DVD Picks 12.18.11

Buster Keaton: Seven Chances (1925) PICK

Fright Night (2011) PASS

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) PICK

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) PICK

Po is back in Kung Fu Panda 2, a pretty successful follow-up to DreamWorks Animation’s entertaining 2008 original. The sequel follows a familiar pattern: deeper emotions and darker themes, more action and higher stakes, and exploration of the hero’s past. The animation is gorgeous, and it’s nice to see Po fighting alongside his boyhood heroes, the Furious Five, particularly in an opening set piece choreographed as a musical number. A hilarious sequence with a dragon puppet is even better.

The storytelling stumbles a bit, notably revealing too much back story up front. But Po’s coming to terms with his adoptive origins is touching — and touches on questions that many adoptive children have, while ultimately affirming Po’s relationship with the loving father who raised him.

I’m more conflicted about Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a smart reboot that I’m calling a borderline recommendation. To its credit, Rise invests its nightmarish apocalyptic scenario with about as much scientific plausibility as possible and builds in the third act toward an inevitable climax like a crescendo.

Andy Sirkus plays the chimpanzee Caesar through the magic of performance-capture. His relationship with James Franco’s scientist and Franco’s father, John Lithgow (in a touching performance), is both moving and unnerving. I like the low-key plot development, but the movie doesn’t seem to have any thematic subtext on its mind — no anxieties or cautionary concerns comparable to the source material. If you consider where it’s all going, the triumphant tone of the climax is troubling.

One I’m not at all conflicted about: this year’s junky remake of the trashy but semi-interesting 1980s’ vampire flick Fright Night. It leaves out all of the original’s adolescent anxiety about relationships and adds a lot of physical intimacy and gory violence. Skip this offensive tripe.

Off the beaten path, Kino’s new Blu-ray edition of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances is a great opportunity to revisit this silent comedy classic about a young man trying to marry in a hurry to satisfy his grandfather’s will. The climactic landslide is one of the greatest set pieces of all time. Highly recommended.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Kung Fu Panda: Much animated action violence and menace, some fairly intense; family themes that could be disturbing to sensitive children (e.g., death of a mother). Fine for older kids. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Violence and menace, including mistreatment of animals, conflict between apes and a battle between apes and armed humans; an apparent live-in relationship; cursing and limited profanity. Teens & up. Seven Chances: Comic depiction of pursuit of marriage, but nothing offensive. Fine family viewing.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.