Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - November, 2013

ARTICLE INDEX

"The Best Years of Our Lives" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

This 8 Academy Award(R)-winning masterpiece recounts the problems faced by three returning veterans after WWII as they attempt to pick up the threads of their lives. Fredric March, Harold Russell and Dana Andrews are superb as the servicemen who return home from the Greatest War, only to find difficult challenges in converting back to normalcy in post-war America.

Specifications

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

Commentary

A daring film, mostly due to the subject matter, this film won several Academy Awards(R) and is the only film ever to feature a non-actor who won 2 Oscars for his portrayal of a sailor who lost both hands in the South Pacific Theater. Because this movie was made right after the war, it did not have to portray themes to make the public feel good about the war effort. The story is both heartwarming, touching and honest without being melodramatic or overly maudlin. The theme is universal, so you could imagine this story happening after the Korean, Viet Nam or Iraqi war. War changes men, whether physically or emotionally. Some men are at their most courageous after the battle cry has long since faded. This is a long film, but worth every minute of your time to see.

Technical

The sound is mono, but it is clear and without any hiss or audible defects. The picture quality is amazingly sharp and detailed. Only a few long shots look a bit out of focus, and that is not the transfers fault, but the actual stock. I am always impressed with how good a black and white films look when they are carefully restore and remastered on Blu-ray, and this film is no exception. Contrasts are spot-on. White are crisp and never blown out. I never saw flicker or any blemishes on the film at any time. It all just looks gorgeous. Thanks be to Warner for taking good care of this classic film.

Extras

A theatrical trailer and a two commentaries with Virginia Mayo. The trailer is in standard def and provides a good measuring point for how much work went into this film's restoration.


"Europa Report" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

When unmanned probes suggest that a hidden ocean could exist underneath Europa's icy surface and may contain single-celled life, Europa Ventures, a privately funded space exploration company, sends six of the best astronauts from around the world to confirm the data and explore the revolutionary discovery. After a near-catastrophic technical failure that leads to loss of communication with Earth and the tragic death of a crew member, the surviving astronauts must overcome the psychological and physical toll of deep space travel and survive a discovery on Europa more profound than they had ever imagined.

Specifications

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

Commentary

I had high expectations from earlier word of mouth about this flick, and though it was very good, I was disappointed with the “monster” ending. The movie is in the style of a documentary and really provides a sense of claustrophobia and loneliness that space travel can induce. The acting is excellent and the overall feel of the movie, including the special effects are top notch. Input from the scientific community also added to the realism of the movie. My only complaint would be that more research should have been put into the trip before sending voyagers to the distant moon. I mean, who wants to land on thin ice?

Technical

The film looks good with lots of details and some very wonderful shots of Jupiter and its moons. The interior shots are well lit and still manage to feel tight and suffocating. The shadows on Europa are a bit too dark and thick, but that just adds to the suspense. Sound was very good, though there were a few scenes that I could not hear the dialog due to communication garble due to sun spots. The sub comes into play as the moons ice fields start to break up.You would never know that this movie was shot on a tight budget from the sound and picture quality.

Extras

None


"Monsters University" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Before they worked at Monsters Inc., Mike and Sully had to start somewhere, and that was college. They are both freshmen in the Monsters University scaring program, looking to learn what they need to know to work at Monsters Inc.  Unfortunately they manage to get themselves thrown out when they are unable to successfully pass the first term final.

Determined to get back into the scare program, they enter the Scare Games with members of the Oozma Kappa fraternity. If they are able to defeat the other fraternities and sororities they will be admitted back into the scare program. However if they lose, Mike will be forced to withdraw from Monsters University altogether. With a rag-tag collection of fraternity brothers, managing to beat the other teams, including the powerful Roar Omega Roar fraternity, is going to be a hard challenge.

Specifications

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

Commentary

Pixar has been a bit mixed recently with sequels. With a sequel to Finding Nemo coming soon its made a few people wonder if they’re lacking in inspiration. Thankfully Monsters University actually has a lot of spark going for it and is a very enjoyable film. Kids enjoy it but parents will get even more out of it with all the subtle jokes hidden throughout. I've managed to watch this six times with the kids already and still manage to enjoy it so there is plenty of repeat value in the film.

Technical

Monsters University looks absolutely stunning on Blu-ray. From small details like the texture of a hat to the fur of the monsters, there isn’t a single pixel out of place. The details you will see are amazing and it will show off whatever you watch it on.

The audio here also impresses. From the sound of the dean flying around a classroom to the creaks in a dark campground the whole soundtrack impresses. Pixar does a wonderful job of capturing the ambient sounds and details of a college campus and pulls you into the film. Whether it is the first team challenge where sounds come from all around, to a scream container flying around the room, the soundtrack is top notch.

