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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - January, 2013

ARTICLE INDEX

"Francis Ford Coppola: 5 Film Collection" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

Coppola

Synopsis

Just in time for the New Year celebration, I received a copy of a new Blu-ray collection from Lionsgate Studios containing some of Coppola's best films. This set includes: Apocalypse Now/ Apocalypse Now Redux (1979), The Conversation (1974), Tetro (2009) and One From the Heart (1982). True, it does not contain any of the Godfather set, Patton, Tucker or Cotton Club, but there are simply too many movies in his lifetime to include here.  Each film has Coppola's unmistakable fingerprint on them, yet they are all so very different from each other. This collection makes up a fine "sampler" for Coppola fans and cinephiles alike. Read my review here.

Specifications

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"Pitch Perfect" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-january-2013-pitch-perfect

Synopsis

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a college freshman with a talent for crafting musical mashups on her computer.  She doesn't really fit in with any of the cliques at school.  In fact, she is strongly considering dropping out of school.  Then at the behest of her father, she joins an all-girls a capella group.  This group was decimated and re-formed after a disastrous performance at last year's finals.  So Beca joins a very ecclectic group as they struggle to find a way back into prominence.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2012, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 52 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson,  Adam DeVine, Anna Camp and Brittany Snow
  • Directed by: Jason Moore
Rating
  • Entertainment:
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  • Audio:
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  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Innuendo
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I found this movie to be a fresh and refreshing diversion from many of the cookie-cutter films coming out of Hollywood these days.  I was engaged and entertained throughout, despite that much of the major plot elements were highly predictable.  The point is that the acting was quite good and the story offers strong character development.  I am also a softie for good singing and this movie has it without the obvious and schticky lip-synching you get with shows like Glee, for example.  There are also some very funny bits, like when the soft-spoken Lilly reveals that she "ate her twin in the womb".  And the fictional commentators at the competitions are hilarious!

Technical

This movie comes across as mostly bright and colorful throughout, but further consideration reveals that there are scenes of every ilk - daylight scenes, indoor scenes, stage lit scenes, candlelit scenes and night scenes.  What really impressed me is that each of these scenes popped off the screen with great dynamic range, quality color rendition and natural details.  I am deducting half a star because the best Blu-rays have a slightly sharper picture (but thank goodness they didn't resport to added sharpness on this one). 


As far as I'm concerned, this disc has reference-quality sound.  The singing parts in particular exhibit rich harmonic textures, wide dynamics and clean, balanced bass response.  I only wish there were more extended singing performances. 

Extras

This is a two-disc package with the Blu-ray, DVD, a Digital Copy and an Ultraviolet streaming code.  The on-disc extras include Deleted & Extended Scenes, Line-O-Ramas (alternate lines from the movie), A Look Inside, Feature Commentaries and Starships: The Pitch Perfect Music Video with Mike Tompkins.


 "Being Human Season 2" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

Being Human Season 2 (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

What happens when a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost decide to live together?  Being Human explores that very question.  Vampire Aidan and werewolf Josh decide to rent a house together in Boston.  And why not, they're good friends who work in the same hospital.  They quickly discover they have a third roommate, the recently murdered Sally.  They want to try and live normal lives and they almost succeed but many forces, both natural and supernatural, stand in their way.  Aidan has to deal with the never-ending challenge of vampire politics; Josh tries in vain to find a cure for his curse (infecting his girlfriend in the process); and Sally discovers a new obstacle nearly every day.  Season Two brings Aidan to the top of the hierarchy as he is made second to Mother's impetuous daughter who is elevated to Leader of Boston.  Josh meets werewolf twins who revel in their condition and cause even more chaos in his life.  Sally has to deal with a split personality that turns her into a ghost killer.  It's all a day in the life as they try to Be Human.

Specifications

  • SyFy
  • 2012, Color, Not rated, 9 Hrs 32 mins (13 episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sam Witwer, Meaghan Rath and Sam Huntington
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
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  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

With the proliferation of supernatural monster-themed shows on TV, it's hard for any one of them to stand out.  Being Human does so by virtue of a unique plot, superb writing, and top-notch acting talent.  I really appreciated the balance between light and dark humor that pervades every episode.  Some pretty serious stuff happens to our heroes but they still manage to throw in a perfect one-liner at just the right moment.  Even though it's on SyFy, the action can get fairly bloody and the love scenes steamy; so I'd say this is an adult show for sure.  If you're a fan of vampires and werewolves, give Being Human a try.  You won't be disappointed.

