Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - December, 2011

ARTICLE INDEX

"Larry Crowne" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-december-2011-larry-crowne

Synopsis

This movie opens with the firing of Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) who was a dedicated and fastidious employee of a big box store known as U Mart.  Larry had come to work at U Mart after retiring from a 20-year career as a Navy cook.  We also learn that he was recently divorced and is upside down on his mortgage.  Larry needs to make a change to find work in this difficult economic climate and so he decides to enroll in the local community college to enhance his marketability.  There, he befriends a group of fellow scooter-riders and develops a crush on his speech teacher, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts).

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 39 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
  • Directed by Tom Hanks
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This is a hopeful and charming movie about a likeable main character who decides to reinvent himself. There is an easygoing on-screen chemistry between Hanks and Roberts which really makes this film click.  Another standout performance was by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays Talia, the spiritual leader of the scooter gang.  And Cedric the Entertainer is spot on in his role as Hanks' neighbor and the "Prime Minister" of their cul-de-sac.  Another excellent performace was George Takei as the droll Economics professor, Dr. Matsutani.  Hanks co-wrote, directed and took the lead role in this movie.  This is another solid rental recommendation for a light diversion.

Technical

The 2.40:1 transfer is bright, sharp and colorful with reference quality contrast.  This movie has no audio dynamite and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio is servicable with clear, intelligible dialog and pedestrian sound effects.

Extras

This single disc package has some solid Special Features - a pocket BLU app, Deleted Scenes, The Making of Larry Crowne and a "Fun on Set" segment.


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

movie-december-2011-beginners

Synopsis

This quirky story about a graphic artist named Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor) is told from a first person perspective through a series of interleaved sub chapters from three major phases of Oliver's life - his childhood, the months after his mother's death and then the time going forward after his father, Hal (Christopher Plummer) passes.  Oliver's discordant childhood lays the foundation for his adult struggles.  Then after his mother passes, his father comes out of the closet and falls in love with a young, handsome partner, Andy (Goran Visnjic).  The last segment shows Oliver kindling a relationship with a free-spirited actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent).

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 44 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent and Goran Visnjic
  • Directed by Mike Mills
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

I was afraid that this was going to be one of those hopelessly artsy movies that are painfully depressing.  I am pleased to announce that Beginners is not one of those movies.  To the contrary, I was fully engrossed by the characters.  They were very real and engaging even when they weren't always likeable.  Just like real people.  The movie does move along at a languid pace.  And many people in this day and age may think it's too slow for their tastes. But I didn't feel bored or disconnected at any point over the film's 104 minute running time. I feel that there should be fewer flash-back and flash-forward time jumps.  But in the end, this movie works on a lot of levels and makes a solid rental choice for a cold winter weekend.

Technical

The image pops on stills, daylight scenes and indoor scenes with abundant natural light.  Other indoor scenes are sparsely lit and looked borderline washed out.  But the video was generally decent with good detail, no obvious sharpness enhancements, undetectable compression artifacts and a natural color presentation.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio is excellent with a lot of silence sequences that were very silent.  The musical score and dialog are quite well recorded.

Extras

This one-disc package has just a few special features - A Short Film About Making Beginners, Beginners Promo and a Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Mike Mills.  There is also a pocket BLU code in the case if you want to perpetually stream this movie off the cloud.


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

movie-december-2011-rushmore

Synopsis

Max Fischer is a student at Rushmore Academy, one of the best prep schools in the country.  While he keeps active in many clubs, his academics suffer and he's been put on sudden death academic probation, where the school will expel him if he fails another class.  When Herman Blume comes to the school one day to make a speech to the students, he and Max forge a bond as the middle aged, jaded Blume admires the youthful enthusiasm and exuberance of Max.

Their friendship manages to run into a rough point after they both fall hard for the new grade school teacher, Rosemary Cross.  Their competition leads to consequences for both Max's education as well as Blume's marriage.

Specifications

  • Criterion
  • 1998, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 33 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Olivia Williams
  • Directed by Wes Anderson
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Rushmore has always been a favorite of mine, and now being able to watch it in HD is a fantastic treat.  I know that the humor of Wes Anderson doesn't always appeal to everyone, but to me it's a movie I can watch over and over again.  Bill Murray gives a wonderful performance as the cynical, middle-aged Blume who finds new energy and vigor through Max.  The plays that Max puts on for the school are worth watching the film alone.

