Media

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - July, 2010

ARTICLE INDEX

"Shutter Island" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-july-2010-shutter-island

Synopsis

In the early 1950's, US Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), along with his partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) are sent to Shutter Island, which is an asylum for the criminally insane in New York.

Apparently, one of the inmates, named Rachel, has escaped.

Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (von Sydow), who run the facility, say they have no idea where she is, so Teddy and Chuck begin by interrogating the other inmates.

Soon, they disover that something very disturbing is occurring on the island, in particular, at the lighthouse. They are suspicious that the inmates are being used as guinea pigs in drug experiments.

Slowly they uncover the horror, and they are afraid they will not be allowed to leave the island alive.

 

 

Specifications

  • Paramount
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 17 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson
  • Directed by Martin Scorsese
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Movies about insane criminals are common, but often, perhaps usually, they are B-movies. This one is first class, due to the artful direction of Martin Scorsese, and a long list of great actors. The story comes from the true fact that humans were given psychotropic drugs in the 1950's without their permission, including LSD. The military wanted to know if they could develop drugs for mind control. It is a dark corner of US history.

Technical

Picture quality is good, when you can see much of anything, as an insane asylum is not the most well lit kind of place you can find, especially with the terrible storms and much of the story taking place at night. The sound is suitably spooky, but the actions of the inmates will drown your awareness of the audio. It's terrifying.

Extras

These include Behind the Shutters and Into the Lighthouse.


"The Book of Eli" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-july-2010-book-of-eli

Synopsis

In a post-apocalyptic earth - I guess like most such stories, after we have blown up everything with nuclear weapons - a man called Eli (Washington) is working his way west towards the coast by any means possible, including whatever cars he can find that still run. There is not much left of what we would call modern conveniences, and Eli has to face vicious hijackers along the way.

Eli carries with him, the Book of Eli, which is actually the last remaining copy of the Bible. He must see that it reaches a colony on the West Coast that is assembling as many books as possible in order to restart civilized human existence.

In one small town, a man named Carnegie (Oldman) is also looking for the Bible, because he wants to use it to reform humanity on his own terms.

Eli reaches that town on his way to the coast, and Carnegie discovers that Eli has the Bible. He does everything in his power to take it away from Eli, but Eli is well armed and well trained in martial arts, so the battle spills a lot of blood.

Will Eli reach the new colony with this one last copy of the most important book humans have known for two millenia?

 

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 58 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals
  • Directed by The Hughes Brothers
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

At first, I thought this was going to be just another "World War Survivors Wandering in the Wasteland Fighting Over Guns, Cars that work, and Fuel" kind of movie, but it is different, sort of. Nevertheless, it is a bit slow to catch on, then all hell breaks loose.

Technical

The image was sharp, but I didn't care for the under-saturation look. The sound track didn't have much to do except recreate wind through the tumble weeds, gunfire, and the slicing of flesh.

Extras

These include Eli's Journey, A Lost Tale, Commentaries by Washington and the Hughes Brothers, and Starting Over.


"The Unborn" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-may-2010-unborn

Synopsis

Casey Beldon (Megan Fox- err I mean Odette Yustman, seriously they look like twins) is having dreams about a possessed boy, a dog, and an unborn fetus in a jar. While babysitting a boy and his baby sister, the boy hits her in the face with a mirror. The next morning she sees the same little boy standing in the driveway, staring at her.   Casey then begins to be haunted by an evil spirit telling her, "Jumby wants to be born."  The following day she learns that she had a twin that died in-utero. The umbilical chord had gotten twisted around her twin brother's throat.  This leads Casey to investigate further into her family and she comes across an older woman, Sofi, who turns out to be her grandmother.  She tells Casey that she too is a twin. Her twin brother had died from Nazi experiments during World War II in Auschwitz.  A dybbuk brought her brother back to life to use as a portal into the world of the living. Sofi killed her twin to stop the spirit, and now it haunts her family for revenge. Sofi tells Casey to seek out Rabbi Sendak (Gary Oldman) for help with an exorcism.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2009, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 29 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Odette Yustman, Gary Oldman
  • Directed by David S. Goyer
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Gore
  • Sex: Suggestive
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Some brilliant performances by Odette and Gary really bring this movie to life.  There were moments where I felt the dybbuk was real and in my house.  Well, ok, not quite. The Unborn uses every horror cliche in the book, close camera shots, sudden loud music, dark scenes, creepy kids, you name it and its used in this movie.  Along for the ride is a tired story that does nothing to save this movie. The Unborn is one of the weakest horror movies I have seen in recent memory.