Technical

The image quality is a noticeable improvement over Season One.  Color is warm and saturated with natural tones.  Sharpness is superb with no apparent edge enhancement.  My only beef is the slightly elevated black levels.  Darker scenes never quite reach black; dropping down to a dark gray instead.  Dimension and pop are well above-average.  Of all the TV show Blu-rays I've watched lately, this one stands above the rest.

Audio is also excellent with a lively DTS-HD Master Audio encode.  There is a fair amount of surround information present, but the sub is under-utilized.  Dialog is well-mixed and clear without any chestiness or sibilance.  Overall, it doesn't get much better.

Extras

Bonus features total a bit less than two hours and include a making-of featurette, footage from Comic-Con 2012, and a five-minute interview with the producers and principal actors.

 


"Guns, Girls and Gambling" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-January-2013-GGG

Synopsis

 Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, and Dane Cook headline this outrageous action-comedy about greed, revenge, and a desert full of dead Elvis impersonators. A priceless Apache war mask has been stolen from an Indian casino causing criminals, frat boys, tomahawk-wielding hit men, modern-day cowboys, and a six-foot-tall blonde assassin to rampage through a small town in hopes of claiming the treasure first. Guns, Girls and Gambling is an action-packed comedy where the laughs pile up faster than the body count.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 30 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Christian Slater, Powers Boothe and Gary Oldman
Rating
  • Entertainment:
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  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This film follows the same formula as Cat Run, only it is not as funny and the acting is worse. If you had read my earlier review on Cat Run, you know that I did not like that film either. What can I tell you about a flick that did not even make me grin once? The critics say Slater can't act. The critics are right. The only redeeming actor in this movie is Oldman (Why Gary, why?), but his total screen time is less than 10 minutes. The "gay" Elvis was not even convincingly gay. The "midget" Elvis was supposed to be funny because he swore a lot. The "Asian" Elvis was supposed to be hilarious because…well, I don't even remember. Throw in some native Americans that can't act; add some hatchets and guns and an ugly mask supposedly worth a million dollars and you have this mess of a movie. Admittedly, this movie does not take itself too seriously...but neither should you. When I think "action comedy", I think Lethal Weapon. THIS movie is not a Lethal Weapon!

Technical

In spite of a dreadful script and poor acting, the movie sports a very good quality image. I marveled at the details in Oldman's Elvis outfit with its rhinestones and sequins. You can see every pock mark in Powers Boothe's face (Yikes!). Colors are well saturated and contrast is very good, even under the hot desert sun. Sound quality was also good with lots of surround and sub woofer action. From crunching gravel to flies buzzing around dead people, you are totally immersed in the action on the screen.

Extras

None. However, a curiosity… at no time during the movie can you access the Main Menu. You can only fast forward through some tedious trailer at the very beginning, and then the movie just starts. Weird.

 


"Looper" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-january-2013-looper

Synopsis

 In 2044, the United States has started to collapse into anarchy and chaos.  Crime is rampant, homelessness and vagrancy are all around, and drug use is prevalent.  Time travel hasn't been invented at this point, but it will in 30 years before being outlawed.  With the difficulty of disposing of bodies in the future, organized crime will secretly use time travel to send people back to 2044 to be killed and disposed of by Loopers.

Joe is a Looper in Kansas in 2044.  Everyone that he kills comes with 4 bars of silver attached as payment for killing them.  Eventually the mob wants to remove all loose ends and they send you back in time, and you kill your 30-year-older self, only to find gold bars attached on their back allowing you to retire and enjoy the next 30 years.  When Joe's future self it sent back in time, he manages to escape from Joe and sets out on a task to kill The Rainmaker, a young boy who will rise to power in 30 years and start to eliminate all the Loopers and rule organized crime.

Young Joe wants nothing to do with this, as if old Joe escapes the mob will torture him to find him and close their loop.

 

Specifications

  • Sony
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 59 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt
  • Director: Rian Johnson
Rating
  • Entertainment:
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  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The previews of Looper looked wonderful, but with such high-concept ideas there is always a good chance they fall flat on their face.  Thankfully Looper avoids this and the movie turns out to be a fantastic, wonderful sci-fi film with a great concept that doesn't get lost in the details.  It winds up being a little different that I had expected it to be, but it is very enjoyable, a bit creepy, and something I will come back to watch again.

