Media

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - April, 2010

ARTICLE INDEX

"The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-april-2010-new-moon

Synopsis

The second book in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series picks up right where the first installment left off.  Bella Swan (Stewart) is celebrating her eighteenth birthday with Edward Cullen (Pattinson), the love of her life, and his family of vampires.  When she cuts herself opening a gift and is nearly eaten by Edward’s brother, they realize that the only way to keep Bella safe is to be apart.  The vampires leave Forks and Bella is devastated.  Her only lifeline is her friend Jacob Black (Lautner).  Unfortunately he is quickly falling for her as well.  Just then, he discovers he is a werewolf and the plot thickens further.  Bella, in her angst, engages in ever more dangerous activities as she struggles to live without Edward.  When she dives off a cliff, Jacob saves her from drowning in the nick of time.  Edward’s sister however sees a future where Bella is killed so Edward decides to end it all by revealing his existence to the humans and precipitate execution by the Volturi, an ancient order of vampires.  Bella learns of this and rushes to Italy to stop him setting up the film’s final act and creating the path to the inevitable third chapter, due out this summer.

 

Specifications

  • Summit Entertainment
  • 2009, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hrs 10 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner
  • Directed by Chris Weitz
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Moderate
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Though this movie is clearly aimed at young women, I enjoyed watching it with my wife who is a huge fan of Stephanie Meyer’s books.  I saw it originally in the big theater but found it much more interesting in my home theater.  The high school kids never become too annoying and the story will appeal to a wide variety of ages and tastes.  If you want to watch it with your family, I’d say it’s appropriate for ages 12 and up.  There is no sex or foul language to speak of.  The violence is used sparingly and is never brutal.  Pattinson and Stewart are excellent in their roles and Tyler Lautner does a superb job as well.  The special effects are quite convincing; especially the werewolf sequences.  Watching these young boys suddenly change into impossibly large wolves was very impressive and blended seamlessly with the live actors.  My only complaint is the story could have been told in a shorter film.  Though it doesn’t really drag, the plot is a bit thin for a two-hour movie.

Technical

The image is quite good with a somewhat cool color palette.  This is better than the first film which was overlaid with strong green tones.  I’m glad to see a more natural rendering for New Moon.  Detail is quite sharp at all times though I did see a bit of edge enhancement.  The crystal effect when Edward stands in the sun is quite striking but you will need a good display to really see it as it’s somewhat subtle.  Fleshtones are very accurate for all the human characters.  Vampires have the pale, corpse-like faces you’d expect of the undead.  Black levels are uniformly deep in all dark scenes.  In fact, most of the film barely rises above medium brightness.  Detail is well-preserved though.  The bright scenes in Italy were a welcome change from the drabness that pervades the rest of the movie.

Audio was very consistent with a wide dynamic range.  Dialog was clear and accurate and placed well-forward in the soundstage.  Sound effects were impactful but a bit short of the best mixes I’ve heard.  Surrounds were used sparingly and the sub was asking for more to do.  It was a decent soundtrack overall though and it sounded much better in my home than at the cinema.

Extras

Bonus features include audio commentary with director Chris Weitz, a six-part behind the scenes documentary, music rehearsal footage and three music videos.


"Walk the Line" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Walk the Line chronicles the early life and musical career of Johnny Cash (Phoenix) through his rapid rise to national fame.  Growing up in Arkansas and living the hard life of a sharecropper with his family, his only real friend is his older brother Jack.  Once Johnny turns 18, he joins the Air Force and leaves home.  During his enlistment, he writes his first songs.  Shortly after his discharge, he lands a record deal and is catapulted into his career as a hard-working touring musician.  During this time, he is introduced to drugs and alcohol and he embraces both with abandon.  He spends the next years performing almost constantly and barely treading water with his wife Vivian (Goodwin) and their daughters.  His father (Patrick) shows him little respect as well.  He has the added challenge of having fallen in love with June Carter (Witherspoon) despite both their marriages to others.  Their relationship is a rocky one but finally during a performance in Ontario in 1968, she accepts his proposal of marriage.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2005, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hrs 15 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 24Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick
  • Directed by James Mangold
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This movie was quite enjoyable.  Any fan of music will like this one.  The events in the film seem pretty accurate; at least compared to Johnny Cash’s bio in Wikipedia.  Witherspoon and Phoenix were both nominated for Oscars for this film with Witherspoon taking the win.  Their performances are superb though I would give Phoenix the edge as his role is far more challenging.  They also did their own singing for the film which was surprisingly excellent.  Phoenix doesn’t have quite the baritone voice of the original Cash but his style and technique were very believable.  Witherspoon’s twangy drawl came across well; mimicking the 60s and 70s country style perfectly.  I judge biopics like this by how much they inspire me to read more about the characters and events portrayed.  I headed straight for Google after this one to read up on Johnny and June.  It’s quite fascinating stuff.  Whether you’re a music fan or looking for an interesting true story; this movie comes highly recommended.

