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View from the Couch

Pixar Short Films Collection, Spider-Man 3

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THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007). The third time's the charm with The Bourne Ultimatum, the best in the series of films based on the Robert Ludlum novels. Admittedly, I wasn't as great a fan as everyone else when it came to the first two entries in the series, 2002's The Bourne Identity and 2004's The Bourne Supremacy. While I appreciated the films' efforts to bring the spy flick back to its gritty and less gadget-oriented roots (an approach better accomplished by last year's James Bond reinvention, Casino Royale), both Identity (directed by Doug Liman) and Supremacy (helmed by Paul Greengrass) felt as if they were constantly getting stuck in the same grooves, with repetitive action sequences, a squandering of great talent in throwaway roles, and a tight-lipped protagonist so one-note that viewer empathy was next to impossible. These problems haven't all been rectified in Ultimatum, but they don't nag as consistently as before. Matt Damon, suitably taciturn even though he's still too young for the role, again stars as Jason Bourne, the former CIA assassin whose continuing bout of amnesia regarding his past perpetually keeps him searching for the truth, even as his agency handlers seek to have him terminated. Greengrass, returning to the series after taking time off to earn a Best Director Oscar nomination for United 93, tops himself with action set pieces that prove to be more exciting than those on display in his Supremacy (or Liman's Identity). One of the lengthy chase scenes is especially impressive, and makes one wonder if Damon elected to forego a straight salary in order to be paid by the kilometer.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Greengrass, 12 minutes of deleted scenes, and short pieces on the location shooting, stuntwork, and fight training.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

PIXAR SHORT FILMS COLLECTION VOLUME 1 (2007). Long before their feature-film breakthrough, 1995's Toy Story, made the company a household name, Pixar Animation Studios had already led the charge in pioneering computer animation and testing out their innovations in a handful of short films. This compilation contains those early efforts as well as the more familiar works that have preceded the studio's theatrical releases over the past 12 years. All told, there are 13 shorts on this DVD, and because they're presented in chronological order, it's fascinating to watch how the technology has evolved over the years, from the crudity of the first film, 1984's The Adventures of Andre & Wally B., to the fluidity of more recent efforts like Lifted (which ran theatrically with Ratatouille this past summer). To be sure, there are a few middling efforts in this collection: Red's Dream is a dull saga of a unicycle with dreams of grandeur, Boundin' becomes grating with its tale of a dancing lamb, and Mater and the Ghostlight, featuring characters from Cars, feels like a tossed-off afterthought. But the remaining 10 shorts are all noteworthy, and some are absolute gems: The Oscar-winning Tin Toy deals with the title gadget being pursued by a drooling, rampaging baby; Knick Knack follows a miniature plastic snowman who, tired of living inside a snow globe, attempts to break out to join the toys from sunnier climates; the Oscar-winning Geri's Game (the best of the bunch) centers on an elderly man playing chess in the park ... against himself; and For the Birds finds a flock of mean-spirited birds receiving their comeuppance.

DVD extras include audio commentaries, a brief history of Pixar, and four Sesame Street segments featuring Pixar's familiar baby lamp, Luxo Jr.

Collection: ***

Extras: **1/2

SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007). The appeal of Spider-Man has always reached far beyond the comic book crowd: Over the decades, he's become an icon of enormous proportions, a larger-than-life figure who, in the superhero genre, is matched perhaps only by Superman and Batman. With this in mind, director Sam Raimi and his various scripters have fashioned three Spider-Man flicks that have all managed to remain true to the spirit – if not always the letter – of the comic series. What's even more notable is that the three pictures have been fairly even-keeled in quality and ambition: None have reached the giddy heights of, say, 1978's Superman or 2005's Batman Begins, but they have all achieved what they set out to do: provide solid entertainment for the popcorn movie crowd. With a script by Raimi, his brother Ivan, and Oscar winner Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People), this third installment is packed to the rafters with activity and excitement. On the domestic front, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) find themselves struggling with relationship woes, while on the battlefields of NYC, Spider-Man must face off against the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), a resurgent Green Goblin (James Franco), and his own dark impulses. With so many spandex hijinks going on, it's a wonder that the movie isn't wall to wall with pounding action. But with a generous running time of 140 minutes, Raimi is able to occasionally slow down the pace and allow more introspective moments to take center stage.

Extras in the two-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by Raimi and cast members, bloopers, 11 featurettes (totaling two hours) focusing on the villains, the stunts, the location shooting and more, and eight TV spots from around the globe.

Movie: ***

Extras: ***

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