Technical

The VC1 encoded transfer is very good. Deep blacks and crisp details. The audio track is solid too and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Extras

A couple deleted scenes and that's it.


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

movie-july-2010-ladybugs

Synopsis

Chester Lee, a salesman gunning for a promotion, tries to butter up his boss by agreeing to coach his daughter's soccer team. One problem: the team is terrible, and it doesn't look as if they're going to have a winning season -- until Chester comes up with the novel idea of dressing up his fiancee's very athletic son in drag and having him join the team. What a clever scheme!

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2010, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Jonatham Brandis, Jackee Harry
  • Directed by Sidney Furie
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Crude Humor

Commentary

What dreck! Ever wonder how a movie gets picked for blu-ray while other good movies wait in line (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.)? Basically, the movies premise is that girls are lousy at sports (soccer, in this case), so they need a boy to put on a wig, join the team, and lead them to victory. Nice. Dangerfield quips lame one-liners, an occasional crude remark and "presto": Comedy! Adults will be bored and teens left uninterested. The language is just bad enough that parents may not want their little ones to view this without guidance. The only ones that "don't get any respect" are the viewers. Kick this one to the curb.

Technical

Picture varies from very sharp and detailed, to grainy and soft. dirt specks appear frequently. During the championship game sequence, you can actually see that there are some boys with wigs moving the ball down field. What? No stunt girls? Colors are often very vivid (the neon colors from the 90's really glow). Sound is clear enough to make out what Rodney is muttering, but there is little surround action and even less for the sub. Hey, it's a soccer comedy, after all!

Extras

Nothing but a trailer. Would you have believed me if I said there was a 4 hour "making of" documentary?


"The Man With No Name Trilogy - A Fistful of Dollars" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-july-2010-mwnn

Synopsis

The Man With No Name (Eastwood) rides in to a Mexican border town.  As he stops to drink from a well, he sees a little boy sneak into a building only to be sent away by the men inside.  This begins our outlaw’s adventure.  He discovers the town is completely lawless and is home to two rival gangs.  He manages to win favor with the stronger of the two by killing four men from the weaker clan.  When he witnesses a massacre of Mexican soldiers, he decides to set things right.  By manipulating the two bands of criminals, he is able to reunite the boy with his family and destroy all the bad guys in the process.  Peace is restored and the Man With No Name rides off still a mystery to those who know him.

 

Specifications

  • Metro Goldwyn Mayer
  • 1964, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 40 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  lint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, Gian Maria Volonté, Wolfgang Lukschy
  • Directed by Sergio Leone
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is the ultimate expression of the classic Western film.  Shot on location in Spain for a budget of $200,000, A Fistful of Dollars was the first movie to be dubbed a “spaghetti western.”  Director Sergio Leone spoke no English and Clint Eastwood spoke no Italian.  Nevertheless, they came together to create a product that is artistic in many ways and defined the genre.  At times it almost takes on a “film noir” feel with rapid scene changes and tight closeup shots of faces, dusty boots or firing pistols.  Clint Eastwood manages to do more acting with his facial expressions than with dialog.  The bad guys are over-the-top bad killing at will and enjoying every terrible thing they do.  Action tells most of the tale here which is a good thing since the script is hardly poetic.  The violence is fairly extreme with literally dozens of men dying in gun battles.  Though I wasn’t captivated throughout there are moments of intensity where I found I was holding my breath.  This film is a directorial masterpiece if not possessed of the most wonderful screenplay.  Considering the low production value and miniscule budget, Leone did quite a fine job with few resources.  For fans of the genre, this is a must add to your collection.

Technical

Film grain is very evident throughout but I thought it added to the gritty feel appropriately.  Color is natural and perhaps a bit muted but again it fits the subject matter.  The original print was painstakingly restored and I doubt it has ever looked better.  There was almost no evidence of dirt or scratches.  Edge enhancement did pop up here and there but it wasn’t intrusive.  Contrast was excellent with deep blacks and good shadow detail.

