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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - April, 2013

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"Hyde Park on Hudson" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-april-2013-hydepark

Synopsis

Hyde Park on Hudson is the story of FDR’s (Murray) special relationship with Margret Stuckley (Linney), a distant cousin, and one of several mistresses he had during his presidency.  To complicate matters, he is hosting the King and Queen of England on their first-ever visit to America, at his Hyde Park home.  Margret is content to take a back seat to his demanding life as President until discovering she is not the only object of his affections.  In the end, she accepts that too, as the price of being intimately involved with one of the central figures in mid-twentieth century world history.  The weekend nearly erupts in chaos but all is contained and a special bond is formed between the US and Britain that would become pivotal to the outcome of World War II.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 35 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams
  • Directed by: Roger Michell
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Implied
  • Language: No

Commentary

I was prepared to like this film based on its plot synopsis but it was disappointing in execution.  While there are some terrific actors in the cast, the script comes off more like a reality show rather than a plot-driven presentation.  Conversations often grow stale and fizzle out rather than advancing the story in this dialog-driven movie.  The best part is the portrayal of the King and Queen of England, thanks to excellent performances by Olivia Colman and Samuel West.  Their reactions to meeting FDR and his entourage are at times priceless, and always funny.  This is also a rare opportunity to see Bill Murray in a serious role and he did fairly well; at least as well as he could given the material at hand.  Laura Linney also brings her considerable talent to the table but again, the script falls short.  While this is certainly an interesting look into FDR’s personal life, it could have been treated better.

Technical

The image is superb with beautiful warm tones and a vintage color palette used throughout.  Detail is always sharp and well-delineated.  Contrast is also broad and deep with rich blacks, excellent shadow detail, and soft highlights.  The color stays consistent whether a scene takes place indoors or out.  I also appreciated how natural everything looked.  There was none of the stylized interpretation that is so common in modern films.  This is one of the best period presentations I’ve seen to date.

Audio was clean and crisp thanks to an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio encode.  Dialog is the key element here and it was perfectly mixed and presented.  The music was a nice mix of period-correct popular songs and orchestral fills.  Ambient effects were used beautifully to create a believable country atmosphere as the entire movie takes place in upstate New York.  There wasn’t really anything for the sub and surrounds to do but it’s an omission that will not be noticed.

Extras

Bonus features include deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a short documentary about FDR’s early presidency, and commentary by director Roger Michell and producer Kevin Loader.


"Lincoln" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Apr-2013-Lincoln

Synopsis

Capturing the danger and excitement of political intrigue, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln chronicles the final four months in the life of the man regarded as America's greatest President. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, the untold story focuses on a defining moment in Abraham Lincoln's life - as commander-in-chief of a country in chaos; as a husband and father afraid of losing his own son to the war; and as a man guided by his conscience to end slavery. With the Civil War nearing conclusion, President Lincoln fights to convince a fractious Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment that will change the course of history. Facing fierce opposition, he wages a battle of strategy, persuasion, and political muscle to build a coalition out of his team of rivals

Specifications

  • Dreamworks Pictures
  • 2012, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 50 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader
  • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Focusing on the last few months of the Civil War, this portal of Lincoln and the compromising he had to go through to get the 13th amendment passed is a tour-de-force of acting skills by Day-Lewis. He portrays Lincoln with a war weary soul, yet with the single minded energy to get what he wants. From loving father and devoted husband to shrewd statesman, this movie gives us a look into the life of one of our greatest presidents and a keen insight into how politics played out in 1865 (not unlike the way things are today). The movie gives such an intimate look into this time period, you almost feel like you were there when it happened. This is perhaps the best film I have seen this year. Even though you know how it is going to end, you feel a real sense of loss at the closing, all the same. Highly recommended!

Technical

The picture and sound are exemplary. Everything from lighting, costumes and battles scenes play out on the big screen with wonderful contrasts, colors, details and soundstage. The music is beautiful as well. This is a wonderful movie that is supported by the sound and picture quality to match the story.