Technical

Overall the transfer for Looper is fantastic.  I did notice a bit of graininess in some shots of the sky and what might have been a tiny bit of black level crush, but overall the film is superb looking.  It sounds wonderful as well, from a few high-powered gunfights to a couple incredibly powerful scenes later in the film that I don't want to spoil, your system will get a workout and show off what the disc is capable of.

Extras

Directors Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, and a trailer.


"Heavyweights" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-january-2013-heavyweights

Synopsis

Gerry Garner is an overweight 11 year old from New York.  One summer, his parents decide to send him to Camp Hope (a "Fat Camp").  Gerry is dreading this at first but, much to his delight, he finds that the returning boys simply love Camp Hope.  When they arrive at the camp, they find that things have changed dramatically this year.  Camp Hope has been sold to Tony Perkins (Ben Stiller), a crazy fitness zealot who aims to turn it into a sort of boot camp and will be filming an extended reality show style of weight loss infomercial starring himself (oh, and the boys too).  The campers soon decide they've had enough of all this and unite to take back their camp and save their summer.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 1995, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 37 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Ben Stiller, Kenan Thompson, Paul Feig and Jeffrey Tambor
  • Directed by: Steven Brill
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
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  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This movie surprised me by being much more entertaining than I was expecting.  There are some strong performances here by relatively unkown actors (at the time) who are now in the midst of very successful careers.  Ben Stiller is one of them.  In Heavyweights, he was cast as the overly zealous, narcissistic leader of the weight loss camp.  This is a role made for him.  Also showing up in the movie is Kenan Thompson of SNL fame.  He is one of the overweight campers and this too was a brilliant casting move.  Heavyweights was written and produced by Jud Apatow.  One other supporting role is played by Paul Feig who would go on to direct Bridesmaids.  I didn't give out a lot of stars here because much of the screenplay is pretty sophomoric and the plot is so predictabe, I was able to call out the ending way too early in the movie.  But this movie does have a cult following for a number of good reasons and I recommend it as a solid rental choice for comedy fans everywhere. 

Technical

The video quality of this disc is actually below average for a Blu-ray.  The daylight scenes are the best with bright primaries and good reproduction of the natural greens in the forest.  The darker scenes are plagued with some crush in the low end of the IRE scale.  There is a great deal of film grain throughout, skin tones aren't as natural as I would like and some scenes have a disappointing lack of fine details.  The audio is courtesy 5.1-channel DTS HD Master.  The sound is focused across the front three speakers with very good dialog reproduction that is never harsh while the musical score and special effects are clean and balanced.    

Extras

This single disc package is loaded with lots of quality bonus materials. These include more than 30 Deleted and Extended Scenes; an audio commentary with Judd Apataw, Steven Brill, Allen Covert, Aaron Schwartz, Shaun Weiss, Tom Hodges and Paul Feig; The Making of "Heavyweights" featurette; Super 8 Footage Shot by the Cast and Crew; Video Chat: Judd and Kenan; Where Are They Now? - See the Kids All Grown Up; Judd's Art Project - His Bizarre Photos from the Set and the Theatrical Trailer.


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

movies-January-2013-Dredd

Synopsis

The future America is an irradiated wasteland. On its East Coast lies Mega City One - a vast violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called "Judges" who possess the combined powers of judge jury and instant executioner. The ultimate Judge Dredd (Urban) is tasked with ridding the city of its latest scourge -a dangerous drug (Slo Mo) and the sadistic prostitute turned drug pusher who is using it to take over the city.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 30 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Lena Headey, Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby
  • Directed by: Pete Travis
Rating
  • Entertainment:
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  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Though this film did not do well in the box office, it is far superior to the comedic mash-up with Stallone. Perhaps the association with Stallone is why it bombed. I wasn't sure about Urban in this role, but he really nails the titular character as an emotionless, no holds barred law enforcer. Though the film reminded me a lot of Raid: Redemption, it is better filmed and acted. The slow motion scenes were recorded at 3K frames/second, and they look awesome…even the violent ones. Faithful to its comic book origins, this film delivers some serious justice. If your idea of a fun movies is lots of action, violence, explosion, bullets in stunning video and audio quality, Judgement Day is here!