Technical

Compared to the Criterion DVD, Rushmore looks much better with far better detail.  Early scenes of Max getting his hair cut or his Dad looking over his test bring out details and textures that I couldn't see before, down to reading the individual questions on the test.  Wes Anderson also does a fantastic job with his soundtracks and the lossless audio brings those across as never before.  Subtle audio clues that seemed to get lost on the DVD come across much better on the Blu-ray and bring more information to the film that before.

Extras

All of the features from the DVD come over, including the commentary with Wes Anderson and more, the trailer, audition tapes, featurettes, and more plays that Max Fisher put on for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards.  There is also a foldout map of the world of Rushmore in the case.


"Super 8" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-december-2011-super-8

Synopsis

JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg join forces in this extraordinary tale of youth, mystery, and adventure. Super 8 tells the story of six friends who witness a train wreck while making a Super 8 movie, only to learn that something unimaginable escaped during the crash. They soon discover that the only thing more mysterious than what it is, is what it wants.

Specifications

  • Paramount Pictures
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 52 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills
  • Directed by JJ Abrams
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

A bifurcated film that starts out as a "coming of age" flick with kids making a home movie. It then quickly (and violently) slips into a sci-fi mystery with a space alien on the loose in a small town after an army train derails. The kid actors do a fantastic job and the adults provide a solid supporting role. Not really sure if the alien was eating people and dangerous or was simply misunderstood, but perhaps leaving that to the viewer is part of the movies charm. Reminded me of The Goonies meets E.T. This is an edge of your seat, fun ride.

Technical

The video throughout is pristine with vivid colors in the daylight scenes and ink blacks in the night scenes. Details are well defined as you would expect from a top-notch blu-ray transfer. The audio equals the quality of the video and it is one of the most powerful, enveloping sound fields you will hear in a home theater. Vocals came mainly from the center speaker but pan nicely when characters move from left to right. Music and sounds were extremely active in all the remaining speakers. Yes, the Abrams "flare effects" crop up now and then, but not nearly as often as in Star Trek. All in all, this film rocks!

Extras

The 8mm Revolution, Deconstructing the Train Crash, Deleted Scenes, The Search for New Faces, Meet Joel Courtney, Rediscovering Steel Town, Scoring Super 8 and Do You Believe in Magic?


"Quigley Down Under" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-december-2011-quigley-down-under

Synopsis

Arriving in Australia with nothing more than a saddle and his prized six-foot Sharps rifle, American sharpshooter Matthew Quigley (Sellek) thinks he's been hired to kill off wild dogs. But when he realizes instead, that his mission is murder - to "eliminate" the Aborigines from a wealthy cattle baron's land - Quigley refuses and quickly turns from hunter to hunted. Forced to wage a savage war against his former employer, Quigley proves that no one gets the best of a steely-eyed American gunfighter - no one, that is, except the mysterious beauty (Laura San Giacomo) who rides by his side and captures his heart.

Specifications

  • MGM Pictures
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 52 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: MPEG 4
  • 1080p
  • English 2.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Tom Selleck, Alan Rickman, Laura San Giacomo
  • Directed by Simon Wincer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Perhaps my favorite Selleck movie (Ok, so he only made a few after Magnum P.I.), this movie exploits the tried and true Western themes of good guy vs. evil land baron, but moves the locale to Australia. The "Indians" here are the Aborigines. Quigley, having a conscience, refuses to exterminate the natives from Rickman's property and calmly goes about setting things right by the end of the show. Rickman is a perfect villian, meaning, he is "over the top". I have seen this movie a dozen times on TV and was glad to finally get a copy on BD. This is a movie that I think the average viewer would be willing to see more than once, so add it to your library. (P.S.- All I want for Christmas this year is an 1874 Sharp's buffalo rifle).

Technical

Though the overall PQ is better than I have eve seen before, it still suffers from inconsistent quality. Some scenes are sharp and clear while others are soft and lose detail, especially the long shots. Dirt, debris and scratches appear every so often and the dark scenes swim in mosquito noise. However, the overall improvements and the fact that we will probably never get a re-mastered print, makes this BD a no-brainer. I would have liked a surround mix for the audio, as it had plenty of potential scenes that would have benefited, but alas

Extras

Rebirth of a Western (SD, 7 minutes), Two TV spots (SD), and Theatrical Trailer (1080p)


"Sea Rex 3D" (Blu-ray 3D) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-december-2011-sea-rex

Synopsis

Told from the perspective of an enthusiastic museum visitor, Sea Rex is a fascinating look at the dinosaurs of the sea.  These creatures ruled the oceans some 200 million years ago and were the Earth's super-predators long before the T-Rex roamed the land.  Thanks to the discoveries of 18th-century French paleontologist Georges Cuvier, we now know the story behind these amazing animals.  As Julie gazes at the displays in her local aquarium, Cuvier suddenly appears and becomes her guide to a past few of us ever knew.  Thanks to Imax and 3D display technology, we can see how these reptiles might have looked as they swam in the vast oceans of the Triassic period; before the continents of today even existed.