Technical

The image is superb although a little short of reference quality.  Color has an appropriately warm appearance.  Fleshtones are unfailingly natural.  You can really see the different stages of Johnny Cash’s addiction as his face changes from normal tones to a whitish pallor.  The scenes on stage are brightly lit making faces and costumes really pop.  There was no evidence of edge enhancement but I did see a bit of softness.  Film grain was present though not distracting.

Audio was flawless during all the musical performances.  The bass lines really pumped on my sub and had me tapping to the rhythm.  The music mix was done extremely well and both Phoenix and Witherspoon are to be commended for their singing.  Spoken dialog was too soft most of the time making me strain to hear it.  Given the quality of the music mix and other sound effects, this was a bit of a disappointment.  Overall though, the music carries the film and I’ve heard little better.

Extras

Bonus features include audio commentary by director James Mangold, deleted scenes with commentary, extended musical sequences, four featurettes detailing the making of the film with documentaries about Cash’s life, and a theatrical trailer.


"Apollo 13" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

This is the true story of the Apollo 13 mission where an explosion on the service module caused an abort of the astronauts’ landing on the Moon.  The subsequent rescue was a resounding success for NASA and the space program.  Just as landing on the Moon had started to lose its luster with the American people, the Apollo 13 accident had the entire world glued to their TVs as they watched three brave and resourceful astronauts, and an equally amazing mission control staff, improvise procedures to bring the men safely home in their damaged craft.

The events depicted are well known and documented.  56 hours into the flight of Apollo 13, an oxygen tank explodes crippling the spacecraft.  The Moon landing is scrapped and a rescue plan is immediately improvised.  The crew will power down the command module and use the lunar lander as a lifeboat until they can return to Earth.  Through the heroic efforts of mission control and the three astronauts, they manage to bring their spacecraft safely back to Earth and through the violent re-entry procedure.  After their pickup by the USS Iwo Jima, their mission is heralded as NASA’s “successful failure.”

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 1995, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hrs 20 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  not specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris
  • Directed by Ron Howard
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This has always been one of my favorite films and I was thrilled to see it finally released on Blu-ray disc.  Archival footage of original news broadcasts is successfully mixed with superb acting and amazingly realistic sets depicting the spacecraft interiors and mission control room.  You can really feel the intensity of everyone involved from the brave and exhausted astronauts to the nicotine and caffeine-fueled mission control staffers.  The principal actors turn in near-flawless performances.  Tom Hanks expertly portrays Jim Lovell’s natural leadership and calm demeanor as he commands the mission.  Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz also does an amazing job.  It’s easy to compare them to the real people as you can see interviews with them in a number of documentaries.  I had just watched Discovery’s When We Left Earth recently and I enjoyed Apollo 13 even more as a result.  If you’re a fan of history and the space program, this Blu-ray is a must-own.  I give it my highest recommendation.

Technical

Image quality was a bit disappointing.  Once again, the edge enhancement monster has reared its head.  The ringing in some scenes was very obvious and wholly unnecessary.  The added sharpness had the side-effect of increasing film grain visibility.  I noticed it from the first minute onward.  Even though the original was shot on 35mm, it looked like 16mm most of the time.  Color was richly saturated though flesh tones were sometimes too red.  Contrast was excellent with deep blacks and bright whites and no crushing of detail.