The DTS Master Audio track was also about as good as it could be.  The sound for this film is pretty bad overall but that’s not the fault of the transfer.  All the dialog was overdubbed on a soundstage in post-production.  Because of this it has a very one-dimensional sound with no depth or environmental cues.  Another issue is the complete lack of proper lip-sync.  Only Clint Eastwood was able to match his lines with the image.  Every other actor lags noticeably.  The gunshot effects are obviously the same two or three sounds used over and over.  Dynamic range is almost non-existent.  There are a few explosions late in the movie that barely register.  Again, none of this is the fault of the transfer.  At least the engineers were able to add some convincing pans to the front soundstage.  The surrounds and sub are not used in any perceptible way.  Ennio Morricone’s groundbreaking music was the best feature of this disc’s soundtrack.  A radical departure from previous westerns, it features high-pitched instruments like the piccolo along with whistles and shouts.  It further adds to the gritty reality of the film.

Extras

There are quite a few bonus features included in this release.  Two of them utilize film historian Christopher Frayling, one is a commentary track and the other is an HD featurette where he shows off his large memorabilia collection from the film.  Also included are an interview with Clint Eastwood from 2003 and another interview with Frayling this time covering the aspects of the plot and screenplay development.  There is a featurette about how the movie’s extreme violence was censored for TV broadcast and how an entire prologue (which is also on the disc) was filmed to provide “moral justification” for all the murders committed by the Eastwood character.  Finally, there are radio ads and two theatrical trailers.


"Darkman" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-july-2010-dark

Synopsis

Peyton Westlake (Neeson) is a scientist working on a way to create synthetic skin.  His girlfriend, attorney Julie Hastings (McDormand) accidentally discovers evidence of bribery in the City Commissioner’s Louis Strack’s (Friels) Office.  Strack sends his henchman, Robert Durant (Drake) in to “take care of things.”  In the process, Westlake’s lab is destroyed and he is permanently disfigured.  During his treatment in the hospital his nervous system is modified so he can’t feel pain and the resulting adrenaline rush gives him super-human strength.  He escapes the hospital and sets up a lair in an abandoned factory.  There he rebuilds his lab and creates synthetic skin so he can assume different identities.  He goes about exacting revenge on the bad guys and eventually manages to kill Strack and save the city.  He is reunited with Julie but decides his condition has changed him and he decides to go it alone and disappears.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1990, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels, Larry Drake
  • Directed by Sam Raimi
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Though the plot of this film intrigued me, the execution left a lot to be desired.  I don’t mind the occasional comedic interpretation of violence but this movie seemed more like an episode of the original TV Batman.  The acting and script were so bad; I had to check the box to be sure I was really seeing Liam Neeson on the screen.  His performance was terribly overdone and hammy.  Francis McDormand had me rooting against her female-in-distress character simply because she did so many dumb things.  My favorite line from her was the gem, “If you’re not going to kill me, I have things to do.”  I was quite surprised to see Sam Raimi as the director.  He did a masterful job with the Spiderman films.  Darkman was a completely different product.  Production quality seemed quite low as well with cheesy special effects and very unimaginative action scenes.

Technical

Picture quality was about average for a catalog title of this vintage.  Color was natural and well-saturated most of the time.  Occasionally, it seemed flat.  Flesh tones were accurate but actors’ faces looked very pasty as if they were wearing too much makeup.  Detail was good with sharp rendering and no apparent edge enhancement.  Noise and film grain were minimal.  Contrast was also good with consistently deep blacks and clear shadow detail.  Special effects were very primitive and it was quite obvious when compositing or green screen work was taking place.

The DTS Master Audio track was clear and free of artifacts.  Dynamic range was fairly small with action scenes not really having much punch or presence.  Dialog was clear and easy to understand at all times.  Surrounds were used minimally and my sub never had much to do.  The musical score was very Hollywood-esque and did little to improve the low-budget feel of the film.  Danny Elfman was the composer and I’ve heard much better music from him in other movies.

Extras

There are no bonus features on this disc.


