Weekly DVD/Video Picks

Ice Age (2002)

Take a lumbering, unconventional lug and pair him with a diminutive, fast-talking, wisecracking sidekick who occasionally needs rescuing. Give them a mission: someone lost or stranded, whom the odd-couple heroes must rescue and escort to some final destination, through dangers and obstacles. Throw in an antagonist with a selfish interest in the one being escorted. Then, over time, have the big lug slowly start to get attached to the one he's escorting, creating poignancy over the anticipated parting.

That's the formula used by Pixar in Monsters, Inc., by DreamWorks in Shrek and by computer-animation upstart 20th Century Fox in Ice Age.

Ice Age lacks the invention of Monsters and the satiric wit of Shrek, but it's still sprightly, funny, wholesome entertainment for (almost) the whole family, thanks largely to John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth, who gets all the best lines.

Themes of friendship and sacrifice, though generically predictable, still carry some sincerity, and a supporting character's slow transition has moments both funny and touching.

Content advisory: Some cartoon menace and combat; offscreen deaths of some minor characters; brief toilet humor. Okay for kids.

(1963)

Once firmly established in the pantheon of the greatest directors, Federico Fellini has lately fallen somewhat out of fashion, though not necessarily for the right reasons.

Self-indulgent may be, and brimming with narcissistic self-loathing and cinematic sleight-of-hand. Yet if Fellini has any greatness or interest as a director, it is for all that is Felliniesque about films like La Dolce Vita and . That's not to say the naysayers don't have a point — or even that Fellini does. Style and imaginative virtuosity he has, in abundance. Yet when Fellini's semi-autobiographical protagonist, a dissolute, creatively paralyzed director, announces, “I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it anyway,” it's impossible not to hear Fellini's voice.

Roger Ebert claims “is not a film about a director out of ideas — it is a film filled to bursting with inspiration.” It's probably both. One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the art category.

Content advisory: Ambiguous depiction of dissolute themes including an extramarital affair and a surreal harem fantasy sequence. Mature viewing.

La Strada (1954)

La Strada is the cardinal work in Federico Fellini's oeuvre, the turning point from his Italian neorealist roots to the florid imagery and surreal narrative style that have come to be known as “Felliniesque.” The story has the simplicity and directness of a morality tale. A brutal strongman named Zampano buys a waiflike simpleton named Gelsomina to use in his sideshow act. Despite her natural buoyancy, Gelsomina is fairly miserable in her new life until her imagination is fired by the Fool, a jester-like tight-rope walker who antagonizes Zampano. The inevitable conflict leads to tragic consequences, climaxing in a moment of ambiguous self-revelation.

Straddling the two halves of Fellini's career, this is the one film that both schools can agree upon and is a popular candidate for Fellini's best film. Yet despite its critical significance, it is a difficult film, and no critical account I have yet read of the film has been persuasive to me. One of the 15 films on the Vatican film list in the art category.

Content advisory: Depiction of an abusive relationship; some violence. Mature viewing.