Technical

Shot with Red cameras, this film is very sharp and stylized to take advantage of both the comic origin and the gritty reality of the future (why is our future always so bleak?). Colors are shockingly beautiful with wonderful details. Some of the darker scenes suffer from excessive graininess, but it is not too distracting. The sound field is a marvel to hear and is one of the most active I have heard in the last year. Deep powerful explosions, shattering glass, and massive "chain gun" bullets whizz by; all faithfully captured in 7.1 surround sound. There is even a DTS-HD Master Audio setup in the extras that allows you to fine tune your system for 5.1, 7.1 and even EX. Very cool!     

Extras

Some very informative supplements here: Mega-City Masters: 35 Years of Judge Dredd, 'Dredd' Featurette, Day of Chaos: The Visual Effects of 'Dredd 3D', Dredd's Gear, The 3rd Dimension, Welcome to Peach Trees, 'Dredd' Motion Comic Prequel and several movie trailer previews.


"Dick Tracy" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

Dick Tracy (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

When mob boss Big Boy Caprice unites all the city's worst criminals, it's up to Dick Tracy to clean up the streets.  He pursues Big Boy to his Club Ritz but can't find enough evidence to make an arrest.  Then he is captured and narrowly escapes death thanks to The Kid, an orphan who steps in just in time.  Tracy manages to plant a bug in Big Boy's lair and starts taking down his organization.  Just as things start to turn Tracy's way, Big Boy discovers the bug and lures him to an abandoned warehouse.  A mysterious bad guy known only as The Blank steps in and seems to be setting up both Big Boy and Tracy for a fall.  When Tracy's true love Tess is kidnapped, it forces a final showdown.  Tracy manages to save Tess and Blank's true identity is revealed.  Big Boy falls to his death and good returns to the city as Tracy finally works up the courage to marry Tess.

Specifications

  • Touchstone
  • 1990, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 46 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna
  • Directed by: Warren Beatty
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The plot is a bit convoluted, as the synopsis shows, but Dick Tracy is a very entertaining film.  I remember reading the comic in a local newspaper in my youth and this movie captures the feel of the original very well.  Even the look is pure comic strip.  There are lots of primary colors; everything is a simple art deco style; and there isn't a lot of clutter to distract the viewer from the action.  Warren Beatty does an excellent job as both the hero and the director.  My only complaint is the unevenness of the editing.  The scene-to-scene flow isn't always smooth and you can't always be sure which scene is advancing the plot and which is not.  Overall though, it's a lot of fun and the unique cinematography more than makes up for the occasional confusion.  And while Madonna is not usually applauded for her film roles, I thought she did a good job here.  She was perfectly cast as sultry singer Breathless Mahoney.

Technical

While the image looks very clean, there seems to be a general haze over everything.  This is unfortunate because color is such an important part of the storytelling.  It may have been due to excessive digital scrubbing because the picture did seem slightly soft.  Contrast was flat and dark scenes never quite reached black.  I did enjoy the amazing makeup worn by many of the characters though.  This came off very well both in close-up shots and wider scenes.  There was no apparent edge enhancement and detail was never crushed.

The DTS-MA audio is the best part of this presentation.  The transparency, especially in the music, really opened everything up.  Surrounds were used sparingly but the enormous front sound stage created an excellent sense of immersion.  I loved the music, both Danny Elfman's score and Madonna's excellent performances have never sounded better.

Extras

Aside from the digital copy, the only extra is a series of trailers for upcoming films.


"Trouble With the Curve" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Dec-2012-Curve

Synopsis

 

Gus Lobel (Eastwood) has been one of the best scouts in baseball for decades, but, despite his efforts to hide it, age is starting to catch up with him and his eyes are failing. The one person who might be able to help is also the one person Gus would never ask: his daughter, Mickey (Adams), an associate at a high-powered Atlanta law firm whose drive and ambition has put her on the fast track to becoming partner. Against her better judgment, and over Gus's objections, Mickey joins him on his latest scouting trip to North Carolina, jeopardizing her own career to save his.

