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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - January 2014

ARTICLE INDEX

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

movies-Jan-2014-Sweetwater

 

Synopsis

In the late 1800's, a beautiful former prostitute (January Jones) is trying to build an honest life with her husband in the rugged plains of New Mexico. When she catches the eye of a sadistic and powerful religious leader (Jason Isaacs), her life is violently turned upside down. She embarks on a bloody course of vengeance with the assistance of a renegade sheriff (Ed Harris) who has violent tendencies of his own.

Specifications

  • Arc Entertainment
  • 2013 Rated R 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
  • 1080p AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Ed Harris, Jason Isaacs, January Jones
  • Directed by: Logan Miller
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This independent film won a few awards, but none of them were for the story itself, as it is nothing more than a revenge flick. Nothing wrong with that, but it has been done before...and better, too, I might add. The stand out performance comes from Harris, who plays a crazy, but dangerous, sheriff. Issacs makes for a creepy "religious nut' cult leader (vague references to Mormonism) who desires more land ownership, apparently. Most of the characters come off as mean and ugly, but Ms. Jones characterization of a 'street walker" gone good, then gone vigilante, just did not fit. Besides being a rather flat emotionless actress, I also could not buy into the fact that she and her husband were trying to farm land in a desert. By the films end, I could not decide if I should be cheering for anyone at the climactic confrontation. Like I said...I've seen this all before.

Technical

The picture and audio are quite good, as I assume the filming was done with a RED camera. Colors and details are quite strong, without any film grain. Sound is lively during the shoot outs and dialog as always clear and locked into the CC speaker. This is a great disc, but a not so great flick.

Extras

The extras are a bit parched, with just a commentary with interviews from Jones, Harris and Issacs.


"Kick-Ass 2" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-january-2014-kick-ass-2

Synopsis

Kick-Ass 2 begins not long after the end of the first movie with Kick-Ass training to be a better super hero with Hit Girl. His heroic feats have inspired others to dawn masks and fight crime on the streets. On the side of evil, Red Mist has re-branded himself The Mother F'r and proclaimed his desire to be the worst human being possible. Meanwhile, Hit Girl's guardian finds out she is still fighting crime and makes her promise to give it up. She keeps her word and instead tries to live a normal life of a high school girl. Unfortunately this means being dragged into the mean girls club. Kick-Ass and Hit Girl team up once again after some unfortunate events and build an army of heroes to take on The Mother F'r and his gang.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2013 Rated R 1 hour 43 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
  • 1080p AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz
  • Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

The first Kick-Ass was an over-the-top, violent, but extremely fun movie. The writing and directing was superb and, for me, the movie was an instant classic. I was pumped up for the sequel until poor reviews started to come in. Sure enough, this sequel has nothing on the original. The writing is awkward and the action scenes lack the originality and excitement of Kick-Ass. I had fun watching the movie, but it is unlikely that I will return to it for a second viewing. Certainly worth a rental in my opinion.

Technical

The video quality is flawless on Kick-Ass 2. Universal has done a phenomenal job transferring this movie to Blu-ray. The DTS-HD Master Audio track lively and action packed, but nothing stood out as reference quality.

Extras

Alternate Opening, Big Daddy Returns: The Unshot Scene, Extended Scenes, The Making Of, Hit Girl Attacks: Creating the Van Sequence, Audio Commentary.


"It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movies-Jan-2014-MAD

Synopsis

Spencer Tracy heads a hilariously zany cast that stars Hollywood's greatest comedians (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas and Jonathan Winters) and features cameo appearances by every joker and jester in the business, from Don Knotts and Jerry Lewis to The Three Stooges. Nominated* for six Oscars. On a winding desert highway, eight vacation-bound motorists share an experience that alters their plans - and their lives! After a mysterious stranger divulges the location of a stolen fortune, they each speed off in a mind-bending, car-bashing race for the loot - and the most sidesplitting laughfest in history.

Specifications

  • MGM/Fox
  • 2013 (1965),  Rated G, 2 hours 39 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio 2.76:1
  • 1080p AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Milton Beryl, Sid Ceasar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney and a cast of dozens
  • Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Slapstick
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

If the term “epic” can be given to a comedy, this movie would carry that moniker. It is true that you would had to have grown up in the 60’s to recognize all of these comedic stars, but even kids today will appreciate the zany chase scenes in this flick. There are more stars than I can list, but at every turn, a new face pops up. Ernie Kovacs was going to be in this, but he died a few months before production. Stan Laurel (Laurel and Hardy) backed out because he did not want to appear with out his beloved partner who also died a few years prior. Still, those that do star in this movie have a great time! If you have never seen this movie, you really need to see it now in all of its HD glory. I can not imagine this movie being made today because I can not even think of a dozen comedians to star in it…at least, comedians that had the acting chops of these from the past. This is the craziest "chase" movie ever put to celluloid and well worth your time to see! Many critics say this was the greatest comedy ever filmed, and I would not disagree.