Audio was decent for a movie of this era.  Surrounds were not used much but there were some strong bass effects.  The musical score is one of my favorites; composed by James Horner.  My compliments go out to the trumpet soloist who plays a haunting and distant melody at the film’s opening.  Dialog was clear and placed right at the screen where it belongs.  The different vocal timbres of the spacecraft interior, a meeting room or the large mission control center were quite clear.

One fascinating fact I learned while researching this movie:  the scenes in space were shot in a reduced gravity aircraft.  The sets, actors and props were actually weightless.  The scenes were filmed in 25-second bursts and the modified KC-135 completed 612 loops for a total of 3 hours and 54 minutes of zero-gravity.

Extras

Bonus features include a making-of documentary, a recap of the last 50 years of the space program, a recounting of the mission events; and commentary with director Ron Howard, astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn.  There are also in-movie interactive features chronicling other events of 1970 and the technology of the Apollo 13 mission.


"Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Nicolas Cage stars as Terence McDonagh, a detective with the New Orleans Police.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he injures his back saving an inmate from drowning.  To deal with the pain, he begins taking pain medication and soon follows a downward spiral of drug addiction and teetering on the edge of the law.  As Terence and his partner Stevie (Kilmer) investigate the murder of a family, he finds ever more creative ways to score drugs.  He also runs into trouble with his bookie loosing several large bets.  Through all this, he maintains a relationship with his girlfriend Frankie (Mendes), a local prostitute.   Even though he is barely hanging on, he manages to break up a major drug ring, pay off his debts, and earn a promotion to captain.

 

Specifications

  • First Look Studios
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 2 Hrs 2 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  not specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring:  Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and Val Kilmer
  • Directed by Werner Herzog
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Moderate
  • Language: Extreme

Commentary

If you’re looking for an over-the-top depiction of drug use and the effects of addiction, then this movie is for you.  Cage gives an almost wild performance as a hardcore addict battling intense pain, greedy mobsters, drug dealers and his own personal demons.  I found one aspect of this film especially difficult to believe.  By halfway through, Terence is behaving very much like an addict with wild mood swings, hallucinations and unstable behavior.  Despite this, no working with him seems to notice.  Doesn’t the New Orleans Police Department employ random drug testing?  In one scene, Terence’s bookie comes into the station to pay him his winnings.  He does this right in front of a roomful of detectives yet no one pays any attention.  He also participates in the murder of three mobsters.  Not only does he get away with this, he makes the arrests and receives a promotion.  I’m not sure what message this film is trying to send; perhaps there isn’t one.  I can’t even call it a vehicle for Nicolas Cage’s considerable acting talent.  His part and his portrayal are one-dimensional for a grueling two hours.  I’m not sure even a decent plot could have saved this one.

Technical

Most of the film is shot using a cool color palette with lots of blues and greens.  Some indoor scenes are very natural with sunlit warm tones.  The image is quite sharp but the filtered color makes it look flat.  The filmmakers seemed to be going for a gritty look which is appropriate for the content.  There is no evident edge enhancement and contrast is uniform and deep.  Dark scenes have excellent shadow detail with a very clean and grain-free rendering.

Audio is nothing special.  There aren’t many action scenes to really work the sub and surround channels.  Dialog is mumbled at times and recessed a bit in the soundstage.  I didn’t have to turn up the volume though.  Music is used sparingly and is also nothing special.

Extras

Bonus features include a making of featurette, a collection of still photos and theatrical trailers.There are also in-movie interactive features chronicling other events of 1970 and the technology of the Apollo 13 mission.


"Alice in Wonderland" (DVD) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

Alice in Wonderland

Synopsis

This disc contains rare footage from one of earliest know film adaptation of Charles Dodgson's work and some very early animation by Walt Disney that combines live actors and animation. Though the first three films are silent, they represent good examples of early film making, where a scene was set up and the cameras would just roll with the action. Close ups were rarely used.