 

Specifications

  • Warner Home Video
  • 2012, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 46 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard
  • Directed by: Robert Lorenz
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This film is a pretty much by-the-numbers film about a father and daughter coming to terms with family issues, including the predictable happy resolution ending. Clint looks and sounds old, and I don't mean that in an "acting' sort of way. Really, he sounds like he has throat cancer. This is a safe movie to watch with the gal of your choice and be entertained for the night, but I don't think it will hold up for repeated viewings. The Adams-Timberlake relationship and chemistry are pretty good, but the script is a bit too familiar. This film plays it safe with a fast ball right down the middle.

Technical

Both picture and sound are exemplary. Night scenes are inky in contrast and colors are solid. I saw no artifacts or aliasing during any of the movie. Details are fine. Though much of the dialog is front heavy, the surrounds and sub come into play when called upon. Dialog is easy to understand, even Clint's hoarse whispering.

 

Extras

The extras bunt with: Rising Through the Ranks and For the Love of the Game commentaries. That's it. No trailers. It does contain a DVD and Ultraviolet copy.


 "Hit & Run" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-january-2013-hit-and-run

Synopsis

Dax Shepard plays Charlie Bronson, a man who is in a witness protection program.  His girlfriend, Annie Bean (Kristen Bell) gets the job opportunity of a lifetime.  The only problem is the job is in LA where Charlie can't go lest he be discovered by the gang he testified against.  Bronson decides to risk it all and drive Annie to LA for her interview.  That is when the chase begins: they are being pursued by a Federal Agent (Arnold) and Charlie's ex pal (Bradley Cooper).  They drive any and every car they can get their hands on to stay in front of their pursuers and make it to LA on time. 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 41 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Tom Arnold and Bradley Cooper
  • Directed by: David Palmer and Dax Shepard
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I started out falling for the easy banter between Kristin Bell and Dax Shepard in the first half of the movie.  But it wore on me as the movie played out and it started to sound more like drivel than easy banter, making the strongest part of this movie the car chase scenes with the high energy sound track.  But, sadly, that too lost its luster after a while.  I mean, who would believe that a station wagon could keep up with a Corvette when the Corvette is supposedly piloted by a professional getaway driver?  Also, the chase scenes degrade into a series of out of control drifts that reminded me of a pre teen playing a car race video game.

Technical

Much of this movie is set in the outdoors and the transfer offers very good video quality throughout with fine dynamics and stable colors.  Also to the video quality's credit, the fast-paced action scenes show little compression artifacts.  The audio is clean and dynamic with lots of low bass energy.  This movie has a fun and aggressive musical score that is thoroughly engaging.  The sound is a little forward-biased with limited surround activity, but I'm OK with that.   

Extras

This is a two-disc package which includes a Blu-ray and DVD with Digital Copy and Ultraviolet Streaming codes.  On-disc suppplemental materials include 12 Deleted Scenes and three short Featurettes.


 "End of Watch" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movies-january-2013-end-of-watch

Synopsis

On the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, young police officers Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (Michael Pena) are doing their best to protect and serve while making a name for themselves.  Unfortunately, their over-achieving efforts to rid the streets of LA's "finest" citizens gets a price put on their heads by the Mexican drug cartel that runs the city.   

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 50 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera, Cody Horn, Natalie Martinez, and Frank Grillo
  • Directed by: David Ayer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Jake Gyllenhaal seems to have a knack for picking excellent projects to work on and "End of Watch" is no exception.  While I'm getting really tired of the "shaky-cam documentary" style of filmmaking, the script, acting, directing, and pacing of this movie was excellent.  Gyllenhaal and Pena have some of the best chemistry I've ever seen in a cop film.  This chemistry, combined with the excellent dialogue, make you feel like the two could be best friends in real-life.  This partner/best friend relationship is the heart and soul of this film, and makes the situations that the pair get into even more impactful.  The whole film is shot using either Brian's hand-held camera or lapel-mounted mini-cams (a film project for an elective college course Brian is taking), so every scene has a great first-person angle that really helped to draw me into the plot, image-shake notwithstanding.  The supporting cast is excellent and mixed well with the lead characters.  Even the gang members were well portrayed, with just the right amount of ignorance and craziness mixed in to make the characters all-too believable.  Action scenes are few, but very well done.  The ending is by no means pleasant, but powerful and emotional.  A must-see in my book.

