Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - August, 2012

ARTICLE INDEX

"Jaws" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Synopsis

Amity Island, off the coast of New England, is terrorized by a great white shark shortly before the July 4 holiday. The town panics because it is one of the most important days of the year for their economy. They hire a fisherman, Quint (Shaw), to hunt the shark down and kill it. Sheriff Martin Brody (Scheider) and shark researcher Matt Hooper (Dreyfus) go along for the ride, which turns out not only to be thrilling, but deadly. 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1975, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 4 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
  • Directed by Steven Spielberg
Rating
  • Entertainment: 
  • Video: 
  • Audio: 
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

"Jaws" is one of Spielberg's first films, and it is probably his best work. In spite of many setbacks (the mechanical shark was continually breaking down, and the weather changed from day to day, so cloud continuity between one scene and the next is noticeably different), the movie is a masterpiece of storytelling. It scared the hell out me, and I couldn't sleep that night. Bob Hope was quoted as saying, "I'm afraid to take a bath!" I don't quite understand the PG rating, as this most certainly is not a family movie. Your children, if you let them watch it, will want to sleep in your bed for two weeks. It almost calls for an R rating due to the very explicit shark violence, namely gallons of blood and severed body parts.

Technical

This Blu-ray is the result of meticulous restoration, one of 13 films that Universal Studios has decided to put mucho dollars into making them razor sharp, perfect color (except for the old black and white movies, such as "Frankenstein"), no dust, scratches, or wobbly images because the sprocket holes are worn. I saw it in 1975, and I have to say, it looks better on Blu-ray than the original at the theater, thanks to modern digital image processing. The soundtrack has been remastered to 7.1, and it is spectacular. If you are a Blu-ray movie collector (I am in an ongoing process of collecting all my favorite films, as they come out in Blu-ray), this disc is a must-have.

Extras

Lots of extras, including The Making of, The Restoration, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, and other things.


"High Noon" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Synopsis

Produced at a total cost of about $750,000, "High Noon" is ranked at 33 in the top 100 greatest motion pictures of all time. In the small desert town of Hadleyville, Marshal Will Kane has just married Amy Fowler (Kelly), turns in his badge to make a life without a gun, and then discovers that a murderer, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), along with his brother Ben (Sheb Wooley) and two others, are coming into town on the noon train. Kane had sent Miller to prison to be hanged years ago, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison, and then he was released.

Since the new Marshal isn't due until the next day, Kane decides to stay and confront them in town, rather than out in the desert. This is against Amy's wishes, as she is a Quaker, and she threatens to leave on the train, rather than stay and see him killed.

Kane tries to get the townspeople to help him as deputies, but none come to his aid. Kane must face all four, alone.

Specifications

  • Olive Films
  • 1952, B&W, Not Rated, 1 Hr 25 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English Dolby Mono
  • Starring: Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Jr.
  • Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Rating
  • Entertainment: 
  • Video: 
  • Audio: 
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

There was a lot of political turmoil at the time this film was produced. Senator McCarthy was leading a witch hunt to find Communists in the movie-making business, presumably because so many people watched movies, they could have tremendous propaganda influence. Apparently, some of the actors in "High Noon" were targeted, and the movie had protest groups in front of the theaters showing it. In spite of all this, "High Noon" is considered by many to be the best western ever made. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won four, including Best Actor (Cooper), Best Editing, and Best Film Score. 

Technical

The image is sharp, with terrific highlight and shadow detail, the result of careful restoration. The sound is mono, and not very good fidelity, but it was restored as best as could be done.  

Extras

Besides the trailer, the only extra is The Making of.


