Archive for December, 2008
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
I was waiting for today in order to come out with this list. Because I wanted to make sure that the Dark Knight Blu-Ray was as incredible as I hoped it would be. And I bought it on the way home, and I watched it today, and it IS that good. So if you’re doing some Christmas shopping (especially for someone with a Blu-Ray player), you can do no better than the following movies:
11. The Bank Job (Blu-Ray): This is Jason Statham’s best movie. And his only really good one since Snatch. Rarely have I ever seen a heist movie done so well, with crackling suspense, a genuine feel, great actors and a tight, fast-moving script. Great film.
10. The Visitor: Just an unbelievably great movie. Richard Jenkins is absolutely mezmerizing, and so is the rest of the cast, in a movie about a lonely man who befriends an illegal immigrant couple. Wonderful.
9. In Bruges: An absolutely perfect little movie about a perfect little town – Bruges. Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and especially Ralph Fiennes are absoultely side-splittingly hilarious.
8. Holocaust: Amazing three-disc set of this amazing mini-series from the 70s, starring Meryl Streep, Michael Moriarty and James Woods. One of the all-time great television events came to DVD this year, and the Paramount edition does this epic achievement great justice.
7. Iron Man, Blu-Ray: If it weren’t for The Dark Knight, this would be in contention for “Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever Made”. As it stands, it’s just really, really awesome. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic, and watching the high-definition battle scenes is incredibly impressive. Worth getting on regular DVD too, of course. Hell, this one’s worth getting on poorly-bootlegged Betamax, so long as you get a chance to watch it.
6. Sunset Boulevard, Paramount Centennial Collection: A fantastic double-disc set reissue of one of the all-time classic movies, the second disc is packed with bonus features and there is a terrific commentary track (one of the few commentary tracks on a DVD that is actually worthwhile). One of the great all time movies in it’s best DVD package ever. Also great are the Audrey Hepburn Centennial Collection DVDs – Sabrina and Roman Holiday.
5. Kung Fu Panda, Dreamworks Secrets of the Furious Five edition: One of the great kids’ movies of the year has an excellent second disc, touching on the history of kung fu and kung fu cinema in a very entertaining, informative, and kid-friendly way. Awesome movie, awesome DVD edition.
4. Into The Wild, Blu-Ray: This one actually doesn’t come out until next week. So wait until next week. But the picture definition of this incredibly picturesque movie is exquisite, and so is the movie. A lyrical, brilliant tale of a young man who sets off to do his own thing in the world. A must-see movie, this is the best way to see it.
3. WALL-E, Blu-Ray: The amazing picture quality of Blu-Ray is ideal for a brilliant, almost entirely visual kids’ movie, the second-best film of the year. Unbelievable, and hilarious, and you better get your kids to watch it, Blu-Ray or not. Great special features too – that short film, Presto, that was shown in the theatres, is available as a special feature, and so are a few other great and hilarious short Pixar films.
2. The Dark Knight, Blu-Ray: The best movie of 2008 in an absolutely incredible visual format. Christopher Nolan, the director, knew that CGI often looks very fake on hig-definition formats. So the chases, the stunts, the flipping trucks and the explosions – for the most part, they are real. And they look amazing. The Joker is not only Heath Ledger’s best performance, and the best performance by any actor this year, but it ranks up there with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in terms os greatest movie villain protrayals of all time.
1. The Godfather Trilogy, Blu-Ray: THIS is the best DVD released this year. Two of the ten greatest movies ever made, and another pretty good one, in their greatest release and best edition ever. They can stop making Godfather DVD sets altogether now, because they have now attained perfection. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are already, basically, perfect movies. But you haven’t lived until you see James Caan gunned down at a tollboth in high-def. OK, well, you’ve probably lived. But not as well as you could have.
Honourable mention to the Lone Ranger 75th Anniversary box set, because of it’s nostalgic value and packaging, and to the Scream trilogy, both from Alliance Films. Scream didn’t make it onto the list because of the lack of special features, and chances are that fans already have the discs. And the Lone Ranger didn’t make it because the best thing to recommend it is the extras that don’t include the DVDs themselves.