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2010, Color, Not Rated, 58 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: MVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution
  • Starring: Richard Rider, Chloe Hollings
  • Directed by Pascal Vuong and Ronan Chaplain
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is a fun and extremely educational Imax film that opens up a whole new world of pre-historic life.  With all the fame associated with land-based reptiles (thanks largely to Steven Spielberg I think), these creatures of the sea are not as well-known.  The addition of 3D and some truly amazing CGI brings these creatures to life on the big screen.  In true Imax fashion, everything is aimed at the multi-story theaters you find at your local science museum or aquarium.  I'm not sure it would be quite as effective on a television but it's very enjoyable when shown with a 3D projector.  The effects are very impressive when the screen goes to the edge of your peripheral vision.  Entertainment-wise, it's a bit contrived but the education presented here is very good.  Any dinosaur fan will certainly enjoy this film.

Technical

Sea Rex seamlessly mixes live-action and CGI effects to the point where you're not sure what you're watching.  Obviously the dinosaurs exist only in a computer but there are many fly-bys that are the real deal.  Color is nicely balanced no matter what the content and looks natural at all times.  Detail is great too, especially in the close-ups of swimming sea monsters.  Some shots that mix live action and CGI are a little soft and I noticed some sync issues between audio and video.  Contrast is also a little flat with elevated black levels and only average shadow detail.  The 3D effect is used well and I noticed no technical issues there.

Audio is clean and crisp with a wide front soundstage.  I did wish for a greater dynamic range though as several scenes could have benefitted from a little more use of the subwoofer.  Surrounds are also under-utilized.  Underwater scenes are always more convincing when the gurgle of moving water is all around the viewer.

Extras

Bonus features consist of a behind-the-scenes featurette and an interview with the film makers.

Sea Rex 3D


"Meet the Robinsons 3D" (Blu-ray 3D) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-december-2011-meet-the-robinsons

Synopsis

On a rainy night, a mysterious woman leaves her baby on the doorstep of an orphanage.  12 year later, we meet Lewis; a promising boy genius and inventor who has only one problem – he can't get adopted.  After 124 interviews, he's ready to give up so he decides to build a machine that will search his memory for a picture of his mother.  He takes it to the local science fair where a mysterious man in a bowler hat sabotages the invention and destroys the entire fair along with it.  Then a boy claiming to be from the future shows up and wisks Lewis off to – you guessed it – the future.  Lewis meets the Robinsons, a wacky family with all sorts of interesting hobbies who all live together in a huge mansion.  They are all set to adopt him when they discover Lewis' true identity.  After several un-expected plot twists, Lewis returns to the present with a new mantra – keep moving forward.  His life takes a turn for the better in a truly happy ending.

Specifications

  • Walt Disney Pictures
  • 2007, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 35 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: MVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring (the voices of): Daniel Hansen, Wesley Singerman and Angela Bassett
  • Directed by Stephen J. Anderson
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I tried very hard to enjoy this movie, and the story was even interesting; but there was so much irrelevant material that I found it hard to engage for the entire hour-and-a-half running time.  The characters are funny and there are gags galore but only a few key scenes actually advance the plot.  I liked the beginning and the end fine but the long second act just dragged.  Seeing the movie in 3D was cool but even that added element was unable to elevate this one above three stars.

Technical

This is an extremely well-done 3D conversion.  Color and detail pop as you'd expect and the added dimension is used sparingly and never distracts the viewer.  I only knocked off one star because the CGI quality isn't quite up to par with newer films.  Skin textures were pretty much non-existent; the characters looked more like porcelain dolls.  Detail in objects was very good.  I especially liked the reflections and highlights in the time machines which were like cool-retro flying saucers.  Contrast was excellent with nice deep blacks and a very bright overall image.

Audio was good but not all it could have been.  Many opportunities were missed for some really house-shaking bass effects.  Surrounds were used effectively but I would have liked to get my sub in on the action.  Dialog was very crisp and detailed and balanced nicely with ambient effects and music.  If the mixing engineers had been a little less conservative with dynamics, this could have easily been a five-star soundtrack.

Extras

I received a combo pack which includes both 3D and 2D Blu-ray discs, and a DVD version of the film.  Bonus features are numerous and include audio commentary, two making-of documentaries, two interactive games, deleted scenes, two music videos and trailers for other Disney movies.