"American Reunion" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-august-2012-american-reunion

Synopsis

Thirteen years after graduating from high school, Jim (Jason Biggs), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), and Stifler (Seann William Scott) come back to East Great Falls for a reunion weekend that no one will forget.   Faced with the pressures of real life, the boys must take a deep look into themselves in order to grow into the men that they want to be.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2012, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 54 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jennifer Coolidge, and Eugene Levy
  • Directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Rating
  • Entertainment: 
  • Video: 
  • Audio: 
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

In my opinion, the “American Pie” series fell a bit flat after the first film.  While the two sequels were funny (in a gross-out sort of way), they just didn’t have the heart that the original had.   “American Reunion” brings that emotional connection back to the franchise.  Maybe it is because I’ve recently gone through a similar stage of life myself, but I instantly connected with this film.  The acting was much better than in the prior three movies and I even found myself enjoying Oz’s character.  Even more surprising, this is the first time I thought Kevin actually added something to the movie.  Overall, the combination of a better script, better direction, markedly better acting, and a much more believable story line made for a sequel at least the equal of the original.  The raunchy humor was toned down slightly, which fit in well with characters trying to “grow up,” though there were still some gag-inducing moments.   If you enjoyed the original, this is definitely worth your time.

Technical

The picture quality on this disc is merely average.  The picture is sharp for the most part, but a few too many scenes seem to be a bit soft.  Film grain is kept to a nice level, though I don’t know if this was added during post-production or if they actually used film when shooting.  Color tone is my biggest complaint, with a bit of an orange/yellow cast to many scenes.  For the life of me, I can’t understand why so many directors/cinematographers shoot with this yellow/orange cast.  Do they think it looks good?  Black levels are about average, with some scenes elevating black into more of a dark grey.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is pretty standard, with clear dialogue and a good soundstage from the front three channels.  The surrounds are used sparingly and the LFE kicks in mostly during the late 90’s/early 00’s soundtrack music. 

Extras

Included on the Blu-ray disc are extended scenes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, alternate takes, a feature commentary, a making-of for the Oz dance scene, a “pop-up” video commentary with the cast, a reunion yearbook, and featurettes on Jason Biggs, Jim’s dad, the “reunion,” and “Lake Bake.”  Last but not least is the “Ouch! My Balls!” featurette.   There is also a DVD copy, Digital Copy, and Ultraviolet download included in the package. 

 


 "Silent House" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2012-silent-house

Synopsis

Sarah, along with her father and uncle arrive at their vacation home with the intent of preparing it for sale.  After vandals have broken all the windows, the house has no light and no power.  Within minutes they are trapped in the house and Sarah is alone and hearing noises.  After several heart-stopping moments, she finds her father injured apparently by an intruder.  She retreats to the basement, narrowly escaping her attacker.  When her uncle reappears, things take an unexpected turn and Elizabeth learns something she wasn’t prepared for.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 26 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens
  • Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras: 
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This film uses a single unbroken shot to tell its story, which is pretty thin.  There are no camera changes or scene transitions.  The whole thing lasts about an hour and twenty minutes which is more than enough since there really isn’t a plot.  Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley, does a passable job of being scared out of her wits.  Aside from brief appearances by her father, uncle, and a mysterious childhood friend she can’t seem to remember, she has to carry the movie by herself.  I suspect she’s a better actress than this movie portrays.  The filming technique is neat but I found the handheld work a bit nauseating at times.  I’d say this disc is worth a rental if you’re in the mood for a boo-fest but I can’t imagine watching it more than once.

Technical

The image is rather dull with muted color and poor black levels.  Several of the darker shots were hazy and gray with little detail and a lot of film grain.  It was hard to judge overall detail as camera focus was all over the place.  Often a person in the background would be speaking but the focus was on the foreground.  I’m sure it was intended to give the feel of amateur video and in that, it succeeded.  Judged as a transfer, I suspect this Blu-ray is true to the original material.

Sound was sparse in every respect.  Ambient effects, which are so important in a film like this, were few and far between.  There was no real sound stage and the surrounds weren’t used at all.  Music was also barely present with just the occasional string tremolo to provide suspense.

Extras

The only bonus feature is audio commentary from the two directors.  Also included is a DVD version and an UltraViolet digital copy.


