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Posted Nov. 06, 2009, at 7:38 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“Up” DVD, Blu-ray: According to the Disney-Pixar collaboration “Up,” things are looking up for the housing market. Way up. Especially if you attach a roaring mass of helium-filled balloons to your house, let them rip through the chimney and thus assist you in floating up and away to wherever your heart leads you. In this case, the heart in question belongs to Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner), a former balloon salesman and elderly widower who appears to have no heart at all. He was happy as a young man, but now he’s a bitter curmudgeon who misses his dead wife Ellie so much (the film’s early scenes of observing the couple in their youth is the movie at its best), he plans to sail away to Paradise Falls, Venezuela. It’s there that he and Ellie once promised they’d visit (they didn’t), and it’s there that Carl now will enjoy new adventures before death pays its unwanted visit. Trouble is, well — trouble abounds. Not long after Carl and his house lift off for a new life on a new continent, a knock comes at the door. Behind it is 8-year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai), a terrified boy who needs just one more badge to become a full-fledged Wilderness Scout. Achieving such a badge involves helping the elderly, which Carl wants no part of, but who wants to bet he acquiesces and allows Russell inside to safety? If there’s a quibble with “Up,” it is its predictability. Still, the movie can be surprisingly moving, its attention to detail builds a groundswell of admiration, and the action is brisk and intense. Initially, the film is filled with long stretches of silence, where the story is told visually and beautifully without the need for words. Toward its middle, convention settles in as Carl and Russell nudge toward their inevitable bond. Joining them there are a talking dog named Dug (Bob Peterson), a giant bird named Kevin and the evil explorer Charles M. Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who wants Kevin at all costs. The wry moments of humor that follow are spot-on, as is how the script handless death and loneliness. Its refusal to sugarcoat either deepens the movie’s appeal, with Carl’s longing for Ellie so palpable, few won’t be moved as the film wends along its harrowing way. Rated PG. Grade: B+

“Cars: Ultimate Cars Giftset” Blu-ray and DVD: Flat tire. Pixar’s beautiful-looking yet boring computer-animated movie is the weakest in its collaboration with Disney. You can’t win them all, and this time, the studios haven’t even come close. Sandbagged by a joyless midsection that goes nowhere, this dull movie fails to offer much in the way of wit, energy, heart and entertainment. Some will understandably rent or buy the new gift set, which includes two discs (the film on Blu-ray and on DVD) and also two cars, one a die-cast model of Lightning McQueen, the other of Mater, but it’s all just hoopla. The movie has none of the innovation of, say, “The Incredibles” or “WALL-E,” nor does it have the spirit of the “Toy Story” movies and “Finding Nemo.” “Cars” tries for a mix of both, but since it’s so focused on achieving the best in cutting-edge animation (which it does), it fails to remember what matters — the story and characters — and so it creates the odd movie you forget while watching it. Rated: Grade: C

“Godzilla” Blu-ray: Eleven years ago, when “Godzilla” first swung its meaty tail in theaters, it did so with a marketing campaign meant to tease and titillate: “Size Does Matter!” the ads proclaimed. Still — between us — does size really matter? Consider this silly film, which features Matthew Broderick, of all people, as a scientist who comes up against Godzilla in a story that’s ultimately too small and too poorly written and directed to contain such an epic beast. Indeed, this Godzilla, which swims across the Atlantic to stomp through the cement canyons of Manhattan, is not the Godzilla most will remember from the wonderfully campy Japanese films of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Those films weren’t just bad in ways that were deliciously good, but they also gave audiences a Godzilla to look at. Director Emmerich, who mines surprisingly few thrills out of his film, has made Godzilla so big, the screen can’t contain him. And that’s a pity, so much so that in the end, it seems that size doesn’t matter after all. In fact, it’s nothing but a hindrance. Rated PG-13. Grade: D

“Mamma Mia! Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More Giftset” Blu-ray, DVD: The set is loaded with extras, including a 32-page book, a music video, deleted scenes and the film’s complete soundtrack on CD, but all pale in comparison to the film itself. You could spend all week eating bacon at a pig farm and still find more ham in this irrepressible, unstoppable kaleidoscope of karaoke camp gone berserk. The movie features a cast happily mainlining the more popular offerings in ABBA’s songbook. And what a songbook. Based on the Broadway musical of the same name, “Mamma Mia!” stars Meryl Streep as Donna, a former hippie who now toils in the hotel trade on a beautiful Greek island, where her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is about to have one big, fat Greek wedding when she marries the love of her life, Sky (Dominic Cooper). Since Sophie never has met her father but wants more than anything to have him walk her down the aisle, she does a little snooping in her mother’s heated diary and finds the three men who could be that man. They are Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth), all of whom don’t know what Sophie is up to, and neither does Donna, whose face falls the moment she’s faced with her past — and all it could mean to her present. Getting her through it are her two best girlfriends, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), each of whom once accompanied Tanya in being Donna’s backup singer in Donna & the Dynamos. The rest of the plot is a whirlwind, but all of which uses ABBA’s songs to tell its story. While it’s true that the film’s chronology never adds up, it’s best not to question it or the other moments of failed logic. This is a messy, shoot-for-the-moon-or-bust movie, with everyone so determined to deliver a good time, they go to great, successful lengths to do just that. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

“Monsters, Inc.” Blu-ray: A computer-animated wonder from Disney-Pixar that shimmers with wit and style. The film is a treat, a colorful, funny comedy that looks deep into a child’s bedroom closet and finds out that what scares us isn’t always worth fearing. John Goodman and Billy Crystal are the voices of Sulley and Mike, two working-stiff monsters who toil at Monsters, Inc., a utility company that turns a child’s scream into energy for the city of Monstropolis. Scaring kids is a tough job, one that takes surprising discipline and training. These two are legends at Monsters, Inc., so likable and good at their jobs, they have their share of girlfriends and fans. But when a precocious child named Boo sneaks through one of the factory’s many automated doors — all of which are connected to a child’s bedroom closet — the event unleashes a wave of monster fear. The reason for the upset is clear — in Monstropolis, humans are toxic, which complicates matters for Sulley and Mike, who now must deal with the problem of Boo. As the story unfolds and it becomes clear that every monster’s fears about children are unfounded, they eventually come to terms with the film’s central truth: As we continue to learn as a society, most fears are based on misinformation and ignorance, something this smart film has a great time working through. Rated G. Grade: A-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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