"West Side Story" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-december-2011-west-side-story

Synopsis

Adapted from the classic Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is the story of two gangs, the Sharks and the Jets.  The Jets are all white, where the Sharks are a Puerto Rican gang.  After an early rumble in the park, the gangs are warned by the cops to cool it, but neither one will have any part of that.  Meeting up in neutral territory at a dance later that night, and Jets intend to challenge the Sharks to a fight to see who controls the neighborhood streets, once and for all.

At the dance, Tony meets Maria, and they instantly connect from across the dance floor, oblivious to the fact that they are from rival factions.  After they are broken apart, the gangs decide to set a date and time for their rumble, despite repeated warnings from the police about doing so.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1961, Color, Not Rated, 2 Hr 32 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn
  • Directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Of course if you have seen Romeo and Juliet, you know what happens in the film.  Even though I am not a musical guy, and really can't deal with seeing them live that much, I highly enjoy West Side Story.  The songs and choreography are fantastic, and story is wonderful as it uses one of the most classic stories in western literature as its basis, and the film looks gorgeous.  Technicolor just has a look and feel that current film stocks can not touch.  It is well known now that MGM butchered the opening credits on this transfer and will be replacing discs down the road, but that flaw alone isn't nearly enough to make me not recommend this disc very highly to everyone.

Technical

The image on West Side Story looks wonderful.  Colors are rich and virbrant from the Technicolor process and detail is superb.  Opening shots above Manhattan look great and artifact free.  When we first meet the Jets, there are multiple panning shots through a chain link fence that could easily degrade down to a stair-stepped, artifact filled mess, and while there is some shimmering, it's not horrible.  Some scenes are not quite as sharp as others, which could be due to the Technicolor process as well, but overall detail and clarity is very strong.

The soundtrack is also a wonderful revelation.  While everything does sound great, it isn't the mix that could have been.  The soundtrack was drawn from the 4-track masters, even though an original 6-track master was finally discovered just last year.  Apparently the cost of converting it was too great, or they would have missed the 50th Anniversary deadline for this disc, so hearing that will have to wait for a future version I guess.

Extras

The version of the film I received contained a DVD copy of the film, a Blu-ray with bonus features that include some featurettes and trailers, as well as commentary by Stephen Sondheim, and an interactive feature on the dances of West Side Story.


"The Devil's Double" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-december-2011-devilsdouble

Synopsis

Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper) is an Iraqi man forced to act as a body double for the son of Saddam Hussein, Uday Hussein (Cooper). Uday is a sadistic psychopath who kills anyone that even looks at him in the wrong way. On top of that, he is addicted to drugs and sex and patrols the streets looking for young school girls to rape and kill. Latif wishes he could stop this power hungry playboy, but he loves his family too much to risk their lives. Latif's anger toward Uday grows too strong and he fights back, however, Uday is too in love with how good of a body double Latif is to kill him.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawi
  • Directed by Lee Tamahon
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The Devil's Double is a pretty intense and frustrating movie. To see a completely insane man in such a role of power made me cringe in anger. Saddam's son Uday, according to Latif's account, was basically a power hungry nut who could never make daddy proud.  He loved to abuse women, and girls, many of whom wound up dead and thrown in a ditch.  Latif was forced into being Uday's body double due only to his looks.  If he had refused, his family would have been killed.

The film is very good and worth watching, however, I did feel that perhaps it might have been rushed just a tad.  I think it would have been nice to have gotten to know Latif and his family a bit before he was thrown into Uday's clutches.  The blu-ray is very well done and definitely worth checking out.

Technical

Picture quality is very good on this Lionsgate Blu-ray. Great color and contrast that really let some of the beautiful photography in this film shine.  Also excellent was the DTS-HD soundtrack which had a wonderful soundstage and loads of punch.

Extras

Audio Commentary with Lee Tamahori, "True Crime Family" feature, "Double Down with Dominic Cooper" discussing his roles in the movie, "The Real Devil's Double" profiling Latif Yahia.