 

Specifications

  • Infinity Studios
  • 2009, B/W, Rated G, 2 Hrs 2 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3
  • 480i
  • Codec:  Not Specified
  • English PCM Stereo
  • Starring: Viola Savoy and others
  • Directed by Walt Disney, W.W. Young, and others
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Every so often I come across some interesting vintage movies that have been restored or “re-discovered” from some musty old film vault. With the release of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”, I thought it would be fun to look at some rare clips of a story that has been around for over 100 years. You would be surprised how often this story has been adapted to film, both in live action and animation. Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) penned the story in 1865 titled “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by strange anthropomorphic creatures. The tale is filled with allusions to Dodgson's friends and a young girl named Alice Liddell. The tale plays with logic in ways that have given the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children. It is still considered to be one of the best examples of the "literary nonsense” genre. The story as interpreted by Burton bares little resemblance to original story line, but the film “Alice in Wonderland” (1915) is a much closer adaptation of what Dodgson had in mind. The silent version is about 52 minutes long and is accompanied with piano music for a backdrop. It includes the Mock Turtle and the room filled with tears from Alice’s crying. (The reference to the Caucus race will be lost on most of the modern viewers, I am afraid). Text is displayed throughout to keep you informed of the dialog.

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The costumes are remarkable for the time period and the film has a dream-like quality to it. It stars Viola Savoy as Alice and features Elmo Lincoln, who later played the original Tarzan. “Alice’s Adventures in Cartoonland” (1925), are two short vignettes produced by Walt Disney. “Alice Rattled by Rats” contains prototypes of a future Mickey Mouse and a cat that looks very similar to “Felix the Cat”.

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A live action Alice (Virginia Davis) is figured right into the cartoon. “Alice’s Adventure in the Jungle” is a cartoon with Margie Gay in the lead role. This mix of "live and toon" predates films like "Roger Rabbit"  by over 45 years! Very cutting edge for the time.

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Obviously, neither of these cartoons have any connection to  Carroll's Wonderland, but they are rare historical clips none the less. Perhaps having the name of Alice in their titles helped draw viewers into the movie house. “Alice of Wonderland in Paris” (1966) is voiced by Carl Reiner with French animation. And rounding out the DVD is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1972) from a British musical theatrical film adaptation starring none other than Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers. In summation, this DVD is significant for its rare archival footage and its wonderful insight on an ageless story. In the days before CGI, artistic imagination ruled the world of cinematography. If you are a movie buff or an Alice admirer, these treasures are worth adding to your collection.

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Now, Mr. Burton’s 3D adventure of Alice is more about vision than substance. His interpretation differs from the original storyline in many ways. I found the 3D to be generally flat. The scene where the Hatter is escaping through some trees left me a bit nauseous. Fast motion and 3D do not mix well. The 3D glasses made the screen images darker, too. When I peered over the top of the rims the movie was of course fuzzier, but also considerable brighter. Be sure to read more about the 3D technology in Cory Potts comparison of Dolby 3D and IMAX 3D.

Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum were downright creepy. Burton added a “white queen” to contrast with the “queen of hearts” (well acted by Mrs. Burton) and provide a vehicle for a good vs.evil sub plot . Mr. Depp mumbles so badly in his opening scene that I thought that the rest of the movie would be ruined by my inability to understand any of the dialog. Frankly, I did not find him “mad” enough. By the end of the movie he appears to be a more pathetic figure…but quite sane. Bizarre looking, but not mad. No trial for the knave who stole the tart. No walrus giving his “…of ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings” soliloquy. And the ending! Alice comes back to reality, says she will not marry and is promptly given the reins to the shipping company her father envisioned. It seemed to be tacked on without giving the movie any finality. Was there a point or message in this movie? Would children sit through it and become bored? (likely) Was it targeted for teens? (More likely)- CGI and 3D do not a story make. I still find the Disney cartoon version a far more entertaining and enjoyable ride. But then again…I may be mad. Until next time, I’m late for my tea party.

Technical

Picture quality varies from piece to piece, but is generally good considering the age of the archival footage.

Extras

None


"The Last King of Scotland" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

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Synopsis

In the early 1970s, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young semi-idealistic Scottish doctor, comes to Uganda to assist in a rural hospital. By chance, he meets up with the new President, Idi Amin, who promises a golden age for the African nation. Garrigan hits it off immediately with the rabid Scotland fan, who soon offers him a senior position in the national health department and becomes one of Amin's closest advisers. As time passes, Garrigan begins to see the true side of Amin: a power-crazed, violent dictator. Garrigan grows tired of his relationship with Amin and attempts to flee back to his homeland.