Extras

Tons of extra featurettes, an animated short, DVD and Digital Copies, audio commentary, deleted scenes, and more.


"Man of Steel" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

In this complete reboot of the Superman movie franchise, we get a reimagining of Kal-El’s back story, the return of super-villain General Zod, and more destruction than you ever thought possible!

Jor-El, chief scientist of the planet Krypton, realizes too late that his world is doomed thanks to depletion of natural resources and the tapping of the planet’s core for energy. He manages to get his only son into an escape craft and sends him, along with the genetic code for his entire species off to Earth. General Zod tries to prevent the launch but is captured and sentenced, along with his minions, to the Phantom Zone.

Kal-El makes it to Earth and is found and raised by a farmer and his wife in Smallville, Kansas. As he matures, he realizes he is different than other humans and must go and learn of his true nature. Meanwhile, General Zod breaks free from his imprisonment and decides to terraform Earth into a new planet Krypton. Now called Superman by Lois Lane, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Kal-El fights to stop Zod and save the Earth from complete destruction.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2013, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 hours 23 minutes
  • 1080p/MPEG 4
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
  • Directed by Zack Snyder
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The plot seems fairly thin in this all-new Superman film but it just doesn’t matter. The stunning special effects more than make up for what is essentially a superhero backstory and a final-act battle to save the planet against a single villain. Henry Cavill, whom you may remember from his role in The Tudors, makes an excellent Superman even if he doesn’t have too much dialog. Amy Adams plays a somewhat chatty but decent Lois Lane. And General Zod, who really does fulfill the role of super-villain, is performed masterfully by Michael Shannon. The biggest star of this movie is the visual effects. In addition to the now-standard city-wide destruction sequence, we have fight scenes that exceed even those in The Matrix, along with some truly interesting alien spacecraft. And it seems inevitable that there will be more movies. The door has been left wide open!

Technical

The image must be seen to be believed. You’ll want to have a display that renders deep black levels and shadow detail because Man of Steel will test that ability. All of the scenes on Krypton and in the alien spacecraft are very monotone with a bluish-gray palette. The detail in the sets and costumes has to be seen to be believed. Scenes on Earth also take on a cool hue with color used only sparingly. Even though the majority of the material is dark in nature, the image depth is tremendous and never too dim. These comments refer to the 2D version of the film. I did not view the 3D cut.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track is reference-quality in every respect but one. While the dialog is nice and crisp, it seemed a little too receded in the mix. If you turn the volume up to make the center channel loud enough, the action scenes are positively deafening. It’s a minor flaw in an otherwise superb sound design. You will want the biggest possible sub for this Blu-ray. It will no doubt be the stuff of home theater demos for many enthusiasts. While Man of Steel avoids any gimmicky hard panning effects, the surrounds create a nice soundfield handily transcends the walls of your viewing room.

Extras

There are over four hours of bonus features but most of that time is taken up by a three-hour making-of feature that sprinkles interviews and background documentaries into the film itself. It comes on a separate disc. Also included are featurettes on the actors’ physical training, the destruction of Krypton sequence, and an animated short. The package I received contained two Blu-rays, plus a DVD version of the film and a digital copy accessible through UltraViolet.


"Dexter, The Final Season" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

In this eighth and final season, Dexter could not be more lost as a person. He has done irrevocable damage to his relationship with sister Deb with the killing of LaGuerta. While he tries desperately to repair that, a mysterious psychotherapist appears who apparently knows all about Dexter’s secret. But she doesn’t seek to expose him; she wants his help in solving Miami’s latest series of killings where the perpetrator removes part of the victim’s brain as a trophy. Later in the season, Hannah, Dexter’s love interest from season seven returns wanting to forgive and settle down with him and son Harrison. And a new killer emerges that Dexter intends to turn into a successor! How will it all wind up? You’ll have to watch and find out!

Specifications

  • Showtime
  • 2013, Color, Not rated, 10 hours 33 minutes (12 episodes)
  • 1080p/MPEG 4
  • Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Starring: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I have enjoyed this series enormously since the very beginning back in 2006. The truly masterful story of a serial killer as the hero has always managed to mesmerize and amaze. It’s mostly because of the superb writing, ensemble cast, and Michael C. Hall’s stupendous skill as an actor that this series will go down as one of the best TV shows of all time. Fans rest assured – the ending ties up all the loose ends nicely. While I would not call this the very best season of Dexter, it is a fitting and satisfying end to a fantastic series.