"One Day" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-december-2011-oneday

Synopsis

Based on the novel of the same name by David Nichols, "One Day" is about two people, Emma and Dexter who spend the night of July 15th 1988 together after graduating from University of Edinburgh.  The film jumps into their lives on that same day in July over the next 23 years.  Emma struggles with what she wants her life to be, working at a Mexican restaurant to get by while dreaming of writing poetry for a living. Dexter travels, parties, and sleeps with many women and has a few years of success hosting TV shows. Drugs take their toll on his wild personality. Claiming to just be friends for many years, Emma and Dexter finally realize they were meant to be together.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 48 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: VC1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess
  • Directed by Lone Scherfig
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

One Day is a bit of an odd movie.  I started the movie up not knowing a thing about it and felt that the story telling technique of looking at the same day in July over the course of many years to be a bit jarring.  These two people meet and seemingly have no connection whatsoever, yet the shy girl fancies the attention of the handsome playboy who is really just looking for a one night stand.  Then the movie forces you to believe they really hit it off and keep in touch after that one night.  The movie quickly takes a depressing turn and doesn't offer much in the way of feeling for these characters.  I would recommend skipping this one.

Technical

The picture quality was very good with excellent colors and shadow detail.  The image had wonderful depth from start to finish.  The DTS-HD audio track had good dialog clarity, but not much in the way of an immersive sound field.

Extras

A commentary track, featurette, and some deleted scenes of which you would never want to watch.


"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-december-2011-the-taking-of-pelham-123

Synopsis

At four different stops, four men dressed alike with hats, moustaches, and glasses board the Pelham 123 subway train.  Led by Mr. Blue, they take the train over, with Mr. Green handing the task of driving the cars.  Once they are clear of the station, they let 9 of the cars go and take the 17 people in the main car hostage.  Calling the control center, they demand $1 million dollars in 60 minutes; otherwise they will begin to kill passengers at the rate of 1 per minute until their demands are met.

As the mayor and his staff scramble to decide if they are going to pay the ransom or not, and how to get $1 million dollars to them in under an hour, the subway control center tries to figure out how they are going to attempt to make an escape from the tunnel even if they do get their money.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1974, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 44 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 39 Mb/sec
  • 1080p
  • English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Walter Mathau, Robert Shaw
  • Directed by Joseph Sargent
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

My only knowledge of this film was that it was remade a few years ago with John Travolta and Denzel Washington in the starring roles.  I'm really not sure why they felt the need to remake it as the original was pretty good.  The tension and suspense build up quickly as the hour time limit lets the plot unfold in what seems to be real time.  The scenes with the mayor could probably be left out as he really doesn't bring much to the film, but I imagine he's a representation of the NYC mayor in the early 1970s.

With the exception of Mr. Brown, the four hijackers are well fleshed out as people, even though we find out very little about them as the movie goes on.  Walter Mathau does a very good job in his role as transit chief Lt. Garber, but Robert Shaw really does a wonderful job as the cold, calculating Mr. Blue.

Technical

From the first shot it's apparent that there is plenty of grain present in this transfer, but 30 seconds later I forgot it was there so it wasn't a distraction at all.  The quality of the image is completely dependent on the lighting in the scene, so it seems to be true to the source material.  In shots that are well lit, there is good detail and contrast, but in darker scenes it can degenerate into a murky, unclear image that has very little fine detail at all.  Of course, you can't expect a Blu-ray to find detail that isn't there on the original film, so overall the quality of the transfer is good.

The soundtrack uses the original mono elements with no updating, so there is no use of the LFE or surround channels, which is a shame as a film set on a subway could really make good use of them.  Dialogue was clear, and while a lack of dynamic range could be noticed a little bit, it was nothing glaring.  The one issue that did crop up was that a couple scenes had the audio out-of-sync with the image.  Since this only happened in select scenes is would seem to be the transfer and not my system setup, but it was distracting when that happened.

Extras

There is a trailer, but you can't even save a bookmark on this disc, so hopefully you want to watch it in a single sitting.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)(Blu-ray)


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

movie-december-2011-the-debt

Synopsis

In 1966, three Mossad agents were assigned to track down a feared Nazi war criminal hiding in East Berlin, a mission accomplished at great risk and personal cost - or was it? Thirty years later, the suspense builds as shocking news and surprising revelations compel retired team member Rachel Singer (Mirren) to take matters into her own hands.

Specifications

  • Miramax
  • 2011, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 43 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: AVC 1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sam Worthington, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson
  • Directed by John Madden
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The Debt follows three young Massad agents who went on a mission during the cold war to capture the "Surgeon of Birkneau" and bring him to Israel to stand trial for the crimes he committed against humanity during WWII. The trio had a plan set in place, and according to a new present day book written about the ordeal, the mission was completed. However, something about the mission has come back to haunt them... 30 years later. A mix of action and suspense, this movie provides a powerful commentary on guilt and redemption. Who needs 3D when you have great actors and a wonderfully crafted script that pays off with a surprise ending?