 

Specifications

  • Fox Searchlight
  • 2006, Color, R, 123 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring:  Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy
  • Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: a little
  • Language: yes

Commentary


This was my first time watching The Last King of Scotland. The story was far from cheery and lighthearted, but it was engrossing and kept my interest.  The performances from Whitaker and McAvoy are what really make this movie worth watching.  They both do a great job at becoming their characters on screen.  An excellent movie, give it a rent.

Technical

The Last King of Scotland looks great on Blu-ray. The image is very natural and full of detail. You will not be disappointed.  The audio gets the job done, but it is nothing you will remember. Dialog is clear and well-balanced

Extras

This disc contains the theatrical trailer, commentary with director Kevin Macdonald, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.


"Fantastic Mr. Fox" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of Mr. Fox (Voiced by George Clooney) who settles down into a regular life with Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) and their son Ash (Jason Schwartzman).  However, Mr. Fox begins to yearn for his days of stealing chickens from the local farmers, and decides to do "one last score", stealing from the three main local farmers.  At the same time, Ash's cousin Kristopherson comes to stay with them for a while, causing some more resentment from Ash.  Of course, the farmers won't take Mr. Fox's attack on them without some revenge, and then their whole lives are thrown out of order.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2009, Color, PG, 87 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio:1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  MPEG-4 AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring:  George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
  • Directed by Wes Anderson
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Comic Violence
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Some cussing, no profanity

Commentary

Directed by Wes Anderson and adapted from the book by Roald Dahl, this was one of my favorite films of the past year, and one that I'll certainly come back to again and again.  With all the quirky humor that Wes Anderson is known for, and a stop motion animation technique that seems to match that sense of humor, it was a short, but incredibly enjoyable 87 minutes to watch.  I'm not sure how much kids would enjoy it compared to adults, but for me it was really one of the highlights of 2009.

Technical

Using stop motion animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox was captured using Nikon D3 DSLR cameras, and has a straight digital transfer that looks absolutely fantastic.  There is a ton of fine detail present on the models that were used for the film, and I really have nothing at all to complain about with it.  The soundtrack is nice as well, though with less use of the surrounds than I am used to with modern films.  Like all Wes Anderson films, it has a very nice soundtrack as well that comes through loud and clear across the front soundstage.

Extras

The disc is a little lacking on extras, with a small movie guide to Whack-Bat, the World of Roald Dahl, the theatrical trailer, and a making of featurette.  The Making Of section is interesting as you can see how they design and make the models that are used for the film, and how amazingly time consuming it is.  All of the extras are also in 1080p or 1080i, which is nice to see now.


"Toy Story" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

The first fully CG film from Pixar, Toy Story tells the story of Woody, a toy cowboy, long used to being the favorite toy of his owner Andy.  When Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday, his place at the top of the totem pole is challenged for the first time, leaving him unsure how to react, and angry at this change.  After accidentally disposing of Buzz, Woody has to set out to retrieve him and return things to normal in the world of Andy's toys.

 

Specifications

  • Pixar
  • 1995, Color, G, 81 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio:1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  MPEG-4 AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring:  Tom Hanks, Tim Allen
  • Directed by John Lasseter
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Minor toy-related violence
  • Sex: None
  • Language: None

Commentary

I had not seen Toy Story since it was released in theaters, and it has held up amazingly well.  Pixar produces my favorite films year after year, that appeal both to children and to adults.  They don't fill them with catchy pop culture references that will be dated in a few years, but instead just with fantastic storytelling that everyone can enjoy and appreciate.  When I went into Toy Story I was more expecting to see what the CG animation could offer, but came away more impressed with the story than with the technology.  Looking back at it now after 15 years, the technology has improved (the textures and objects in Toy Story aren't as detailed and lifelike as they are in modern Pixar films), but the story remains one that I can't wait to enjoy with my son once he is old enough.