Technical

With the majority of the film shot by inexpensive digital cameras, the picture quality is all over the map.  The majority of scenes are soft, with some even appearing to be standard definition.  There are lots of flaws in the image, with weak black levels and digital noise/pixilation being the most noticeable.  However, this is exactly what was intended and works for the most part, so I won't bash the picture quality too much.  Colors were somewhat flat, but at least they weren't ridiculously oversaturated.   The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack won't blow you over with insane bass or huge explosions, but I found the soundtrack incredibly effective, particularly since every scene seemed so natural and realistic to me.  Gunshots had just the right impact and tone.  Surround usage was discreet, but helped bring me into the scenes.  During the action scenes the surrounds kicked into high gear, with bullets zipping by and convincing reverb from the many different weapons used.  Voices were always clear, except during a few of the louder scenes where dialogue was intentionally buried in the mix. 

Extras

This is a multi-disc set, including a Blu-ray disc, a DVD copy, a digital copy and an UltraViolet Digital Copy.  There are also director commentaries, deleted scenes, and five featurettes with cast and crew members.   


"Samsara" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-january-2013-samsara

Synopsis

Samsara is a non-verbal documentary, set around the world in over 20 countries.  Searching for a connection between the lives of those around the world, Samsara travels to churches, disaster zones, industrial zones and natural wonders.  Moving from the old Bagan Temples in Myanmar to the towering new Burj Tower in Dubai and many places in-between, Samsara will take you on a tour of this world showing you sites you have never seen in this way.

 

Specifications

  • MPI Media Group
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 41 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: NA (Documentary)
  • Director: Ron Fricke
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

With no dialogue and no real plot, Samsara isn't for everything.  Showing scenes of our world, with different situations juxtaposed sometimes to communicate a message, many people will find Samsara boring.  I never could sit back and watch all of Baraka in a sitting, but found Samsara to be far more interesting and involving than its predecessor.  I found it to be interesting and entertaining the whole time, though I fully understand where many people will not.

Technical

No matter what you think of the content, it is nothing but gorgeous.  Shot on native 70mm film, transferred at 8K resolution, and mastered at 4K resolution, Samsara looks perfect.  Detail is impeccable, colors are pure and rich, and the images themselves are just gorgeous.  If you want to really show off what your home theater can do, the images from Samsara will do that better than anything.

The audio accompanying it, while free of dialogue, is up to the task as well.  With a high resolution, 24/96 7.1 channel mix, the accompanying audio pulls you into the film.  You feel completely immersed in the film, and the dynamic range never leaves anything to be desired.  It isn't as exciting as a gunfight scene might be, but it's a wonderful audio track.

Extras

A documentary on the making of the film, as well as an Internet teaser trailer and a regular trailer.


 "Death Race 3 Inferno" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

Death Race 3 Inferno (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Death Race competitor Frankenstein, aka Carl Lucas, only needs to win one more race to earn his freedom; or so he thinks.  When the producers of Death Race, Weyland Corporation, are bought out by evil tycoon Niles York; the game changes for Frankenstein and his team.  York doesn't want to lose his money-making star so he makes a deal for him to throw the race.  Lucas doesn't want to sell out his team so he comes up with a plan to escape and exact his revenge on York.  He'll have to survive the toughest race yet as the convicts duke it out in the South African desert.  In addition to each other, they have rioting citizens and heavily armed warlords to contend with.  And the world can watch all the action live on pay-per-view!  It's blood-sport at its finest as Frankenstein and his team tries to win the Death Race!

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2012, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 45 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Luke Goss, Tanit Phoenix and Danny Trejo
  • Director: Roel Reiné
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes, and gore
  • Sex: Yes, and nudity
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This is a pretty formulaic film.  Take equal parts violence, car stunts, fight scenes, cleavage, evil executives, and explosions; blend on "frappe" and you have Death Race 3; and about a hundred other B-action flicks.  Don't get me wrong, it's fairly entertaining and I was not bored.  In fact, the hour and 45 minutes went by pretty quickly.  There is little time to rest as we're thrown right into non-stop action.  The movie is helped by some decent casting; namely Ving Rhames and Dougray Scott as the corporate villains.  Their duel makes the story a little more interesting.  The stunt scenes are done well with plenty of explosions, over-the-top car wrecks, and splattered body parts.  It's mostly predictable but the plot twist at the end was a nice surprise.  The hero's plan for escape is clever and not everyone will see it coming.  I'd rate this Blu-ray well worth a rental, and a purchase for those collecting great sub demos.