Technical

Both picture and sound are as good as you'd expect from the BD format. Plenty of depth and details show even in some of the dimly lit night scenes. Most of the movie takes place indoors which gives the building of suspense a true feeling of claustrophobia. The rainy nights surround you and add to the tense atmosphere of the film. Dialog is always articulate.

Extras

A Look Inside The Debt, Every Secret Has a Price: Helen Mirren in The Debt, The Berlin Affair: The Triangle at the Center of The Debt, & Commentary with Director John Madden and Producer Kris Thykier.


"The Help" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-december-2011-the-help

Synopsis

Enthusiastic young writer Skeeter (Stone), after landing her first job at the local paper, embarks on an ambitious project.  She decides to write a compilation of stories as told by the black maids of Jackson, Mississippi.  This is an extremely risky undertaking given that it's 1962.  Slowly she wins their trust and thanks to maids Abilene (Davis) and Minnie (Spencer), the rest of them finally tell all.  The resulting book turns Southern society on its ear and strikes a tremendous blow against racism during a tumultuous time in American history.

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 26 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer
  • Directed by Tate Taylor
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant story.  It's beautifully produced and expertly acted.  The subject matter is at times intense but it's a tale well-worth telling.  For those of you wondering how it compares to the book, I turned to my wife, who has read it twice, for that perspective.  She enjoyed the film every bit as much as I did.  Her only comment was that the story moved like lightning, which is typical of movies based on books, and a few things were inexplicably changed, also not unusual.  Given that assessment, I'd say fans of the book will also be fans of this movie.  I will be adding it to my collection; highly recommended.

Technical

Picture quality is first-rate with a well-saturated and warm color palette and excellent contrast.  Detail is good though not as razor-sharp as a reference level release.  Given the material though, the slight softness works to create a vintage feel to the image; totally appropriate for a period piece like this.  Most scenes are nice and bright with vivid tones especially in people's clothing.

Since The Help is dialog-driven, there isn't much for the surrounds and subwoofer to do but that's OK.  The front soundstage is large and detailed with clear environmental cues that immerse the viewer very effectively.  The music is also very enjoyable and features a collection of period tunes by artists such as Johnny Cash, Chubby Checker, Bo Diddley and many others.  I enjoyed the song played during the closing credits (The Living Proof by Mary J. Blige) so much I sat through the entire performance.

Extras

Bonus features include a making-of documentary, a tribute to the maids of Mississippi, deleted scenes and a Mary J. Blige music video.


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"The Big Country" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-december-2011-big-country

Synopsis

William Wyler directs this epic Western about the clash of East and West, intellect and action. Peck stars as an Eastern sea captain who moves way out West to marry Carroll Baker and become part of the ranch owned by her father, the Major. But he discovers that daddy's top ranch hand (Heston) carries a torch for Baker and doesn't particularly like Peck stepping into his place. Peck also finds himself caught in the midst of a power struggle between Bickford and his surly neighbor, played by Ives. This long, sprawling tale works because its characters are played by movie stars who know how to command the big screen in a big story.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 45 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: MPEG 4
  • 1080p
  • English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Burll Ives
  • Directed by William Wyler
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

With incredible scenic shots, some done in the Mojave Desert, the Big Country looks great on Blu-ray. I had my doubts when the opening credits rolled because the picture was soft with scratches and dirt specks aplenty. Fortunately, the actual movie was clean and detailed. Solid performances by Peck and Heston make this a film worth watching. Their fist fight by moon light was purposefully shot from a distance to illustrate how small men's problem seem compared to the "big country" backdrop. The cinematography is stunningly beautiful! Though the story is a little long, it is enjoyable and well paced. Truly one of the best Westerns ever put to celluloid.

Technical

As mentioned, after the opening credits, the picture quality takes off. Great color and contrast makes the picture vibrant and deep. Details abound. I could see power lines in the distance in some shots and an automobile on a highway about 5 miles beyond Peck and his gal near the very end just before the credits roll. Now that's detail! Skin tones are good and the overall picture quality has a fine grain appearence to it which preserves the film-like quality of the presentation. Only picture anomaly, the sky in many scenes had a pulsing quality to it that was a bit distracting and this showed up through most of the movie. The sound quality was very clear, presenting the wonderful score and dialog in fine 2.0 high definition sound.