"12 Monkeys" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-may-2010-12-monkeys

Synopsis

A deadly virus has ravaged the planet, forcing whats left of human civilization to live in an underground world. Scientists attempt to discover a cure for the virus by sending convicted felons back in time through dangerous experiments.  Bruce Willis plays one of these criminals, James Cole, looking for more information on the terrorist organization called the Army of 12 Monkeys.  Cole is accidentally sent a few years too far back in time and ends up in a mental institution after getting arrested.  Here he meets Jeffery Goines (Brad Pitt).  On a later trip back in time, Cole finds out that Goines is the leader of the Army of 12 Monkeys. Unfortunately, Goines denies having any involvement in the creation of the virus and insists that was Cole's idea, brought up to him when they were at the mental institution. 

Throughout the movie, Cole has dreams about a shooting at an airport involving a blond woman who looks just like Dr. Railly (Madeleine Stowe).

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1995, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 9 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe
  • Directed by Terry Gilliam
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

12 Monkeys is a terrific film that welcomes repeat viewings.  Terry Gilliam has such a wonderful imagination that, no doubt, contributed a lot to the look and feel of the movie. The performances are great, with Brad Pitt playing a crazy person a little TOO well.  I wish the image was a bit cleaner, but that shouldn't stop you from giving the movie 2 hours of your time.

Technical

Unfortunately the image quality on this blu-ray does not quite do the movie justice. The transfer has a soft look that lacks detail and depth.  Although the wonderful score sounds great on the DTS-HD audio track, some of the dialog and sound effects are harsh.

Extras

Commentary tracks with Terry Gilliam and Charles Roven. The Hamster Factor & Other Tales of 12 Monkeys. 12 Monkeys Archive.


"The Man With No Name Trilogy – For A Few Dollars More" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-july-2010-mwnn

Synopsis

In the second installment of the trilogy, the Man With No Name (Eastwood) is roaming the wild west in the role of bounty hunter.  With his fighting skill and prowess with a six-shooter, he has little trouble finding villains to cash in on.  This time, he has a rival; a retired Army Colonel named Douglas Mortimer (Van Cleef).  Mortimer is also highly skilled and rides with an arsenal of exotic weapons to dispatch bad guys with.  After the Man and Mortimer meet up in El Paso, they decide to work together to capture the insane criminal, El Indio.  Indio and his gang are ruthless in their pursuit of money and they hatch a plan to rob a fortress-like bank.  The Man infiltrates the gang and tries to lead them into an ambush.  This plot fails and he is captured along with Mortimer.  Eventually, Indio’s craziness is his undoing and he is defeated in a classic Western duel.  Mortimer and the Man part ways and collect a sizeable reward for the entire gang plus the booty for recovering the stolen bank money.

 

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1965, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 12 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté
  • Directed by Sergio Leone
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I enjoyed this film far more than A Fistful of Dollars.  The story was more engaging and the action scenes showed far better choreography.  Clint Eastwood once again does most of his acting with facial expressions and eye movements.  Lee Van Cleef is superb as the mature cool-headed bounty hunter.  His skill with a variety of interesting weapons is fun to watch.  I recognized several of the same actors in this film who were killed in the last chapter.  Despite the low-budget feel, this movie is a directorial tour-de-force.  The camera work is quite artistic with facial close-ups used to great effect.  The script is not exactly a gem but this film is more visually driven.  Dialog is not all that important and doesn’t really add or detract from the experience.  I’m not usually a fan of Westerns but this movie just might become a permanent part of my library.

Technical

Video quality is an improvement over A Fistful of Dollars.  Film grain is still evident but entirely appropriate.  It really adds to the dirty, grimy feel of the story.  Color is richly saturated and completely natural.  I doubt the detail level could be any higher.  The pores, dirt and razor stubble on actor’s faces had me reaching for a bar of soap and a shaver.  The restoration of this now 45-year-old film is nearly perfect.  The only flaws are occasional scratches and edge enhancement.  I know I harp on this issue but I will do this until telecine operators stop adding unnecessary artifacts to otherwise quality material.  For people who like the ringing, there’s always the sharpness control on your TV.  It just doesn’t need to be added to the content.  Contrast performance is equal to that of more recent films.  Blacks are extremely deep with no crushing of detail.  Outdoor scenes, which comprise most of the film, are bright and three-dimensional.  This is the best restoration I’ve seen in recent memory.