Technical

Video quality was exceptional in terms of detail.  The picture was razor-sharp; well above-average for a modern film on Blu-ray.  My only complaint was the monochromatic color palette.  I realize this is a director's choice but Death Race is almost colorless.  The prison is rendered in warm dark shadows that are varying shades of orange and brown.  The outdoor shots are tan with just the occasional brightly colored shirt to let you know there isn't anything wrong with your display.  I know this is a style but a transfer this well-detailed could have had some decent pop with just a little more color.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track is the best reason to watch, and perhaps own, this disc.  I've rarely heard a better sub-woofer demo.  The twin 12-inch drivers in my Axiom EP800 were pounding away for the entire movie.  The front sound stage was large and crystal clear; dialog and sound effects alike.  Surrounds were used somewhat sparingly for some quick front-to-back pans.  I thought more could have been done there.  The music was a relentless onslaught of heavy metal guitar and drums; perfect for the action unfolding before me.  Kudos to composer Trevor Morris who has scored for a wide variety of films and TV shows including The Tudors and Scorpion King 3.

Extras

Bonus features include deleted scenes, two making-of featurettes, director commentary, and an alternate opening scene.  The disc I received contained both the theatrical version and an unrated version of the film.  The difference in running time is exactly one minute so I was unable to discern the new material.  Also in the package is a DVD with digital copy.


 "For a Good Time, Call" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movies-january-2013-for-a-good-time-call

Synopsis

When Katie's (Ali Graynor) beautiful NYC apartment unexpectedly comes off of rent control, she finds that the only way to keep the place is to find a roommate.  Fortunately, her friend Jesse (Justin Long) has the perfect candidate in mind: his recently dumped friend Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller).  The problem with this arrangement is that Katie and Lauren had a poor first meeting back in college, so the two don't necessarily like each other.  However, for mutual interest the two decide to give things a shot.  When Lauren accidently discovers that one of Katie's side jobs is working as a phone sex operator, she sees a great business opportunity and decides to use Katie's phone skills to start up their own operation.  In the process the two ladies become best friends, but when a dream job tries to lure Lauren away things start to fall apart.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2012, Color, Rated R and Unrated, 1 Hr 25 mins and 1 Hr 28 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Ari Graynor, Lauren Anne Miller, and Justin Long
  • Director: Colin Trevorrow
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Sexual content and some toys
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

While the plot is by no means original and fairly formulaic, I really found myself enjoying this movie.  The film didn't waste much time, diving right into the developing relationship between Katie and Lauren.  Graynor and Miller had good chemistry between them, though Graynor clearly outshines her co-star in pretty much every scene.  I thought that Justin Long did a fantastic job playing the mutual friend and some of the cameo appearances (particularly Seth Rogen's) were hilarious.  I watched the "Unrated" version of the film and it appears that the only real additions were some slightly longer versions of the phone sex calls.  While some of the language is a bit coarse, this movie doesn't focus on the phone sex part of things too much, instead being more about friendship and relationships.  Definitely worth a rental. 

Technical

I really enjoyed the natural look of this film.  Colors were rich and vibrant, without any false toning applied in post-production.  Contrast was solid, though there were not many dark scenes to really test black levels or shadow detail.  The picture was sharp without any obvious edge enhancement or sharpening.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sound track had no real flaws, other than being a bit subdued.  Being that this is romantic-comedy, bass and surround effects were low in level, but the sound track did show some life when the music cranked up and during scenes out on the streets of New York.  Dialogue was clear and intelligible throughout the entire film. 

Extras

This is a two-disc set with the first disc being the Blu-ray version of the film and the second disc including a DVD copy, Digital Copy, and an UltraViolet copy of the movie.  The Blu-ray disc also contains deleted scenes, a feature commentary, and a short look into the making of the film.


  "The Jazz Singer" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Jan-2013-Jazz

Synopsis

Known as the "Father of the Talkies", this historic film was the first to synchronize sound and picture in a way that would forever changed the way Hollywood would produce movies. Here, 80 years later, Warner releases The Jazz Singer for the first time on Blu-ray. See my review here

Specifications

  • Warner Home VIdeo
  • 2013 (1926), B&W, Not Rated, 1 Hr 28 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Al Jolson, William Dermarest, May McAvoy
  • Director: Alan Crosland
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Finally!