Extras

  • The Journey To Lincoln, A Historic Tapestry, Exclusive HD Content:In The Company Of Character , Crafting The Past , Living With Lincoln, In Lincoln's Footsteps (4 disc combo only).

 "Hemingway and Gellhorn" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-april-2013-hemingway-and-gellhorn

Synopsis

This award-winning movie follows the relationship of Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman) against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War through their divorce near the end of World War II.  Shot in a unique style, the movie intersperses modern footage with vintage film from conflicts in Spain, Finland, China and Europe.  The supporting cast features a number of notable stars such as David Strathairn, Tony Shalhoub, Parker Posey, Lars Ulrich, Molly Parker and Rodrigo Santoro.

Specifications

  • HBO
  • 2012, Color, Rated TV-MA, 2 Hr 35 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen
  • Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I jumped all over this movie when it came across the wire.  That's because my own Mother met Ernest Hemingway in Cuba in 1951.  I even remember seeing a picture of her and him sitting in his boat.  So I wanted to see this recreation of Hemingway in a very big way.  Due to a series of conflicts, I wound up watching this movie over the span of two evenings.  In the first shift, I watched the beginning through where Hemingway and Gellhorn consummate their relationship.  I found this beginning sequence of the movie to be curiously boring.  I didn't get back to the movie for the better part of a week.  Then when I did get the chance to finish off the movie, I really got into the last hour and a half of it and my final analysis is that this is a powerful and profound story.  But I'm only giving it three and a half stars because of the tepid beginning and the somewhat bloated runtime.

Technical

This movie features very unique cinematography.  It is a mix of pristine digital photography, digital photography that is manipulated to look dated as well as scenes where the modern day actors are inserted into vintage footage.  This results in continuous transitions between color imagery, sepia-hued monochrome to over-saturated colors with significant film grain.  The transitions are sudden but the effect, though gimmicky, is passed along nicely through the clean and sharp transfer.  

The DTS HD Master audio is bombastic in the battle scenes and demonstrates excellent vocal clarity in the softer sequences.  The musical score is also beautifully recorded and mastered.  This movie won Emmy Awards for Sound Editing and for Javier Navarrete's Music Composition.  I heartily agree with these awards after spending some time with the Blu-ray of this film.   

Extras

I reviewed a two-disc collection that includes the Blu-ray and a DVD. The special features on the Blu-ray are in High Definition and include "Behind the Visual Effects" (the cast and crew discuss the special effects and how they enriched the film's historical accuracy), "Making Hemingway & Gellhorn" (from casting to costumes to editing, the cast and crew provide a detailed view of the production process) and an Audio Commentary with Director Philip Kaufman and Editor Walter Murch.


 "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - Series 1" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-april-2013-miss-fisher

Synopsis

This dramatic TV series from Australia follows Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) who is an amateur detective in 1920's Melbourne.  As the disc cover says, she is a "thoroughly modern" woman operating in a mostly male world.  The local Detective Inspector, Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) is at first put off by her efforts but over time he grows quietly fond of her contributions.  This series includes numerous long and mid range story lines with characters and guest stars galore.  The first season's 13 episodes are presented in 1080i on three Blu-ray discs with some special features on Disc 3. 

Specifications

  • Acorn
  • 2012, Color, Not Rated, 11 Hr 46 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080i
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 2.0 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Essie Davis, Nathan Page, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Ashleigh Cummings and Miriam Margolyes
  • Directed by: Tony Tilse, Daina Reid,etc.
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I enjoyed this series immensely despite that some of the stories become overly formulaic at times.  But the acting is solid, led by the incomparable Essie Davis.  She has excellent on-screen chemistry with her rival, Jack Robinson played by Nathan Page.  She also uses her resources well, particularly Robinsion's understudy Hugh Collins (Johnstone-Burt).  And don't forget that she carries a pearl-handled pistol just in case.  So the stories are not as intricate as the great murder mysteries of the past, but they are engaging and there is a purpose at hand with lessons to be learned.  While the series can be racy at times, it is no where near as extreme as many American TV series have become and I found it largely suitable for kids over about 12.