 "Friends With Kids" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-august-2012-friends-with-kids

Synopsis

A group of six very close friends enters a new dynamic in their relationships when the two married couples in the group have kids.  The changes are dramatic but not always welcome or positive.  So the two unmarried members of the group, Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt), open a discussion about a better model on the marriage/kids/divorce cycle.  Their plan is to have a child between themselve, out of wedlock, share custody all the while dating other people.  They aren't in love after all and so the child rearing process will be a breeze without all the strings attached.  It is a bold experiement designed to let them have the best of both worlds and it leads everybody in their circle to question their beliefs about friendship, family and love.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 47 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  ennifer Westfeldt, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox and Edward Burns
  • Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras: 
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This movie is billed as a romantic comedy and with a cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd, it might be expected to be another laugh fest.  The movie has some light and funny moments, but don't be fooled - this movie is more of a drama than a comedy.  It has some strong commentary and story elements that really make you mindful of your feelings about true love, marriage and family.  It has an intelligent script with solid acting throughout.  Although some of the rapid fire banter between the stars was off-putting at first, I did connect with the characters in the end.  Plus I loved the beautiful location shots of New York.

Technical

This is another excellent video transfer from Lionsgate.  Solid blacks and shadows are served up in the many indoor and night scenes.  Detail is excellent and really draws you to the location shots in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Flesh tones and saturated colors are solid and beleivable.  The audio is more than servicable with good environmental envelopment, natural voice reproduction and a healthy musical score with thumping bass when called upon.

Extras

This is a single disc package with a surprising array of Special Features, all of which are done in HD.  The extras are an Audio Commentary with Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm and William Rexer; a making of featurette, "Making Friends With Kids"; "Fun with Actors and Kids" - Ad-libs and Bloopers; "MJ Rocks at Video Games" Megan Fox shows Adam Scott how to play Gears of War; "Scene 42: Anatomy of a Gag" and a Deleted Scenes Reel.


 "The Lorax" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-aug-2012-Lorax

Synopsis

The imaginative world of Dr. Seuss comes to life like never before in this visually spectacular adventure from the creators of Despicable Me! Twelve-year-old Ted will do anything to find a real live Truffula Tree in order to impress the girl of his dreams. As he embarks on his journey, Ted discovers the incredible story of the Lorax, a grumpy but charming creature who speaks for the trees.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 27 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  The voices of Danny DeVito, Zach Efron, Ed Helms and Betty White
  • Directed by Chris Renaud
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras: 
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Loosely based on a story by Theodore Geisel, this story was originally crafted to explain the dangers of over harvesting nature (conservation). This newer version basically slams consumerism and corporate greed (curse you 1 %-ers!). Notice the Once-ler poster in the factory hallway that mentions “too big to fail”. I think that there are too many avenues being played out in the film and a simple tale is made overly complicated in the telling. Plastic is bad, don't destroy the trees and don't buy bottled air (though no one thinks twice about buying bottles water these days). Frankly, other than the eye and ear candy, the story will not hold a kids attention for very long and they will likely forget about the whole thing after a day or two.

Technical

Visually, the movie is stunning, both the natural beauty of the paradise valley and the plastic artificiality of Thneedville are full of bright and beautiful colors. These are contrasted by the  greys of the world outside of Thneedville, a world that the Once-ler has created. As most digital productions, the colors and details just pop and the details are all there. Notice that some scenes even show fine dust particles floating in the air. Sound, especially during the musical numbers, is powerful and clear with lots of surround and sub usage. Truly demo worthy picture and sound. Too bad the story is mediocre.

Extras

Included are an audio commentary, featurrettes, 3 mini-movies, My Scenes, deleted scenes, New Ticker, Ultra-violet and Pocket Blu, interactive games and a sing-along. A DVD version is included as well as a digital copy.


"Dexter Season 6" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2012-dexter6

Synopsis

With the Trinity killer in the distant past, Dexter seems to have returned to normal.  His Dark Passenger is alive and well as he hunts the most evil and dangerous killers to satisfy his own demons.  When his sister Deb becomes Miami Metro’s youngest Lieutenant, a new killer surfaces called Doomsday.  He and his young partner reenact scenes from the Book of Revelation as innocent victims meet their end in gruesome ways.  Dexter has his hands full with this new threat, single parenthood and his sister on the verge of meltdown.  He manages to make a new friend though, a reformed murderer named Brother Sam.  How will he manage to survive?  All we can do is watch and see!