Technical

As good as the story in Toy Story is, the image is even better.  Looking better than it probably ever has, with no issues that I could see, Toy Story looks absolutely fantastic.  The only bad thing I can say is that the extra resolution provided by the Blu-ray makes it easier to see how Pixar has improved over the past 15 years, and wondering how much more amazing the film would look if they were doing it now.  The colors pop off the screen, backed by solid blacks and incredible detail.  CG movies are often the best for showing off how much detail a Blu-ray can provide and Toy Story is no exception.

The soundtrack for Toy Story has probably never sounded as good either.  Taking advantage of lossless codecs, Toy Story comes through with a detailed, highly immersive soundtrack that never disappoints.  Modern Pixar movies might do a little better job with the surrounds and really bringing you all the way into the film, but Toy Story does a very good job, especially considering it's age, which is fairly early on in the discrete 5.1 era.

Extras

Toy Story comes loaded with extra features.  Starting with a full audio commentary by the director, co-writer, animators, and producers, and including over a dozen more featurettes going behind the scenes of how the movies was made with all the details you would want to know, and finishing with a trailer for the upcoming Toy Story 3 that is being released this summer.  Pixar made a fantastic DVD set for the Toy Story movies and all of those special features have been ported over.


"Ninja" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

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Synopsis

Casey (Scott Adkins) is an orphaned American training to be a ninja at a secret school in Japan.   His prowess puts him at direct odds with Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara) for the master’s favor.  Masazuka is banished from the school after attempting to kill Casey, and promises revenge.  Sensing that Masazuka will one day return to steal the ninja clan’s precious heirlooms, the master sends the chest of regalia to New York for safe keeping.  After raiding the school, Masazuka learns of the treasure’s location and sets off to reclaim what he feels is rightfully his.

 

Specifications

  • First Look Studios
  • 2009, Color, R, 92 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  Not listed
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring:  Scott Adkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hijii
  • Directed by Isaac Florentine
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

As with most “straight to video” releases, I wasn’t expecting much out of this film.  The plot was weak and the acting was poor.  The criminal gang that assists Masazuka was totally unnecessary to the story and just further increased the “cheesiness” of the film.  The special effects were laughable, particularly the overdone blood splatters that run rampant throughout the fight scenes.  However, the fight scenes themselves were surprisingly well done and there are a ton of them throughout the movie.   If you like low-budget B-movie martial arts flicks, this may be right up your alley.

Technical

Despite the low-budget nature of the rest of the film, the technical quality was surprisingly good.  The image was sharp, with fairly accurate color tone and good black levels.  The sound was even more impressive, with good use of the surrounds and some very powerful bass.  Personally, I thought that the bass was a bit too boomy in relation to dialogue levels and I found myself constantly altering the volume level during my viewing.

Extras

The only extras on this disc are a few previews – that’s it.


"The Fourth Kind" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-april-2010-the-fourth-kind

Synopsis

In Nome, Alaska, a large group of people are experiencing severe sleeping difficulties.  Attempting to get to the bottom of the problem, psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich) uses hypnosis in an attempt to figure out what is happening to the townspeople.   She finds that there are many similarities between each case, with a haunting white owl at the center of it all.  But is the owl really an owl?

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2009, Color, PG-13, 1 Hour 38 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  Not listed
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring:  Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas
  • Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I remember seeing the trailers for this film and being mildly interested.  As a big sci-fi fan, I’m always on the lookout for a good alien flick.  Sadly, this didn’t turn out to be one of them.  The story is supposed to be based on true events, which is a total fallacy.   The “actual video” of the original therapy sessions is just footage shot for the movie, and then re-enacted.   So we end up watching fake characters act out a fake story, then we are treated to even more fake characters re-enacting the first fake footage.  What’s the point of that?   It is wholly unbelievable and annoyingly redundant.   It’s a shame as there was some real potential with the plot.

Technical

Audio and video quality are fortunately far better than the storyline.  The image is sharp, with fairly natural color tones.  Black levels are solid, and there is a good amount of detail in the picture.  The “original” footage is supposed to look like it was shot with a home video camera and for the most part the producers accomplished the task.  Audio was immersive throughout the film, with very good use of the surrounds and clear dialogue.  There is some solid bass scattered throughout the film as well.