Extras

Not Big on extras: Fun in the Big Country, theatrical trailers and TV spot


"Bolt 3D" (Blu-ray 3D) - Reviewed by Adrian Wittenberg

movie-december-2011-bolt-3d

Synopsis

Bolt (John Travolta) is a star super dog that protects his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the forces of evil and Dr. Calico (Malcolm Mcdowell).  In the movies Bolt has extroardinary powers and since the studio always keeps him on the set, he doesn't realize he is just an actor and has no special abilities.  One day, he believes Penny is being kidnapped and in the process of trying to rescue her, he escapes the set and accidentally gets shipped to New York in a box.  There he meets up with an alley cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and a hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton) who both help him try to get back to Hollywood to rescue Penny and learn about his true identity along the way.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: MPEG-4 MVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, James Lipton
  • Directed by Chris Williams, Byron Howard
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Cartoon Violence
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This was an entertaining film for not only its visuals but also for the characteristic voice acting and the premise that Bolt was convinced he had super powers such as a super bark.  The reality of what his true abilities were was often used as a sucessful comedic platform. John Lasseter was the executive producer and ensured that the story was delivered effectively and the film had a lot of charm.  The 3D effects in the film were mainly used to add depth and dimension to the scenes rather than create any extreme perceptions.

Technical

Bolt 3D is a brighter film with strong contrast in most of its scenes that make the colors look vibrant and pop out of the screen.  You can practically count each strand of dog hair on the models and overall the detail level is excellent.  The 3D effects are tastefully used and were implemented as good as any 3D film this year.  The audio on Bolt 3D comes in the form of a DTS 5.1 HD Master audio track and it was excellent, giving home theater systems a full course of bright highs, crushing lows, and spacious surround effects.

Extras

Mostly standard fare for extras on this disk like deleted scenes and behind the scenes material. Some of them were pretty funny and other's brought insight into the creation of the animation.


"Cowboys & Aliens" (Blu-ray) Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-december-2011-cowboys-and-aliens

Synopsis

A cowboy (Daniel Craig) wakes up in the middle of the American west with no idea of who he is or how he got there.  Even more strange is the bracelet attached to his wrist.  The cowboy finds his way to the remote border town of Absolution, where he quickly finds himself at odds with the town's alpha male – Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).   However, these differences are quickly put aside when the town is attacked by mysterious flying ships that kidnap many of the townspeople.  With the assistance of the mysterious Elle Swenson (Olivia Wilde), the cowboy (now known to be the wanted bandit Jake Lonergan), Dolarhyde, and a host of other townsfolk head off in search of the aliens and their captured family and friends.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2010, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 59 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Paul Dano, and Noah Ringer
  • Directed by Jon Favreau
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Moderate
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Despite starring two of my favorite actors (Craig and Ford), I was concerned that the mix of aliens with a western theme would prove to be a bit too far-fetched.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The plot was simple and to the point.  There were some good scenes of character development but they were kept to a minimum, which served the action-driven storyline well.  Acting was above average across the board with both Craig and Ford playing their roles very well.  The action scenes were well-done and the alien CGI, particularly the spacecraft, was fairly seamless.  I particularly enjoyed the settings and cinematography, which beautifully captured the expansive landscape of the American west.  I watched both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film and found that I preferred the shorter theatrical release.  The few extended/additional scenes in the extended cut didn't really add much to the movie and just slowed the pacing down a tad.

Technical

To get right to the point, this is a fantastic audio/video experience.  The picture quality was near reference throughout, with sharp imagery and vibrant colors.  Black levels were rich and deep, and fleshtones were accurate.  Bucking the trend for films with desert scenes there was no odd yellowish cast to the outdoor shots – just nice realistic tones.  I didn't notice any visible edge enhancement nor did I spot a soft shot throughout the entire movie.  Overall, this is just shy of reference quality video, simply lacking the "pop" of some of the more recent computer-animated or bigger budget blockbusters.  While the video was great on this disc, the audio was just a bit better.  This disc can easily be used to show off your system, with incredible dynamic range and a huge, immersive soundfield.  LFE use is top-notch and will challenge even the best subwoofer with tremendously deep bass effects.  The surrounds are used judiciously, but also convey subtle effects in some of the less bombastic scenes.  Dialogue intelligibility is excellent throughout, particularly given how loud some of the actions scenes get.  The score was beautiful as well.  Just listen to the opening credits and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Extras

Included on this disc are a few commentaries with director Jon Favreau and a pretty good making-of featurette.