Specifications

  • Showtime
  • 2011, Color, Not Rated, 10 Hrs 18 min (12 episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring:  Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington, C. S. Lee, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, James Remar
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I’ve always considered any show that can stay fresh and interesting past five seasons to be a rare gem.  Dexter is one of those shows.  It’s managed to stick with a tried-and-true formula and yet never become boring or predictable.  The ensemble cast is superb as always; providing a perfect balance of comedy and drama.  Michael C. Hall is one of the finest actors working today and Dexter is a perfect vehicle for his talents.  Jennifer Carpenter as Deb finds new and clever profanities to utter.  If the public could stand it, her quotes would be a great basis for a line of t-shirts.  Production quality is outstanding as well.  The depiction of Miami, sights and sounds, is spot-on.  As with previous seasons, this is strictly adult fare.  It’s never over-the-top but parents will want to watch after the kids are in bed.

Technical

The image is sharp and colorful just as in the previous five seasons.  Miami is portrayed with deep rich hues, fine detail and excellent contrast.  Close-up shots of actors’ faces are on par with any modern movie.  My only negative is the sometimes variable contrast levels in dark scenes.  The different cameras show noticeably different black levels ranging from a nice deep tone to a washed-out look that never dips below gray.  This also serves to enhance grain to a distracting level.  Fortunately it isn’t frequent in the presentation but it keeps an otherwise excellent transfer from achieving reference level.

The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is superb with a wide sound stage, excellent detail and clarity and some of the best music I’ve ever heard on TV.  Dialog is forward but never overblown.  Surrounds are little-used but I didn’t really miss them given the content.  The music is more of the hip and modern Salsa and Latin that we’ve heard in previous seasons.  It really adds to the flavor of Miami.  Bravo!

Extras

All bonus features are accessed through BD-Live and include interviews with all the principal actors and two episodes each of Californication, House of Lies and The Borgias.  The interface is cumbersome and slow to respond; typical of BD-Live content.


"The Hunger Games" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-august-2012-hunger

Synopsis

In a distant future, the world is divided into 12 Districts, ruled by an all-powerful Capitol.  To keep the citizens in line, each District is required to send one boy and one girl, between 12 and 18 years old, to the annual Hunger Games where they fight to the death until a single survivor remains.  This is played out on live television for everyone to watch.  The winner brings wealth and prosperity to themselves and their district.  In District 12, young Primrose Everdeen is selected to compete but her older sister, Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers to go instead.  Her friend Peeta (Hutcherson), who has a crush on her, is also selected.

They are immediately taken to the Capitol where they are treated like celebrities.  The entire populace seems obsessed with The Hunger Games as the Tributes begin their training.  The competition takes place in a forest, which is the ideal use of Katniss’ skills as a hunter.  By the end, she is forced to make some difficult choices between what’s best for her and what’s best for her family and her District.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2012, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hrs 22 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
  • Directed by Gary Ross
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Films based on popular books usually have a steep hill to climb since so much has to be left out.  I have not read The Hunger Games but my wife has and she proclaimed this movie to be excellent.  I found it extremely entertaining and superbly crafted and acted.  I look forward to reading the book myself.  The young cast members, without exception, are some of the most talented actors I’ve seen in recent memory.  The production quality is stunning in every respect.  Oh and the adults are pretty good too.  Elizabeth Banks is almost unrecognizable as Effie Trinket with her cartoon-like dress and mannerisms.  Woody Harrelson was superb as the former Games winner turned mentor.  Music fans will quickly spot Lenny Kravitz in fairly visible role as the Tributes fashion consultant.  And Stanley Tucci couldn’t have been better cast as the TV host.  Since the heroes are all teenagers, The Hunger Games obviously plays to that generation.  The plot is very adult though and will appeal to everyone.  It’s a bit too violent for the youngest viewers but families with kids over 13 will enjoy watching this one together.  Highly recommended!