Friday, December 5th, 2008
You can’t watch Orangutan Island, out November 4th from Alliance Films, without immediately thinking of Meerkat Manor. The styles are similar, the concept is similar, and they are both put out by the Animal Planet channel. And when she got home from work, my girlfriend made me watch both series, beginning to end. But Orangutan Island is much different from Meerkat Manor in one significant respect – it is not real. Where Meerkat Manor follows the adventures of a real meerkat colony in South Africa, as recorded by a group of Cambridge University students, Orangutan Island does not document the real-life interaction of orangutans.
Because of (among other environmental factors) deforestation in Borneo, there are no natural habitats for wild orangutans left. The Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project (NMORP) is an organization dedicated to re-introducing rescued orangutans into the wild. As you might have guessed from the title of the organization. Stating the obvious is one of my strong suits. They rescue orphaned orangutans from, among other things, clear-cut forest areas, the underground exotic pet trade, and in at least one case, a degrading and sad performing career where orangutans put on boxing gloves and fight other orangutans.
But since there are no natural habitats for these creatures left, the NMORP has decided to create one themselves. So they have set up an island in the middle of Borneo as a sort of orangutan refuge, where they release their orphaned little guys as soon as they are old enough and have learned enough survival skills. Ordinarily, in the wild, orangutans are solitary creatures who live a solo existence, moving around completely independantly and having very little contact with other members of their species. However, because of the limited space available for these rescued animals, the NMORP are forced to release them all into the same, small island space.
Which means we are not watching orangutans behave the way they normally do in the wild. Instead, we are watching an experiment. A fascinating and entertaining experiment, but it is not reality for wild orangutans, in as much as that reality still exists. So instead we are watching a bunch of young apes learning to interact with each other in a way that is not natural to them. Instead of foraging for their own food, fruits and vegetables are brought in for them, since there is not enough naturally-occurring food on the island to support the number of animals who have been released there.
That being said, the lack of true “reality” in this “reality show” is not really a problem that makes it less interesting. It is merely a fact of life for these wonderful creatures, and as we watch the show, we are constantly aware that this is not totally natural, because of the effect human beings have had on these animals, and that can make one sad throughout the series. But there is more than enough entertainment value in orangutans simply being orangutans to make this show totally compelling and worthwhile.
Orangutans, first of all, are expressive. Madly expressive. In many cases, even more expressive than most humans. Secondly, they are ugly. And cute. They are such incredibly ugly creatures that by the time you have watched them for ten minutes, their ugliness has grown on you and you start to believe that there is something charming about it. And within twenty minutes, you are starting to think of them as cute little beings. Like Steve Buscemi. Or James Carville. I see James Carville now and I just want to pat him on the head. He’s a sweetie.
Also, the stories are entertaining and interesting from one episode to another. As the orangutans are introduced to the island, their distinct personalities and expressions set them apart from one another, and we start to root for certain animals to do well. Personally, I was very much wrapped up in the story of Saturnus, the smallest ape on the island who has a real taste for the ladies. At first, he goes after Jasmine, who appears (although it’s tough to tell with these ugly, ugly animals) to be the island hottie, what with all the male attention she receives. Or perhaps she just smells like a jackfruit. It is never fully explained.
And then he falls for the unfortunately-named “Bertha”, the biggest female on the island. Which is kinda funny too. There are some attempts made to make the orangutans seem more “human” than they really are – there is one episode where a water bottle is found, and treated as though it is the most valuable item on the island – shades of The Gods Must Be Crazy. It feels a little contrived, and that is totally unnecessary. Orangutans are fascinating on their own, they are entertaining on their own, and they need no help from a narrator or a production company to make a viewer smile.
Orangutan Island, first season, is out on DVD now, and it’s worth picking up. Especially for kids. But Meerkat Manor is better, if you’re looking for a Christmas present or something. Both would be good…