"Kung Fu Panda 2" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-december-2011-kungfupanda2

Synopsis

The follow up to the legendary tale of awesomeness, Kung Fu Panda, KFP2 tells the story of Po's origin and how he came to be the son of the goose, Mr. Ping.  Many years ago, Lord Shen discovered a powerful weapon, gunpowder, and vowed to rule all of China with its power.  However, after hearing a prophecy that a black and white warrior would someday stop him, he and the wolf bandits killed off the area's panda population. His parents were so ashamed they disowned and exiled Shen from Gongmen City.  During the panda genocide, Po's mother hides him in a box of radishes to save him from the wolf warriors.  Mr. Ping receives an unexpected delivery along with his vegetables and decides to take care of Po as if he was his own son. He must have done a pretty good job raising Po as he is now known is the Dragon Warrior and accepted among his friends, the Furious Five kung fu masters.  Lord Shen has tasked his wolf bandits to steal any metal they can find in order to build his army of cannons.  Unfortunately, the wolves picked the wrong village when Po and the Furious Five arrive and fight them off, but during the battle Po sees an unusual symbol on the bandits and experiences a flashback from when he was a baby.  This prompts Po to question where he came from and what happened to his parents.  Meanwhile, Lord Shen has taken back Gongmen City and imprisoned the kung fu masters that were protecting it.  His plan is to rule all of China and the only one that can stop him is the black and white warrior, Po.

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
  • Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu
  • Directed by Jennifer Yuh
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Animated
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Kung Fu Panda is one of my favorite animated movies and I was delighted to hear they were releasing a sequel.  Number 2 is not quite as good as the original, but it is still incredibly entertaining and beautiful to watch.  The art direction is very well done and a constant stream of eye candy.  I thought there was a bit more comedy in the first KFP, but KFP2 definitely has more emotion and depth to it.  If you have never seen either of these movies, they should be at the top of your list. Highly recommended!

Technical

KFP2 has flawless picture quality like most computer generated animation on Blu-ray. This is a great disc to test out a new display or projector.

The Dolby TrueHD track is good, but I felt it was a little lacking.  The first KFP had a five star reference quality soundtrack, so I had very high expectations here.  I think the sound designers could have done more with the surround effects and the low end extension. I wanted to feel more of the low frequency effects rather than just hear them. 

Extras

Plenty of extra content that I would actually watch: Short Film "Secrets of the Masters",  Animation Inspiration and The Animators Corner - featurettes, Pop-up Trivia Track, episode of the TV show "Legends of Awesomeness", Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentary


 "G-Force 3D" (Blu-ray 3D) - Reviewed by Adrian Wittenberg

movie-december-2011-gforce-3d

Synopsis

Saberling Industries is the most popular electronics brand worldwide but they are planning something nefarious with all of their machines.  A team of three guinea pigs and a mole are a group of highly skilled rodent agents that make up a special task force created by Ben (Zach Galfianakis), a FBI Scientist.  This team, called G-Force was sent in to Saberling's headquarters on a reconnaissance mission to learn more about Saberling's plans.  When the FBI learns that Ben's rodents almost jeopardized their three year investigation into Saberling, they attempt to confiscate the rodent team.  G-Force manages to escape but only to land themselves in the prison of a nearby pet shop where they meet some other rodents.  All of the rodents manage to escape the pet shop in one way or another and get back to their mission of stopping Saberling from completing their clandestine plan.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Codec: MPEG4-MVC
  • 1080p
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jack Galifianakis, Tracy Morgan, Penelope Cruz, Steve Buscemi
  • Directed by Hoyt Yeatman
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

G-Force is easily one of the best movies at taking a miniature creature such as a guinea pig and creating a whole world and storyline around it.  I am a fan of Zack Galifianakis, Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan, and their voice acting and chemistry on this film is as Tracy Morgan would say "Hilarious".  This is a perfect movie to watch with the family as both the story and the visuals are great entertainment.  The 3D effects in this film are really effective for this kind of mini character spy adventure and every scene is filled with convincing depth such as the opening scene where Zack Galifiianakis' character pulls up a 3D layout of Saberling and there are several layers of depth present.  There are also a few flashy 3D scenes such as the airborne fruit fly sequences and the fireworks sequence that deliver some very nice 3D effects.

Technical

G-Force utilizes really amazing techniques at blending the CGI into the live action filming.  The effect is nearly seamless and is quite impressive as many times the animated rodents look extremely life like.  The colors in this film are mostly natural with warmer skin tones and a little bit of extra saturation at times to help blend the CGI with live film.  Black levels are excellent and the film has great contrast because of it.  Detail is superb in this film down to the finest hair of the guinea pigs.  The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very good and uses appropriate effects to bring the story alive.  There are some huge LFE scenes such as the finale scene with the robot and there is plenty of bass to go along with the street beat type of soundtrack.

Extras

The extras included have the same light hearted feel of the movie and are fun to watch to learn a little bit more about what went into the production of the film.