Extras

The only real extras on this disc are the deleted scenes, which I couldn’t bring myself to watch.  The disc has some BD-Live enabled interactive features and is also D-Box motion-enabled.


"Toy Story 2" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-april-2010-toy-story-2

Synopsis

Andy heads off to cowboy camp leaving his toys alone only to have a toy collector named Al steal Woody. At Al's apartment, Woody discovers that he is a highly valued collectible from a 1950s TV show called Woody's Roundup, and he meets the other prized toys from that show including Jessie the Cowgirl and Stinky Pete the Prospector. Buzz Lightyear and the other toys from Andy's room launch into action to rescue their pal from winding up as a collectors item before Andy returns.

 

Specifications

  • Pixar
  • 1999, Color, G, 92 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  MPEG-4 AVC
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring:  Tom Hanks, Tim Allen
  • Directed by John Lasseter
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: None
  • Language: None

Commentary

Few sequels can live up to their original film, much less exceed it, but Toy Story 2 is one of those films.  While in many ways the original Toy Story was a vehicle for a fully CG film, Toy Story 2 has an even better story, and better animation, as Pixar seemed to find themselves and become more confident in their story telling.  Just like the original, this is one film that parents and children can enjoy together, and one that I look forward to watching with my son over and over again.

Technical

Once again, a perfect transfer from Pixar to Blu-ray.  Toy Story 2 is more detailed, with better textures and models than the original film, and this Blu-ray loses none of that detail.  The soundtrack is improved as well, with better use of the surrounds than the original, and a totally immersive experience with deep, rich bass and tons of detail.

Extras

Once again, the Toy Story disc comes loaded with bonus features that include: Director commentary, Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Characters, Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station, Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists, Studio Stories: Toy Story 2 Sleep Deprivation Lab, The Movie Vanishes, Pixar's Zoetrop, Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft, and BD Live functionality.  There isn't quite as much as with the first movie, but there's more than enough to keep you busy for a long time.The disc has some BD-Live enabled interactive features and is also D-Box motion-enabled.


"Gone With the Wind"(Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

Gone with the Wind

Synopsis

The narcissistic Scarlett is in love with a man she can not have and loses the man who would give anything to keep her. Set against the backdrop of the Civil War, this film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's epic drama is a true Ameican movie classic wonderfully restored in 1080p and released to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its initial release in theaters.

Specifications

  • Warner Home Video
  • 2009, Color, G, 233 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • 1080p
  • French, Spanish, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Starring:  Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia DeHavilland
  • Directed by Victor Fleming
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: War depiction
  • Sex: None
  • Language: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a ..."

Commentary

This 70th anniversary remaster on BD is quite stunning. Colors are lush and deep. You can almost feel the velvet in the dresses at the ball. Details pop out at you and the sharpness of the details reveal things I had not noticed in the DVD version. For example, you can clearly see a red and white radio tower in the background during the street scene when Atlanta is being evacuated. You may notice the wires that hold Scarlett's horse in place under the bridge as she hides from the Yankees. Also, many of the backdrops are clearly identifiable as matte paintings. Detractions? Not at all. For me it gives a greater appreciation for the effort master movie makers put into their craft back then. The picture quality is remarkably good and presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio. Flesh tones are accurate, shadows are inky black and textures are wonderfully presented. The audio is very good for its age, with use of the surrounds in scenes that call for it. Dialogue is crisp and clear. The musical score is wide and sweeping, befitting an epic motion picture of this magnitude. I can assure you, no audience in 1939 saw this film look and sound this good in the theater. Every movie buff should have this film classic in their library and this BD version is the one to own.

Technical

The enhanced resolution of the 1080p/VC-1 encode outclasses any prior transfer, making this version of 'Gone With the Wind' indisputably the best. The Technicolor photography is a joy to behold. Hues possess terrific saturation without appearing garish or overblown. The colorful accents of various costumes pop, fleshtones are spot-on, and black levels are always rich and deep.

Extras

My review copy is of the movie only, but a 4 disc commemorative edition is available with copious extras that include interviews, photos and "making of" videos.


