DVD Picks & Passes 09.20.2009

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008)

Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection (1989-2009)

Battle for Terra (2009)

Hero (2002)

New Wallace and Gromit! A Matter of Loaf and Death marks the return of Nick Park’s Claymation duo to the half-hour short format of their first three films, following a successful foray into feature-length cinema in Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

After spoofing the horror/thriller genre in their last few outings, the Aardman team takes a stab (so to speak) at a murder mystery. Someone is knocking off British bakers — and wouldn’t you know it, cheese-loving Wallace and ever-silent Gromit are in bread themselves at the moment.

Then there’s The Girl, Piella (Sally Lindsay), formerly the face of the Bake-O-Lite bread company, whom Wallace rescues from an out-of-control bicycle. “It’s not every day you meet the girl of your dreams,” Wallace crows, though, in fact, Piella is his third love interest in as many outings.

Has the bounce gone from their bungee? Not quite, but there’s a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe this time around. It’s a pleasant lark, but the least impressive of the duo’s outings since the original “A Grand Day Out.” The formula starts to wear thin: Just once, I’d like to see Wallace save Gromit, rather than the other way around. Still, it’s enjoyable fun.

“Loaf and Death” is available singly or in Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection, which includes the first three shorts: the charming “A Grand Day Out,” the flat-out brilliant “The Wrong Trousers” and the equally brilliant “A Close Shave” (but not Curse of the Were-Rabbit). It’s well worth getting the set if you don’t have them already.

Also new on DVD, Battle for Terra is a curiosity: an uncompromising, hard-science fiction parable that builds a brilliantly imagined alien world, but bogs down on story.

Though themes of environmentalism and pacifism aren’t taken to extremes, Terra tries too hard to be good for you. I appreciate their ambition and daring; if the filmmakers learn to create characters and plots worthy of their world-building, they’ll be onto something.

Available in new Blu-ray and DVD special editions, Zhang Yimou’s Hero is a visually sumptuous exercise in art-house martial-arts cinema à la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The story, set at the dawn of the Chinese Imperial Era, extols nonviolence, yet offers an unconvincing rationale for force in the name of political unity.

This contradiction lies close to the heart of Chinese cultural identity, making Hero an intriguing mythic ethnography, a storybook compendium of Chinese mores. It deserves thoughtful viewing.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Wallace & Gromit: Slapstick violence and comic menace. “Loaf and Death” includes some mildly risqué humor. Still fine family viewing. Battle for Terra: Intense, sometimes fatal sci-fi action violence; misguided religious references; complex moral and social themes requiring discernment. Not for sensitive youngsters. Hero: Intense stylized violence; a brief but forceful sexual encounter (no nudity); ambiguous treatment of life-and-death moral issues, including suicide. Mature 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.