Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kung Fu Panda DVD Two-Pack

Kung Fu Panda elevates itself above typical cutesy animal movies by avoiding fart jokes, taking a serious and focused approach to the story, and most importantly, utilizing incredibly lush, elegant art direction that adds an epic touch to the film. Even though its star attraction of Jack Black might lead the uninitiated to expect a jokey, childish ride, the scenic vistas and respectful handling of the subject matter make this a crowd pleaser for viewers of all ages.

Black plays the titular hero, a chubby panda named Po who longs for a life of kung fu but finds himself confined to working in his father’s noodle shop. He closely follows the exploits of the Furious Five, a motley crew of highly skilled kung fu masters famous throughout the land. When he learns of a contest to pick the ultimate kung fu warrior, he ditches his duties and attempts to crash the party, ultimately leading to his unlikely selection as the chosen one. Thus begins his uneasy apprenticeship with the master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) as he learns the secrets of kung fu and eventually gears for battle with the master’s evil and ferocious former student. It’s a simple, straightforward tale, and indeed it starts out fairly average, but as the movie progresses it creates such a vivid and fully realized world that it’s a shame to see it come to an end. Luckily, the filmmakers apparently felt the same way.

Released as part of a DVD double pack, the deluxe package includes a new disc called Secrets of the Furious Five, a completely new half-hour film that briefly goes into the background of each of the Five, exploring their beginnings and how they came to develop their unique fighting styles. It’s set up as a learning example Po uses for his young charges, a group of rambunctious and cute rabbit kung fu trainees. Po is basically a bumper in between each of the five shorts, and while his segments are in the same lush CG as the film, the shorts are a stripped-down, pseudo-Flash style closer to the superflat look of the Samurai Jack tv series. The change in animation style is a bit of a letdown, but not enough to sink an admirable effort to extend the franchise a bit. It’s questionable whether this really needed its own disc and individual case when it could likely be included on the main movie disc, but it also includes a few extras and printables to round it out a bit. One extra uses actors to demonstrate different kung fu fighting styles, while another has a group of dancers demonstrating some choreography, and another calculates your Chinese zodiac sign as well as a description. There’s also a quickie game and a couple of trailers.

As for the extras on the movie DVD, the vast selection approaches overkill but practically guarantees something for everyone. There’s commentary, a look at the cast, a feature on the film’s sound design, a featurette called “Pushing the Boundaries”, a music video, a live-action look at making noodles from scratch, a live-action demonstration of the proper way to use chopsticks, a look at panda conservation efforts, a “Training Academy” game, printables and weblinks, and the requisite trailers.

Kung Fu Panda is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


While you may have heard the infamous story of the plane crash survivors who were forced to resort to cannibalism in order to survive, or even saw the big-screen dramatization (1993’s Alive), this riveting new documentary uses the actual survivors to recount the tale in their own words for the first time. Their first-hand account of the days following the crash drives home the desperation of their tragic situation and ultimately delivers a life-affirming message.

On October 13th, 1972, a young rugby team from Uruguay boarded a flight for a game in Chile, but vanished into inclement weather conditions over the Andes. 72 days later, 16 of the 45 passengers were rescued. What happened in those desperate days affected the survivors for the rest of their lives, but as evidenced by their deeply personal interviews, the experience didn’t define them. Miraculously, over 35 years later, all of the survivors featured appear to be well-adjusted, content, and extremely grateful men who have gone on to lead stable and normal lives as husbands and fathers.

The film is a mix of interviews, archival footage and pictures, as well as new reenactments. In my opinion, the reenactments added nothing to the film as the mental images conveyed via the interviews were exceedingly powerful on their own. They seemed to act as a distraction, pulling me out of the film’s flow every time new footage was used and reminding me that they were purely manufactured images rather than the real deal. Conversely, the archival footage and pictures are harrowing, especially those taken near the end of their ordeal as their skeletal, ungroomed forms appeared to be more spectral than physical. Setting all images aside, the true stars of the film are the current-day survivors, aging men who have had a lifetime to reflect on their shared experience. They’re not only informative; they’re eloquent, lyrical, and completely unguarded as they describe the details of their ordeal as well as the impact of the experience on their lives.

Stranded opens in NY, LA and San Francisco on November 7th before rolling out to additional cities in the coming weeks. For more information about the film and a complete list of locations and dates, visit www.zeitgeistfilms.com/.

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