Technical

The main feature is encoded at 1080i and this opens the door for some softness and artifacting not normally seen on Blu-rays mastered at 1080p.  These issues were seen on my big front projector but were non-existent when watching the episodes on my 50" Kuro plasma at a seating distance of around 10'.  The picture is generally sharp with tame dynamics by modern standards.  It is very watchable.

The audio is lossless DTS HD Master 2.0 and I listened to it in stereo.  It is reasonably dynamic during action sequences with realistic sounds of gunfire, punches and other Foley effects.  Dialog is passably audible, but I considered using some compression to bring up the dialog at different points in the viewing period.  As with the video, the audio is commensurate with a high quality TV production. 

Extras

The special features are upconverted from 480i and include "The Look of Miss Fisher" a 19-minute featurette, "Meet the Creators", a set tour and Cast interviews (Interviews with Davis, Page, Johnstone-Burt and Cummings).


 "Planet Ocean" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-April-2013-Ocean

Synopsis

Planet Ocean captures extraordinary images of our remarkable oceans - the source of all life on our planet. The film aims to explain some of the planet's greatest natural mysteries, while reinforcing how essential it is that mankind learns to live in harmony with our oceans. Planet Ocean serves as a reminder of the bond between humans and nature, and the duty that exists to protect and respect our planet. 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2013, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 36 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master & a dozen other languages
  • Starring: The narrative voice of Josh Duhamel
  • Directed by: Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Michael Pitiot
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Visually stunning and full of interesting information, this film is a fine documentary on how man and the sea are interdependent on one another. The producers certainly take sides as to who is to blame for global warming, but unlike other films of this ilk, the movie actually provides some concrete answers to some of the major issues facing our planet. That said, I still felt that the movie was preaching to the choir, as those that would watch this movie already understand what needs to be done. I could not help but feel a little depressed at the end because the damages we are inflicting on our environment are severe and getting mankind, as a whole, to do anything about it seems unlikely.

Technical

Picture quality can be stunning at times, with beautifully colored fish and coral reefs. Almost all scenes are sharply delineated, but banding shows up in any scene that shows changes in light. It’s not terrible, but the banding appears often enough to knock down the overall score a point. Sound was very good with a beautiful soundtrack to enhance the wonderful images on the screen. The narration is well centered in the CC and Josh Duhamel voice is quite soothing, with just the right amount of gravitas.

 

Extras

Only a featurette is provided. Hey, the film is already a documentary.


"Django Unchained" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-april-2013-django-unchained

Synopsis

Django is a slave who is taken by Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter in search of the three Brittle Brothers.  As Django knows what they look like and Schultz does not, he makes him a deal: Help me kill them, and I’ll reward you with $75 and your freedom.  Happy to take him up on the offer, Django and Schultz quickly find the brothers and dispatch them.  Now Django is set to go in search of his wife, Broomhilda, who was separated from him and who he desperately wants to find.

Dr. Schultz realizes that seeking her out will be a challenge, but he agrees to help Django do so after they spend the winter bounty hunting together.  In their quest to find Broomhilda, they discover Calvin Candie, on his plantation Candieland, currently owns her.  To attract his interest, they pretend to be interested in Mandingo fighting, where two slaves fight barehanded to the death.  Using this ruse, they attempt to gain access to Candieland, and discover if she is actually there to be rescued.

Specifications

  • Starz
  • 2012, Color, R, 2 Hr 45 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christopher Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Extreme
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Extreme

Commentary

Even for Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained is amazingly violent and bloody.  Of course, any film that revolves around slavery, bounty hunting, and fights to the death is liable to be violent, but this was extremely so.  That aside, Quentin Tarantino certainly seems to have mastered the art of violent revenge fanasties, from Kill Bill to Inglorious Basterds to Django Unchained.  Django starts out fast and never lets up, as Tarantino fills the film with stylistic homages to past films and styles and always keeps it interesting.  Jamie Foxx does quite well in the title role, though Christopher Waltz once again steals the show in an Oscar winning performance.