Technical

The picture is outstanding. The opening aerial shot of the desert showed me that this disc was going to be awesome…and it really was. Colors and contrast are wonderful with plenty of “pop” and depth. The details are very sharp. Spencer Tracey’s blotched and sweaty face looks, well, natural for him. Only a few, occasional  flecks mark up the film, but the vast majority of the picture is absolutely pristine. The film got an Oscar for sound production, but even in surround, it’s nothing special by today’s standards. The dialog is clear and articulate and that is all that really counts. There is even a “singing” intermission half way through the film. When is the last time you saw a movie with an intermission?

Extras

Commentaries, theatrical trailers and a clip about the making of the movie.


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

movie-january- 2014-jobs

Synopsis

Ashton Kutcher stars as Steve Jobs in this feature-length biopic that chronicles the professional life of quite possibly the most successful businessman of all time.  The story picks up as Jobs drops out of college and co-founds Apple Computers.  Then it takes you through the company's early growth, Jobs' ouster from the company right on through his triumphant return more than 10 years later.  

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2013, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 9 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring:  Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, Lukas Haas, J.K. Simmons and Lesley Ann Warren
  • Directed by:  Joshua Michael Stern
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

It can be quite challenging to make engaging  biopic films of famous icons.  In this case, I  thought the weak link in this film would be Ashton Kutcher, but he was much better than I expected.  This movie is instead undone by not tapping into Jobs the way I wanted.  The main theme of the film is Jobs' cold-hearted drive for greatness.  There is a certain drive and obsessiveness that is required for great success.  This is demonstrated, but the whole thing is hollow.  We don't know what Jobs' core motivations are.  There is just too little depth and insight for this movie to score a win in my book. 

Technical

The early parts of the film have a yellow-ish cast that is apparently related to the historic period.  This gives way to a much more neutral palette as time marches on in later scenes.  But the picture remains soft and lacking in dynamic punch throughout.  

The audio is servicable if also unspectacular.  This move is dialog-driven and voices are reproduced with fine definition.  There is some very interesting music from the 70's and 80's that is well recorded and mastered in 5.1. 

Extras

This 2-disc set comes with the Blu-ray, a DVD, an HD Ultraviolet streaming code and an iTunes Digital Copy.  Other on-disc extras are:  Deleted Scenes, The Legacy of Steve Jobs, Feature Commentary with Director Joshua Michael Stern, Ashton Kutcher is Steve Jobs and Jobs: Behind the Score. 


 "The Fifth Estate" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-january-2014-fifth

Synopsis

Based on true events, The Fifth Estate tells the story of Julian Assange and the rise of WikiLeaks. Assange and co-founder Daniel Berg start an information revolution when they decide to create an anonymous website where whistle-blowers can freely distribute documents that would otherwise be unavailable to the public. These documents implicate leaders at the highest levels in government and business. Assange and Berg’s intent is to expose truth while protecting sources but things quickly spin out of control. After a series of high-profile leaks, the site receives its biggest submission yet: a huge database of Afghanistan war logs and diplomatic cables that exposes operatives and communications that have vastly far-reaching consequences. At this point, Berg and the other members of Assange’s inner circle decide that things have gotten out of hand and they force him out.

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 2 Hrs 8 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl, David Thewliss
  • Directed by: Bill Condon
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Brief
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

With almost daily updates about NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the world has largely forgotten about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. While whistle-blowing is nothing new, the Information Age has made it possible to send pretty much any document around the world in milliseconds where it can be read by anyone and everyone. Told as a thriller, The Fifth Estate does a good job of portraying Assange as an almost wildly egotistical revolutionary, and Berg as the level-headed assistant who tries desperately to keep things under control. The film moves a bit slowly for the first half, but once the Afghanistan war logs come into the story, the pace picks up quite a bit. There’s never a real sense that Assange or Berg are in danger. Rather, the film portrays the danger faced by innocent people mentioned in the documents and how information can be a terrible weapon when placed in the wrong hands. While there isn’t much action per se, the tension and historical interest make the film a good watch. Definitely recommended. 