The DTS Master Audio track is about as good as it can be.  The sound engineers did a good job converting the original monaural mix to 5.1.  The sub doesn’t have much to do but the surrounds are used effectively for panning effects.  Dialog is entirely overdubbed and sounds very flat.  Only Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef manage to sync their lines properly.  The other actors are not only out-of-time; they sometimes say different things entirely.  Sound effects are limited to a few different gunshot noises used over and over.  I doubt modern technology could improve the sound any further.  The excellent score was written by Ennio Moricone.  It includes some amplified recorder and a very talented whistler.  It’s a bit more Hollywood than A Fistful of Dollars but still extremely well-done.

Extras

Bonus features are about the same as for A Fistful of Dollars.  There are documentaries and interviews with Clint Eastwood and historian Christopher Frayling as well as a commentary track.  Also included are 12 radio ads and two theatrical trailers.  All in all it’s a very full set of extras.


"Coach" (DVD) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-july-2010-coach

Synopsis

Nick (Hugh Dancy) is a carefree young man whose main interest is soccer and hanging out with his friends.  He has no responsibilities and lives off a trust fund left to him by his father.  When his girlfriend tires of waiting for him to grow up, she leaves him for greener pastures.  In an effort to win her back, he takes a job as a high school soccer coach.  Even though he knows nothing about kids, they take to him quickly and the team starts to have some success.  When one of the players is injured, Nick takes him to the hospital.  There he meets a pretty young doctor named Gabrielle.  Their romance blossoms and things are going well until the ex returns looking for love.  In addition, Nick runs afoul of one of the kids’ fathers when he gives him cash to keep him on the team.  All ends happily when the team wins the big game and Nick and Gabrielle live happily ever after.

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2010, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 27 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: not specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby Digital
  • Starring: Hugh Dancy, Liane Balaban, David Zayas
  • Directed by Will Frears
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Innuendo
  • Language: No

Commentary

For me this movie failed as a romantic comedy.  The romance was fairly tame and the comedy much too sparse.  The only redeeming quality was the relationship between the kids and Nick.  I enjoyed watching Nick grow as a person and the kids respond positively to his inspiration.  Otherwise, the film fell flat.  It was at least short in length.  This DVD might appeal to those looking for a light-hearted mindless chick-flick but it never shows any sophistication or creativity.  Much of the script is cliché with sequences I’ve seen dozens of times before.  The scene where the ex-girlfriend comes on to Nick and Gabrielle walks in on them has been done to death in countless soap operas.  I don’t see this film becoming part of too many libraries.

Technical

Picture quality was generally soft, even for a DVD.  Color was also a mixed bag.  At best it looked natural and flat.  Most of the time however, it was quite drab with low saturation and no dimensionality at all.  Flesh tones were all over the place with odd cyan and magenta tints in evidence.  Edge enhancement was also present which further flattened the image.  Why this movie has not been released on Blu-ray is a mystery but since no effort was made to create a decent transfer, I’m not that surprised.

Audio was of average quality for a Dolby Digital encode.  Dialog was always clear and intelligible but environmental sounds were mushy and lacked definition.  I also wanted for more music.  There were many scenes which would have benefitted from some background material but the score was used only in transitional scenes.

Extras

There are no bonus features on this disc.  All there are besides the movie are trailers for other Lionsgate films.Also included are 12 radio ads and two theatrical trailers.  All in all it’s a very full set of extras.


"The Seventh Seal" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-july-2010-the-seventh-seal

Synopsis

Few films have had as large a cultural impact as Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet). Disillusioned and exhausted after a decade of battling in the Crusades, a knight (Max von Sydow) encounters Death on a desolate beach and challenges him to a fateful game of chess. Much studied, imitated, even parodied, but never outdone, Bergman’s stunning allegory of man’s search for meaning was one of the benchmark foreign imports of America’s 1950s art house heyday, pushing cinema’s boundaries and ushering in a new era of moviegoing.