Technical

Miami, Florida is once again depicted in rich saturated hues that look natural and colorful as you’d expect. Detail is not quite at the reference level but it looks better than most TV show Blu-rays and thankfully, there is no edge enhancement. Contrast is more consistent than in some past seasons with nice deep blacks and beautifully saturated highlights that are never blown out. My only complaint is some indoor scenes are a little too warm making them flat and dull-looking.

Thanks to a superb Dolby TrueHD 5.1 encode, this dialog-driven feature always sounds its best. The center channel material is crisp and detailed with no sibilance or chestiness. The music makes a nice backdrop for the action and is the same excellent score heard in all the previous seasons.

Extras

Bonus features are pretty light and total less than 15 minutes. There is a short documentary on the development of the Deborah Morgan character, a Showtime promo for the entire season, and cast and crew commentary for the first four episodes. If you want more, the entire series boxed set contains an extra disc with additional bonus material.


"The World's End" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

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Synopsis

20 years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. They are convinced to stage an encore by mate Gary King, a 40-year old man trapped at the cigarette end of his teens, who drags his reluctant pals to their home town and once again attempts to reach the fabled pub, The World's End. As they attempt to reconcile the past and present, they realize the real struggle is for the future, not just theirs but humankind's. Reaching The World's End is the least of their worries.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 1 hour 49 minutes
  • 1080p/MPEG 4
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan
  • Directed by: Edgar Wright
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy ends in a spectacular way. Shaun of the Dead was a gory zombie film, Hot Fuzz was a cop-buddy, non-stop action ala Stepford Wives flick. And The World's End is a sci-fi flick that involves a lot of drinking, defining of friendships and getting over the past. The characters in all 3 films are believable, lovable and hilarious. This concluding film of the trilogy is just as epic and every bit as enjoyable as the first two. The frenetic fight scenes are amazing and funny at the same time. If the World must come to an end, it may as well be this way!

Technical

The sound and picture of this BD presenation are excellent. Color saturation and details are exemplary. You can see every crinkle around Pegg's eyes in the close-ups. Lots of surround sound action in the second half of the film, including some deep rumbling bass. Dialog is crisp and clear, though with a bit of English accents.

Extras

Bonus features are plentiful with commentaries to alternate takes/endings, interviews, TV trailers, a short clip on how the stunts were done, animatronics, etc.…there are a ton of extra features to plow through when the movie is finished. WooHoo!


"2 Guns" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

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Synopsis

Denzel Washington plays Bobby, a DEA Agent and Mark Wahlberg is Stig, a Naval Intelligence Officer.  These two undercover agents have teamed up on a bank heist that is designed to exact revenge on a Mexican drug lord named Papi Greco (played by Edward James Olmos).  Well, there are a number of problems brewing for our protagonists.  To start things off, they were expecting to get around $3M in the robbery, but wind up with a whopping $43M.  Then they find out that the other is a secret agent working for a different agency.  More forces come into play as things begin to unravel - little things such as the CIA, the FBI and corrupt agents within both the DEA and NCIS. 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2013, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 50 mins
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton and Bill Paxton
  • Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I was in the perfect mood for some brainless entertainment when I watched 2 Guns.  So I may have enjoyed it much more than I might have if my mood was bent on deeper fare.  Nevertheless, I was rarin' and ready when the movie started and I laughed like a kid at most of the schtick.  That is the best part of this movie - it is essentially a comedy with a ton of energy  and excitement.  I also liked the acting work done by the main stars, but also Bill Paxton who plays a demented CIA Agent.  The downside of this movie is the trite plot that has just a few too many twists and turns, many of theme quite predictable by the third act.  But don't let that stop you.  If you are in the right mood like I was, then rent this movie and have a little fun!

Technical

This is generally a bright, coloful and fast paced movie that is served well with a detailed, high contrast and richly colored digital transfer.  Outdoor scenes are especially clean and clear.  There are some indoor scenes that run a little soft and with some crush in the blacks.  But on the whole this is basically reference material.  

The audio is as good as it gets.  It is an immersive sound with excellent dynamics and a broad frequency response that brings out every special effect and vocal.  The music is also properly mastered and thoroughly engaging.

Extras

This 2-disc set comes with the Blu-ray, a DVD and an HD Ultraviolet streaming code.  Other on-disc extras are:

A making of featurette in four parts - "Undercover and Into Action"; "The Good, the Bad, and the Sexy"; "Finding the Vibe" and "Living Dangerously".  

A short behind the scenes featurette - "Undercover and Into Action".

Deleted and extended scenes and a Feature Commentary With Director Baltasar Kormákur and Producer Adam Siegel.