Technical

The image is shot mainly with handheld cameras which imparts a sort of news-footage feel. Fortunately, the shaky-cam effect is used sparingly. You won’t need Dramamine to get through this one! There is lots of dark material that exhibits a bit of crush but at least black levels are nice and deep. There is no apparent edge enhancement and film grain is used to great effect. The only other flaw in an otherwise excellent Blu-ray is occasional softness; which is more likely to be a camera focus issue than a problem with the transfer.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track is rich and dynamic with plenty of detail. The surround speakers are used very effectively to create a realistic and immersive soundstage. The sub only comes into play during the techno-funk music that is used in transitional scenes. Otherwise, bass is a little wanting. Dialog is top-shelf though with crystal clear rendering and no hint of chestiness.

Extras

Bonus features include featurettes on the special effects used and the scoring of the film. Also on the disc are trailers and TV spots. The package I received has the Blu-ray along with DVD and a digital copy download code for use on digitalcopyplus.com.


 "Machete Kills" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

Movies-Jan-2014-Machete

Synopsis

 Danny Trejo returns as legendary ex-Federale Machete Cortez in this action-packed thrill ride from innovative director Robert Rodriguez. In his latest mission, Machete is recruited by the U.S. President (Charlie Sheen) to stop a crazed global terrorist (Mel Gibson) from starting a nuclear war. With a bounty on his head, Machete breaks all the rules as he faces death at every turn from a star-studded cast of deadly assassins. Featuring Michelle Rodriguez, Sofia Vergara, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Demian Bichir, Machete Kills is one of the wildest save-the-world adventures ever captured on film.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2014, Color, Rated R, 1 Hrs 38 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring: Danny Trejo, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson
  • Directed by: Robert  Rodriguez
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Discreet
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The sequel to Machete, this campy nod to grindhouse B-movie action flicks of the 70’s was originally a “preview of coming attractions” to Rodriguez’ s other action zombie movie. Full of action, machismo, explosions, blood splatter and humor, Danny Trejo is the ultimate Latino Terminator. None of this is Oscar material, but it is a fun way to destroy a few hours with the guys on a Saturday night. The story is simple, the action fast and the women are hot (but no nudity). I don't think Lady Gaga adds to the overall success of the film and Mel Gibson just doesn't come a cross as a mad, evil villian...but what do I know? Afterall, I am perfectly OK with Charlie Sheen as the POTUS. (Several F-bombs fly along with the bullets and knives, so be forewarned!)

Technical

The picture is generally very sharp (like a machete) and every pock-mark on Trejo’s face looks deep and dark. His face looks like it was on fire and someone beat it out with a rake! The “previews’ are purposefully shot with splices and dirt flecks to add to the 70’s feel, but the actual movie itself looks quite good. The sound is also well presented with bullets whizzing from front back. The sub kicks in often with every deep thud from a punch or blammo from a bomb going off. Needless to say, you will not nod off during this movie. If this movie sounds like your shot of Tequila, turn the volume up and your mind down…and enjoy!

Extras

The “making of”, deleted scenes and commentaries along with a preview of “Machete in Space”.


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

movie-january-2014-riddick

Synopsis

This is the thrid installment in the Riddick franchise.  For the uninitiated, Riddick is an outlaw who is wanted by every bounty hunter in the entire galaxy.  This particular movie picks up as his reign leading the Necromongers unravels and he is exiled to a seemingly lifeless planet known as Furya.  He must regain his edge as a killer/survivor if he is going to make his way off this bleak planet alive.  Ultimately, the way off is by activating an emergency beacon that alerts bounty hunters who quickly descend on the planet in search of their bounty.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 59 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring:  Vin Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista and Bokeem Woodbine
  • Directed by:  David Twohy
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The first part of the movie follows Riddick as he recovers from some serious looking injuries and works his way to a reasonably habitable part of the planet Furya.  This part of the movie is hampered by some of the less convincing CGI effects inthe movie.  The middle thrid of the film has Riddick exerting his dominance over the mercenaries and this part is held back by some very campy moments.  The final part of the film is full of energy and great action sequences but is also less effective due to several cliche-like kills.  What I mean by this is the method where there is a struggle, the camera is shaky, you hear the killing blow (crunch!) and then the camera zooms out to reveal the actual nature of the most likely creative technique that Riddick used to slay this particular foe.  But, hey, it's a Riddick movie and I had fun watching it.  

Technical

This movie was shot on digital video and the transfer is consequently very sharp with excellent detail in every scene.  It is a dark movie that could have turned out soupy but that is not the case and the image represents with excellent contrast even in the most challenging scenes.  I am deducting 1/2 star because the CGI effects are sometimes grossly obvious.  