 

Specifications

  • Criterion Collection
  • (1957) 2009, B/W, Rated PG, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • Mono (Swedish with English Subtitles/ English Dub)
  • Starring: Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow
  • Directed by Ingmar Bergman
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This movie classic attempts to answer some deep, meaningful questions about life and death, good and evil. It involves some character development and relies on the viewer to really pay attention to dialog and interaction between characters. If you do, you will be richly rewarded as the movie is quite thought provoking and satisfying. In spite of its age, it looks and sounds better than ever. Another wonderful restoration by the Criterion Collection and a "must own" movie experience.

Technical

Picture quality is wonderfully deep and rich for a black and white movie. Shadows are inky and the day lit scenes reveal wonderful gradients. I notice a small amount of 'pulsing" in an outdoor scene, most noticable in the sky, but it was very minor. The razor sharp picture quality showed no sign of specks or scratches. A gorgeous B/W transfer from a painstakingly restored print! Though the soundtrack is mono, it is crystal clear and full. Either with sub-titles or with the English soundtrack, the story is compelling and well presented. I recommend watching the first time with the English sub-titles and the second time with the English dub. The first time allows you to experience the "original" and really concentrate on what is being said. The second viewing will free up your eyes to concentrate on the beautiful imagery. This is one of the best looking black and white features I have ever seen on Blu-ray and should not be missed by any movie lover. The scenes with the knight playing Chess with death are both moving and engagingly portrayed. Does God exist? The knight hopes so, but his servant is convinced otherwise. Why does man exist and what becomes of us after we die? These are just some of the questions raised and explored in this fine film.

Extras

Extras include: Newly restored high-definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, introduction by Ingmar Bergman, recorded in 2003, Audio commentary by Bergman expert Peter Cowie, a new afterword to the commentary by Cowie , Bergman Island (2006), an 83-minute documentary on Bergman by Marie Nyreröd, featuring in-depth and revealing interviews with the director, archival audio interview with Max von Sydow, and a 1998 tribute to Bergman by filmmaker Woody Allen.


"Dog City: The Movie" (DVD) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-july-2010-dog-city

Synopsis

Dog City: the Movie is an Emmy® award-winning Jim Henson’s Comedy Classic. Directed by Jim Henson, this parody of the film noir gangster films takes us through the busy but dangerous town of Dog City, teeming with colorful Muppet Dog characters. Rowlf the dog is your guide through the underside of canine life during the 1930s in Dog City. Our hero, Ace, enters the world of bulldog gangsters and terrier molls when he inherits a saloon, “The Doghouse,” from his late Uncle Harry. Unwilling to pay protection money, Ace finds himself the target of Bugsy, a bulldog bully who owns most of Dog City, and also happens to be one of the foremost proponents of senseless violence. Ace also comes nose to nose with a beautiful runaway collie named Colleen. Colleen and Ace team up to take on Bugsy and his thugs in the tumultuous, dog-eat-dog world of Dog City.

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • (1989) 2010, Color, Rated PG, 40 min
  • Aspect Ratio: Full Screen
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DVD, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Starring Voices: Ron White, Elizabeth Hanna, Stuart Stone, John Stocker, James Rankin
  • Directed by John van Bruggen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
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  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

First aired in 1989, Dog City is wholesome family fun. As with most Muppet shows, it is imbued with humor for the adults as well as the kids. Dog jokes abound. The one-liners from Rowlf will make you grin and groan…which is good. At 40 minutes of length, it will not wear thin too quickly, and should hold the attention of all but the very youngest. Jim Henson said he enjoyed the production of this show and the care that was put into the production and set pieces really shows.

Technical

Just a few years ago we were all amazed at the picture quality that was DVD. Now, it just seems soft and lack-luster... like VHS looked after DVD came onto the scene. Certainly viewable, but not very solid. Colors are OK, but edge enhancement can be seen throughout. Picture is flat with only a hint of the detail you know must be  there. Shadows are murky. Sound is intelligible, but not enveloping. However, a young audience will be delighted with the characters and less critical of the overall picture and sound. Still, a blu-ray transfer would have brought a lot more detail to these furry actors.

Extras

Extras include a few stills from the set.