Technical

The image is near-reference quality with superb dimensionality and a deep color palette that tends toward cooler hues.  The only flaw is black levels never quite get as deep as they could.  Night scenes are well-detailed but just a few steps into gray rather than a rich black.  There is no evidence of edge enhancement and the picture is tack-sharp at all times.  Despite the elevated blacks, contrast is still quite good with a real pop during brighter scenes.

Lionsgate chose to include a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix with this Blu-ray, placing it on a very short list of native 7.1 titles.  I enjoyed it very much on my 5.1 system as all the speakers got a workout.  Low-frequency effects were tremendous with several room-shaking moments worthy of a home theater demo.  Dialog was clear and well-anchored to the center channel.  Surround effects created a strong sense of reality as well.  This is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard to date.

Extras

The package contains a second Blu-ray disc with only bonus features.  Included are a two-hour making-of documentary, interviews with Gary Ross, Donald Sutherland and other production principals, three other behind-the-scenes shorts and three theatrical trailers.


"Grimm: Season One" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-august-2012-grimm

Synopsis

The stories of the brothers Grimm are some of the most famous works in all of folklore: Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and Rumpelstiltskin are just a few of their many stories.   For centuries, we’ve all believed that these were just fairy tales; but what if there was truth to the tales?  Detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is used to seeing strange things, but when he starts seeing fleeting images of monstrous creatures in the faces of seemingly normal people, he starts to doubt his sanity.   It turns out that Nick is one of the few remaining descendants of the brothers Grimm, and his kin have been tasked with controlling supernatural creatures (called wesen) for centuries.  Thrust into a completely new world, Nick must use his police skills and unique abilities to keep the peace between humans and wesen.

Specifications

NBC/Uniersal

2012, Color, Not Rated, 15 Hrs 51 min (22 Episodes)

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

Codec: AVC

English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio

Starring:  David Giuntioli, Russell Hornsby, Bitsie Tulloch, Silas Weir Mitchell, Sasha Roiz, and Reggie Lee

Directed by numerous directors

Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I did not catch a single episode of this show during its TV run, so I went into this with neutral expectations.   I was expecting a watered-down, kid friendly version of the Grimm tales, but what was delivered is a pretty dark (and technically more realistic) version of the original stories.  Each episode focuses on a new character from the Grimm tales, with all of your favorites finding their way in.  Even more interesting is that the characters don’t always fit in with your expectations.   Take Monroe for instance – a reformed “Blutbad” (Big Bad Wolf), who has sworn off his flesh-eating days and turns into one of Nick’s closest friends and advisors.  Each individual story is unique enough to keep things interesting while continuing to build a sinister core plot line that Nick will need to deal with in the future.  The scripts are solid, though there are some occasional hokey scenes and dialogue.  In general the acting is solid, although a few of the supporting characters could use some improvement .   The special effects are pretty good for a television series, but they are obviously CGI.  The overall quality of the episodes improved as the season progressed, so I’ve got high hopes for the second season.  Overall, this is an entertaining series, particularly if you are a fan of the fairy-tale genre.

Technical

As is typical for most modern television series shot for HD, the picture is excellent.  The image is consistently sharp, with solid black levels and good contrast.  Colors are accurate and flesh tones look spot on.  You can spot a bit of noise in darker scenes, but it is not distracting.   The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is a bit less consistent.  Action scenes sound great, with plenty of volume and lots of LFE and surround usage.  The more passive moments are very front-focused, with very little in the way of ambient effects. 

Extras

Included in this 5-disc set is an interactive guide to the creatures, deleted and extended scenes, audition tapes, a gag reel, visual effects progressions, and “The World of Grimm” and  “Making Monsters” featurettes.    There is also a nice little “Wesen dictionary” on the inside packaging that can help you with your German as well as keeping all of the creatures straight.