The audio is amazing throughout.  It showcases all the dynamics, frequency range and spatiality a Hollywood film can muster.  I was able to hear all the spoken lines clearly.  This may seem like a spurious observation, but I honestly have trouble with Vin Diesel sometimes because he has a deep, gravelly voice and is known to mumble.  I heard all his lines loud and clear this time. 

Extras

This 2-disc set comes with the Blu-ray, a DVD and an HD Ultraviolet streaming code.  The set set also includes the Unrated Director's Cut which adds 8 minutes of additional footage.  Other on-disc extras include the following featurettes - The World of Riddick, Riddickian Tech, The Twohy Touch, Vin's Riddick, Meet the Mercs and Riddick: Blindsided.


  "Closed Circuit" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

Movies-jan-2014-Circiut

Synopsis

A high-profile terrorism case unexpectedly brings two exceptional lawyers (Bana and Hall) with a romantic past together on the defense team. They soon realize they've stepped into a dangerous web of cover-ups and lies, and their knowledge of the government's top-secret classified evidence has put their reputations and lives at stake. Unfortunately, the “truth” may be more volatile than the bomb that explodes in downtown London, killing hundreds of innocent people!

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2014, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 34 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS HD Master
  • Starring:  Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, Riz Ahmed, Anne-Marie Duff
  • Directed by:  John Crowley
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

From the director of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy- I was expecting a more taut storyline. The premise is good in that MI-5 has a rogue plan that goes bad with catastrophic results and the subsequent secret conspiracy to cover up the truth places our heroes in danger. Usually, it’s the CIA and this takes place in New York…but I digress. Though the movies moves right along, I never felt that the tension rose above the level of an average thriller. The MI-5 director implied menace with his presence, but he never made me feel concerned for the safety of the protagonists. The ending was not very satisfying either, with the “its better that the truth not be known” conclusion that leaves no one punished for their actions…and being from the good old U.S. of A., it plays out all too closely to daily headlines in our own newspapers.  

Technical

The picture is good with detail and contrast. The overall picture color scheme has a cool, bluish hue to the image. Not that London typically has a warm sunny quality to it in the winter. Sound is clear and the surrounds play into the opening truck bombing with lots of gusto. Though they all speak with an English accent, the dialog was always concise and easy to listen too.  

A "Making of” called "Behind the Camera" and commentaries.


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

movie-january-2014-rush

Synopsis

In the 1960s, Formula One racing was far more dangerous than it is today. Driver deaths are now a rare occurrence and met with shock and dismay. Back then, there was a 10-20% chance that if you started the season, you would not survive to the finish. Set against this backdrop is the rivalry between two drivers: James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

James Hunt is brash, self-centered, only concerned about himself, and a fantastic driver. A playboy who lives the lifestyle of someone that expects to die at any time he races with little concern for his safety or that of others. At the other end of the spectrum is Niki Lauda. Calculated, controlled, and unwilling to take excessive risks, his methodical nature and compete control of the situation allow him to be almost always perfect and make him a World Champion.

From Formula 3 up to Formula 1, the two racers compete against each other, never wanting to let the other one get the best of them. Over the course of the 1976 season they compete back and forth for the lead in the championship standings.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 3 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde
  • Directed by: Ron Howard
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes, with nudity
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Neither driver in Rush, Hunt or Lauda, is really someone you want to root for. Both are selfish and think mostly of themselves. James Hunt loves to have fun, party, and enjoy the ladies while only thinking of himself. Niki Lauda is more concerned to keep to himself and is, to most of his other racers, someone they do not want to associate with. While Lauda is well aware of the general dislike other people have of him, Hunt feels that since he’s always trying to have fun he really is a good guy.

They also serve as motivation for each other. Their racing styles are a total contrast with Hunt being very aggressive and loose while Lauda thinks everything through and is precise to a fault. This competition breeds a dislike but also a mutual respect that drives the other one to want to succeed more than they would have on their own.

The race images captured in the film are wonderful. The camerawork can be a bit too fun sometimes and distract slightly. Overall the film is very well done and one I will watch again. I’m not a big fan of Formula One, or typically of Ron Howard, but Rush is a great film even if you aren’t a fan of auto racing.

Technical

The image in Rush is a bit desaturated to provide a look more reminiscent of 1970’s era film stock than of modern digital cameras. There are a couple shots of red racecars that exhibit the slightest bit of banding in the red areas, but overall the image is really good. The sound track is phenomenal from the first scene on. Surrounds are used extensively to bring you inside the car and to capture the atmosphere of the environment. The low end brings out the sound of the engines and the race sequences will be ones I can come back to later for showing off my home theater.

Extras

Featurettes on the making and design of the film, a look at the real James Hunt and Niki Lauda, deleted scenes, DVD and Ultraviolet copies.