"The Man With No Name Trilogy – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

With the Civil War as a backdrop, The Man With No Name (Eastwood) returns as a con man working a scam with a nutty bandit named Tuco (Wallach).  Together they collect the rewards on Tuco then the Man frees him as he’s being hung by shooting the rope and escaping with the cash.  When the Man decides to end the partnership, Tuco doesn’t take kindly.  He forces the Man to walk out into the desert with the intent of leaving him there.  Just as he is near death, Tuco learns of a fortune in gold buried in a distant cemetery.  Unfortunately for him, only the Man knows which grave to look in so his life is spared.  In the meantime Angel Eyes (Van Cleef), a ruthless mercenary is also after the loot.  The Man manages to play Angel and Tuco against each other as they close in on the prize.  The final standoff is a classic and fitting end to the Man With No Name Trilogy.

 

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1966, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 59 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Codec: AVC
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach
  • Directed by Sergio Leone
    Rating
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  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

For me, this was the least enjoyable of the three films.  There are action scenes but they’re separated by long scenes of dialog or distant shots of men riding through the desert.  If the movie had been two hours instead of three, the pace would undoubtedly be better.  Sergio Leone’s masterful direction is still evident; the story just didn’t move very well.  It certainly started out with promise as we see a sequence with no dialog whatsoever.  For over 10 minutes all we see are eyes, boots and scared faces.  It’s quite riveting.  The final standoff sequence is equally tense.  I was on the edge of my seat for the last 15 minutes.  Unfortunately most of the material in between was a bit of a snoozer.  I also found the Civil War depictions to be distracting.  The story could have been told without enormous battle scenes or seeing long lines of wounded soldiers and refugees filing out of razed towns.  Still, for fans of the spaghetti western, this is a must-add to the library.

Technical

Picture quality is excellent and like For A Few More Dollars More is one of the best restorations I’ve ever seen.  Contrast is very deep with consistent black levels and bright detailed highlights.  Color is very natural and nicely saturated.  I didn’t see any edge enhancement this time but some dirt and stains were evident.  It wasn’t enough to distract.  Grain was also very minimal.  In fact it was far less present than the other two transfers.  This is certainly the best-looking 44-year-old film one could ask for.

Audio was no different than the previous movies.  The original monaural mix has been converted to 5.1 with decent panning effects.  Dialog is clear but flat as it was entirely recorded on a sound stage.  Only Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef seem able to sync their lines with the image.  Every other actor is obviously speaking English but the sound and lip movements are never aligned.  Often, they’re delivering different lines entirely.  Gunshots and explosions were a little better with sparing use of the subwoofer.  Overall though, it’s very vintage.  Still, I doubt it could sound any better given what the engineers had to work with.

Extras

Bonus features are plentiful once again.  There are two overviews of Sergio Leone’s work and approach to directing and a historical featurette about the Civil War battles depicted in the movie.  You can turn on two different commentary tracks by film historians Christopher Frayling and Richard Schickel. Finally, there is a documentary about the restoration process which as it turns out was done almost completely by hand.


"Green Zone" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Chief Roy Miller (Damon) leads a team of soldiers to alleged WMD (weapons of mass destruction) sites in Iraq shortly after the beginning of the war.  When he comes up empty time after time, he begins to question the credibility of the intelligence he’s receiving.  With the help of a veteran CIA operative, Martin Brown (Gleeson), he tries to unravel the mystery behind the government’s secret informant, codenamed “Magellan.”  He also finds himself pursuing one of Saddam’s top generals in the process.  As he digs deeper, he discovers things that call into question the reasons behind the Iraq war and what the real agenda is.  As he closes in on the truth, he is pitted against a private security force working for shady Pentagon official Clark Poundstone (Kinnear).  Following the action is Wall Street Journal reporter Lawrie Dayne (Ryan) who just might end up with the story of her career.  In the end, Miller must decide whether to act on his beliefs, or simply do what he’s told.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2010, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 55 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  2.40:1
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Codec:  not specified
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Amy Ryan
  • Directed by Paul Greengrass
    Rating
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  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This film had me literally on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  The action is pretty much non-stop.  Most action/thriller/war movies are overly chaotic and confusing but Green Zone is an exception.  I never had trouble following the action or keeping the characters and story straight.  The news of the early Iraq war is ancient history now but the question of whether or not there were ever weapons of mass destruction still has no clear answer.  And we still don’t know how reliable the intelligence was that justified the war in the first place.  Green Zone offers one possible explanation for the mystery.  It’s totally plausible though it doesn’t paint the Pentagon in a positive light.  Still, it makes for great cinema and I’ll be adding this disc to my library.

