince Caspian (on DVD now): 

Aside from the main four children still being remarkably lifeless, this is a rousing fun sequel to the first one. I find these installments of the C.S. Lewis book series to be well-made, and certainly the Christian undertones are not hidden in any way, but they’re forgettable. This one suffers from the loss of Tilda Swinton as the villainess, yet since the children are only half of the story, it’s more exciting (and darker) than the first, as the humans and the Narnians get ready to wage an epic battle. Much like the first, the special effects are more interesting than the story, and the make-up is quite impressive. I’d actually rather watch a film about these Narnian creatures than about the children—there’s a moment where a Centaur woman is shown weeping at the loss of her husband in the first battle. That led my mind to wonder: where do centaurs live? What are their weddings like? Are there centaur schools? Do they get along with the minotaurs? There’s an ENTIRE WORLD we could be exploring, but instead, we watch the oldest child have a chip on his shoulder because he wants to be the leader… or something. Despite all of this, the film is mostly action, the creatures are fascinating and the action well-staged. While these films can’t hope to get out of the Lord of the Rings’ shadow, they will do until the next epic fantasy series comes along.


Kung Fu Panda (on DVD now):

What a pleasant surprise this movie was. We all saw the TV ads with Jack Black’s panda smashing his butt onto the face of a tiger, and hitting someone up into the sky with his fat belly while muttering, “Skedoosh!” I thought, “Great, another Dreamworks 3-D animated flick that relies on butts, farts, fat creatures, and general stupidity to be funny.” (See: the Shrek films.) This film not only transcends its marketing strategy by a longshot, it also contains some of the best fight scenes all year long. The villain’s escape from jail was more genuinely exciting than anything in Indiana Jones 4 or Hancock. What’s more, the action didn’t just exist for the sake of it—much like in a truly great action flick, the fights furthered along the plot. The script stays very smart, letting everything grow appropriately, so that even though the plot stays well within the realm of convention, the climax is still shockingly satisfying and surprising. If only Dreamworks more often made smart, engaging films such as this, instead of resorting to loud, gross, dumb affairs filled with obnoxious pop music and little adult jokes that attempt (in vain) to win over anyone in the audience with half a brain. This film doesn’t try to straddle the kid-adult fence—it treats the audience equally, and with respect. It’s a shame it had to come up against a sensational Pixar movie like Wall-E this year in the Oscars, because it’s certainly the best non-Pixar 3-D animated film to date, and sets a terrific example to the other studios on how to compete with Pixar— smart, simple storytelling with heart.

The Fall (on DVD now):

When I describe this movie to people, I can hear them immediately growing disinterested. The conversation goes like this:

Me: “You’ve got to see this movie. It’s called The Fall.”

Friend: “What’s it about?”

Me: “It’s about a crippled man who tells stories to a girl in a hospital-like facility in the 1920s.”

Friend: “Oh?”

Me: “Yeah, but these stories are acted out on screen, and they’re full of fantasy and magic and beautiful costumes and imagery.”

Friend: “Uh-huh… is this Spielberg?”

Me: “No, it’s Tarsem.”

Friend: “Tarsem what?”

Me: “He goes only by Tarsem.”

Friend: “*backs away slowly*”

My descriptions won’t ever do it justice. They won’t capture how sad and affecting this film is, how sensational and perplexing the end is, and how natural the relationship between the man and the little girl is. I’m not sure if Tarsem has done enough to merit one-name status, but this is a work of bold originality, taking elements of genres we’re familiar with and combining them in new surprising ways with dreamlike imagery that has to be seen to be understood. It is my understanding that Tarsem used to work in music videos, and he seems to have taken the knowledge of how to execute cinema as a visual artform from his experience without taking the rapid editing, vapid characterizations, and other weaknesses of that medium. Pushing Daisies fans will recognize Lee Pace as the crippled actor—I was unfamiliar with him until this film, now he is firmly on my radar as a compelling, honest, and witty actor. Stories—and movies—should capture your imagination and make the imaginary feel real. Tarsem has managed to do exactly that, in a film about the power of stories. A lack of nominations for any number of categories, including but not limited to Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design, would be a crime— this is one of the best movies of the year.

~ by russellhainline on December 16, 2008.

One Response to “DVD Releases: Prince Caspian, Kung Fu Panda, The Fall”

  1. The fall has got to be one of the best gems I’ve ever found. If you can buy and watch this on Blu-Ray you will die a happy man!

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