If you like Tarantino, then you’re likely fine with the excessive gore and violence that he seems to pile on now, and you’ll have no issue with Django Unchained and enjoy the ride as much as I did.  It doesn't quite live up to some of his previous efforts, but that is a pretty lofty bar to aim for.

Technical

I’ve seen a few comments knocking the quality of Django Unchained, but in reality I think those people are just knocking how Tarantino shot the film or designed the soundtrack.  Some shots are deliberately soft, but everything looks very nice on screen.  Highlights like bright snow and detailed and not cut off, and shadow detail, of which there is plenty, comes across very nice as well.

The soundtrack to Django Unchained is a wonderful thing, rendered in all its glory in lossless audio.  Gunshots and explosions are loud and pan across the soundstage well, and the horrible sound of dogs barking over your shoulder comes across as clear as can be in one scene.  I guess it’s not the absolute pinnacle of Blu-ray quality, but only because the original film itself was made that way, so it seems a bit unfair to detract for that reason.  Overall, I never felt like I missed anything watching at home on a 2.40:1 screen compared to seeing the film in the theater, and that’s the mark of a good transfer.

Extras

The package includes a DVD, Ultraviolet Copy, and a few featurettes.


"Jurassic Park 3D" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-april-2013-jurassic-park-3d

Synopsis

Dinosaur fossil researcher Dr. Alan Grant and his fell paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler are invited down to visit an island off of Costa Rica by one of their major benefactors, John Hammond.  Along with Dr. Ian Malcolm, they are there to make sure that Hammond’s new theme park is safe, though they have no idea what to expect when they arrive.  Shortly after their arrival they are astonished to see live, actual dinosaurs roaming around.  Hammond has been having scientists extract the DNA of a dinosaur from mosquitos that were then fossilized in amber millions and millions of years ago.

All of this has led him to build a theme park, Jurassic Park, where people can come and see real dinosaurs for the first time in history.  While he expects them to be blown away and astonished by what he has created, Hammond instead gets a different response where they don’t feel that he truly understands the incredibly power and danger inherent in dinosaurs, and that there cannot be enough precautions taken to avoid an issue with them down the line.  Despite all of this, everything is going fine, even a bit boring, until a small tropical storm moves in.

At the same time, the computer programmer for the island, Dennis Nedry, is attempting to commit an extreme version of corporate espionage and smuggle out the dinosaur embryos for a competitor of InGen.  To facilitate his escape from the island, and not getting caught, Nedry has to temporarily disable some of the security systems, but that leads to disaster when the storm hits and many of the dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaurus Rex, discover this and escape from their secure enclosures.  Now everything that the invited guests saw as a problem is happening, but they need to find a way to escape from the island.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1993, PG-13, 2 Hr 7 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeft Goldblum
  • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Flashing back to 1993 when Jurassic Park was first released makes me remember everyone I knew in high school trying to finish the book quickly before the film came out, and makes me feel quite old.  My initial response to the film 20 years ago was one of disappointment, as I felt the book was much better, and didn’t really let the film stand on its own merits at the time.

Watching it now, for the first time in 20 years, the film stands alone better than I had given it credit for.  It is an enjoyable experience, though sometimes I feel that it relies too much on the spectacle of the computer animated dinosaurs instead of the story.  The computer animation was totally groundbreaking at the time and so it was easy to get wrapped up in that when it came out, but looking back now, that quality is just commonplace and the story is good but not totally engrossing.  I still feel that Jurassic Park is a good film, but not a great one, though one that I think is better than I originally thought back in 1993.