Technical

Picture quality ran the gamut from decent to poor.  Daytime scenes looked good with a strong gold overtone which is what you’d expect to see in the hot desert climate of Iraq.  There is never a question about the heat level in this film!  My chief complaints were about the darker material.  It’s evident that several different film stocks were used with varying levels of grain.  Sometimes even within the same scene, the grain level changes when the camera angle shifts.  The grain ranged from non-intrusive to extreme.  Black levels were also inconsistent.  Occasionally they were deep and rich with excellent detail but most of the time they were elevated to a murky gray and made the overall picture quite flat.  At the opposite end of the brightness scale, highlights in the brightest scenes were blown out with crushing of detail.  The picture was nearly always sharp with no evidence of edge enhancement.

Audio was reference quality.  Once again, a case is made for lossless codecs.  No Dolby Digital soundtrack could approach the level of detail, dynamics and dimension portrayed by this DTS Master Audio encode.  Dialog was always crisp and clear.  Gunfire was incredibly intense with lots of deep bass.  The chop of helicopter blades had me ducking more than once and I’m sure I felt a strong breeze.  If you have a sub in your system, it will get quite a workout.  This disc is an easy choice for a surround sound demo.  Panning effects are done extremely well.  There’s nothing quite like an aircraft zooming in from behind to pull you into the action.  The musical score by John Powell is excellent and makes terrific use of percussion.  The drumbeats that anticipate the various battle scenes always got my heart rate up.

Extras

Bonus features include deleted scenes in HD and two short documentaries on the making of the film, also in HD.  There is also picture-in-picture commentary available from director Paul Greengrass via the U-Control feature common to Universal Blu-ray releases.  Finally, you can turn on audio commentary from Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon.


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

movie-july-2010-the-illusionist

Synopsis

Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, this stately, elegant period is intelligently written and worthy of your time to view. Ms. Beil’s part could have been played by any other actress, but she performs well in the role of the love interest. But there's equal appeal in the casting of Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, who bring their formidable talents to bear on the intriguing tale of a celebrated magician named Eisenheim (Norton) whose stage performance offends the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a vindictive rascal who aims to marry Duchess Sophie (Biel) for political gain. She was Eisenheim's childhood friend and now, 15 years later, his would-be lover. This romantic rivalry and Eisenheim's amazing illusions are investigated by Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), who's under Leopold's command. Uhl is therefore not to be trusted as Eisenheim and Sophie draw closer to their inevitable reunion. The movie is enhanced by a score from composer Phillip Glass.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2010, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio:  1.85:1
  • English, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Discs: 2
  • Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, Jessica Biel
  • Directed by Neil Burger
    Rating
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  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Originally this short story was written as a political criticism of the Monarchy, based on the scandalous incident where the bodies of Rudolf and his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera were found shot in a Royal hunting lodge. Perhaps it was a murder suicide which the Royal family kept from the public for many years. Edward Norton as Eisenheim is understated and brilliant and some of the sleight of hand tricks in the film were actually done by him. His practice shows as the illusions come off very well, indeed. Norton portrayals a perfect man of mystery. It begs the question, are these mere illusions or does Eisenheim possess supernatural power, controlling matter, energy, space and time itself? Giamatti is equally brilliant. You can read the conflicting thoughts going on in his mind just from watching his expressions. The ending is both surprising and believable. (Unlike another “magic” film that came out around the same time called “The Prestige“).

Technical

The film quality is a bit hard to judge as it was intentionally shot to appear “old”. Some scenes are washed out and enhanced film grain appears often, though none of this is really distracting. It actually gives the film a “period” feel. The picture is generally sharp with good contrast and natural flesh tones, though not quite reference quality. Dialog is clear and the surrounds play into some of the special effect “illusion” scenes. The musical score sounds marvelous and really draws you into the film.

Extras

All bonus material is found on disc 2 and include: audio commentary, making of the illusions, Jessica Beil's commentary and trailers.