Video Picks ... Passes
A Knight's Tale (Extended Cut): PASS
We're No Angels: PICK
Chris Wedge and his cohorts at Blue Sky Studios learned a lot making their first film, Ice Age — and it shows in their superior sophomore film, Robots, new this week on DVD.
Robots combines the visionary world-building of Monsters, Inc. and the toybox nostalgia of Toy Story. There's also sly social commentary aimed at insecurity advertising, the corporate stratagem of instilling inadequacy in order to make some product indispensable.
Once-benevolent Bigweld Industries, which historically proclaimed the inspirational message, “You can shine no matter what you're made of!” now raises the demoralizing question “Why be YOU when you can be … NEW?” There's even a pro-life resonance in the film's depiction of the sinister plot to scrap obsolete members of society who've outlived their usefulness and are beginning to fall apart.
There are two main drawbacks. Wedge leans too much on crude humor, especially Shrek-style flatulence humor, and an almost British preoccupation with bottom jokes.
More seriously, the Blue Sky team (like rivals DreamWorks) still can't hold a candle to Pixar when it comes to crafting interesting, layered characters and emotionally complex narratives. Despite a few somewhat touching moments, it comes off clever rather than heartfelt. Still, it's a high grade of clever, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Also new this week is A Knight's Tale (Extended Cut), an unnecessary repackaging of a silly, feel-good popcorn movie that's enjoyable enough in its original form, but certainly doesn't need to be 12 minutes longer. In fact, the original cut is already too long, and three “restored” scenes, available on earlier DVD editions as supplements, were rightly deleted.
Even in its theatrical cut, A Knight's Tale isn't quite a masterpiece. Hero Heath Ledger is upstaged by sidekick Paul Bettany, love-interest Shannyn Sossamon is less appealing than female sidekick Laura Fraser, characters act out of character for no reason, and the story is an unbroken string of clichés and anachronisms.
Yet it has a winning gung-ho enthusiasm, confidence and will to entertain. It's funny, especially Bettany's long-winded, improvised introductions of Ledger at tournaments. The thundering horses, glinting armor and shattering lances are fun to watch in slow motion.
Ledger is engaging as a squire longing to be a knight, and there's something refreshing about an action film in which the hero seeks no further satisfaction against the villain than knocking him flat on his back. But there's no reason not to find the original 2001 version of the film.
Also debuting this week on DVD is Michael Curtiz's slightly macabre but good-hearted 1955 comedy We're No Angels (not to be confused with the loose 1989 remake).
Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray star as escaped convicts, who plan to rob a local mom and pop, then have a change of heart. Before long the thugs are pitching in — but when Basil Rathbone shows up as the shop's villainous owner, the convicts must take matters into their own hands. Adolphe, a poisonous pet snake who lives in Ray's pocket, plays a key role in the darkly comic resolution, in which everyone gets what they deserve.
Bogey's deadpan performance delivers the comic goods, and Rathbone is delightfully nasty. An unconventional Christmas treat.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Robots contains mild innunedo, some crass humor, and much animated excitement. A Knight's Tale contains tournament violence, fleeting rear nudity, some sex-related dialogue and crude language, and a brief anticlerical depiction, and is okay for teens and up. We're No Angels contains mild innuendo, menace and offscreen deaths and might be okay for older kids.
- September 25-Oct. 1, 2005