"Avatar"(Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-april-2010-avatar

Synopsis

On a distant planet called Pandora, there exists an element that cannot be found on earth, and which is needed by the military. Pandora is inhabited by humanoids, called the Na'vi, who don't want the earthlings occupying their world. The US Marines have a new technology whereby an earthling can inhabit a body that is identical to the Na'vi, thereby increasing their chances of gaining the Na'vi's confidence, and more importantly, their cooperation. The earthling-inhabited Na'vi body is called an "Avatar".

Sgt. Jake Sully (Worthington)'s identical brother was an Avatar, but was killed in action. Jake, who has no experience as a Na'vi, takes his brother's place because the Avatar technology is too expensive to waste. So, Jake goes into the world of the Na'vi, with no idea of what he is in for. He is especially enthusiastic because he is a paraplegic, and inhabiting his Avatar frees him to move his entire body without restriction.

It is this total naivity about the Na'vi that surprises everyone by the Na'vi's acceptance of Jake. In fact, the chief's daughter Neytiri (Saldana) takes a real liking to Jake and trains him in the native ways of their tribe. The Marine in charge of the operation, Col. Miles Quaritch (Lang) sees this as an opportunity, as does the head scientist, Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver).

However, Jake, after falling in love with Neytiri, and the feelings are reciprocated, realizes that the Na'vi are being exploited to the extent that the lives of the tribe are considered expendable, and he decides to permanently become a Na'vi and protect them from the US Marines, who finally invade the tribal lands with the intent of killing everyone.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2009, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez
  • Directed by James Cameron
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Well, if you didn't see this movie at the theater, you are in a minority. It set records for box office receipts worldwide, probably close to two billion dollars and counting. It is not necessarily a unique plot, with the "inhabiting a different body" routine taken directly from "The Matrix". But, it is very special in that it has set a new standard for motion capture technology, which is jaw dropping.

Technical

I saw the 3-D version in the theater and was blown away. I thought that when I got the Blu-ray version, which is not in 3-D (it's coming this year though), I would be disappointed or bored to watch it. Not so. It is a fantastic movie in any dimension. The transfer is superb, and the surround experience is what one would expect from a film of this caliber. It has a tremendous deep bass sound track, so if you want a demo disc to show off your subwoofers to your friends, this is a good one.

Extras

There are no extras. After you see this movie, you won't want to watch anything for awhile.


"An Education" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-april-2010-an-education

Synopsis

Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan) is a very gifted 16 year old girl living outside of London in the early 1960’s.  Her entire focus in life is in gaining admission to Oxford university, a task that would please her hopeful father (Alfred Molina) to no end.  A chance encounter with a very charming older man named David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) shows her that there is more to life than just academia.

 

Specifications

  • Sony Pictures Classics
  • 2009, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 40 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina,
  • Directed by Lone Scherfig
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Some

Commentary

“An Education” was a best picture nominee at the 2009 Academy Awards and I whole-heartedly concur with that honor.  The story was totally engrossing and moved along without any slow downs or needless fluff.  Alfred Molina and Peter Sarsgaard were both fantastic in their respective roles.  However, the real star of this film is Carey Mulligan, who managed to bring innocence and naivete to her character yet still showed  the attitude and sass one would expect from a 16-year old girl.  Considering  the subject matter of this movie, things are handled quite delicately and you almost forget that you are watching a fairly old man seduce an under-age woman.  Overall, this is an excellent film and well worth your viewing time.

Technical

The picture quality of this disc is better than average, but not fantastic.  There is a bit of softness to the image and it is not entirely the result of film grain.  Colors are a bit muted and drab, but this is supposed to be London after all.  The few scenes where they get out of the city show a bit more color and contrast.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is solid overall.  Dialogue is very clear, with no jockeying of the volume buttons required to hear every important word.  The surround and LFE channels are only used sparingly, but do their job when called for.  I was highly impressed with the scene in the jazz club, where the front channels simply come to life and deliver a very realistic and beautiful  “audiophile” moment..

Extras

Included on the disc is an audio commentary, a brief making-of featurette, the theatrical trailer, and some deleted scenes.  Sadly, all of these are in standard definition.  The only HD extra is a short “red carpet” featurette from the film’s US premiere.