Technical

Given how huge a release Jurassic Park was back in the day, I expected nothing short of a phenomenal transfer, and I came away sorely disappointed.  Some scenes of video are really crisp and sharp, but far too many are soft, or even fuzzy, and really lacking in detail.  Perhaps a bit of this was done originally to hide flaws with early computer animation, but much of it just looks like a film that had an HD transfer done back for DVD and has had too much noise reduction or other work done to it, and is in dire need of a fresh, 4K or 8K scan and transfer.  The 3D effects were also what you would expect from a 2D to 3D conversion.  Many times you get that Viewfinder, layered 2D look to images, though some scenes like passing through the park gate have a nice sense of depth to them.  Too often you have 3D objects that press against the edge of the screen as well, leading to a weird floating effect that they often try to avoid on actual 3D films now because of that.  I can’t really say that 3D added much to the film for me, but it might just be that the overall lack of a quality transfer made it impossible to truly enjoy it either way.

The audio was quite good, though I didn’t feel it was as immersive as many titles are today.  The dialogue is clear, the dinosaurs sound as scary and distinctive as they always have, and that thunderous stomp of the Tyranossaraus Rex never fails to scare you a bit.

Extras

The packing includes 2D and 3D Blu-ray versions, a DVD and Ultraviolet copy, a good number of lengthy featurettes, and the original trailer.


"Mama" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Apr-2013-Mama

Synopsis

Guillermo del Toro presents this supernatural thriller that tells the haunting tale of two little girls who disappeared into the woods the day that their parents were killed. When the young sisters are found alive in a decrepit cabin, their uncle and his girlfriend take them in. As they try to introduce the children to a normal life, Annabel (Chastain) begins to wonder if the traumatized girls are the only guests they have welcomed into their home.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2013, PG-13, 1 Hr 40 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier
  • Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This movie is about a ghost with separation anxiety. What makes it worthwhile is the better than average acting skills of Chastain and Charpentier. The concept for the film came from a 3 minute short by director Muschietti and his sister which impressed del Toro enough to push the production forward. The story line is simple and the ending is satisfying, but some of the middle portions are a bit drawn out. We have seen all of this before: The usual people get killed. The house, though fully lit, always appears too dark. Lights flicker and moths flutter about. Though no new ground is broken in this genre, the ending paid off without being too obvious. Still, this movie was more fun to watch than the typical dreck coming out over the last year or so from Hollywood. Creepy, yet not over-the-top gory.

 Technical

Picture quality is good with most of the dark scenes coming through with good contrastand nice shadow delineation. The outdoor scenes have blown-out contrast look that is so prevalent in films these days, but the indoor scenes are fine, if dimly lit. Overall, the movie is drained of color and has a bluish tone to it. I guess blue tone is the new "spooky" color. Sound is lively and the sub kicks in whenever the tone of the movie turns ominous…which is every few minutes.

Extras

The extras only manage to scare up some deleted scenes, commentaries, the 3 minute short on which the film is based, and a special effects walk-through on how they created Mama.


"Promised Land" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-April-2013-Promised

Synopsis

Corporate salesman Steve Butler (Damon) has been dispatched to the rural town of McKinley with his sales partner (McDormand) to offer much-needed relief to the economically hard-hit residents in exchange for drilling rights to their properties. What seems like an easy job for the duo quickly becomes complicated by a respected schoolteacher, a slick environmental activist (Krasinski), and Steve's interest in a local woman. As they grapple with a surprising array of both open hearts and closed doors, the outsiders soon discover the strength of an American small town at a crossroads.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2013, PG-13, 1 Hr 47 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand
  • Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I was surprised that this was not the “environmental” movie I thought it would be. Instead, it was a very thoughtful and well paced film about discovering oneself and deciding what is really important in life. Coupled with beautifully shot pastoral scenes and great acting, the story held my interest to the (yes, somewhat predictable) end. I enjoyed Hal Holbrook's understated, yet potent, acting role as the school teacher. Damon does well in a non-action hero role. You, the audience, are left to decide if money from the Corporation is good for a dying town or is it only “selling your soul to the Devil”. This is a good grown-up movie that will probably not appeal to the under 12 crowd.

 Technical

The beautiful cinematography was enhanced by a very sharp 1080p transfer. Colors, details and contrast are excellent. The audio is dialog heavy, but the music soundtrack is wonderfully full bodied and all encompassing.

Extras

Extras are bit thin with some deleted scenes and a featurette. A DVD, UV and digital copy are also included.