Articles

Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - March, 2010

ARTICLE INDEX

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

Gamer

Synopsis

Many movies seem to be centered around real people in video game-like worlds these days, and this one is about a game called "Slayers".

The participants are convicted criminals, whose brains have been implanted with nerve cells that allow people outside the game area to control their actions, and in this game, the goal is to kill, kill, and kill some more. The idea is, "Who cares, these are just convicts."

A software engineer named Ken Castle (Hall) has created the game, and of course, there is a s*** load of computers that manage the players.

The superstar of the game is John Tillman (Butler), whose name in the game as a player is Kable. He is simply unstoppable, and Castle makes the most of it by creating action areas where Kable has to wade his way through numerous opponents. He is so good at it, that he decides he can get out of the game altogether, something Castle cannot allow.

So, Castle threatens Tillman with harm to his wife Angie (Valetta) and daughter, and John must find a way to escape the bloody world of Slayers and save his family at the same time.

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 35 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Gerard Butler, Amber Valetta, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Alison Lohman
  • Directed by Gary Lucchesi
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Like most of the other films of this ilk, Gamer has tons of action, explosions, and blood everywhere. Gerard Butler has appeared in several of them recently, including Law Abiding Citizen, reviewed below. Serving as Producer helps to get them out fast I suppose.

Technical

The transfer has an extremely sharp image, and the 7.1 audio is splendid. As I have said before, when movies go to the trouble of having 7.1 sound, they use all the channels, all the time.

Extras

These include The Making of, Director and Cast Commentaries, The Evolution of Red, Gamer Cheat Codes, and BD-Live.


"Give 'Em Hell Malone" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Give 'Em Hell Malone

Synopsis

Private Investigator, Malone (Jane), is hired by a mysterious woman named Evelyn (Pataky) to retrieve a briefcase, but is not told what is inside.

When Malone goes to get it, he finds he has been double crossed by mob boss Whitmore (Harrison), who has assigned one of his thugs, Boulder (Rhames), to kill Malone.

Malone escapes, and the chase is on.

 

Specifications

  • National Entertainment Media
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Thomas Jane, Ving Rhames, Elsa Pataky, Doug Hutchison, Gregory Harrison
  • Directed by Russell Mulcahy
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Brief
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I don't remember if we ever were told what was in that briefcase. Alfred Hitchcock called such an item "the McGuffin", which is the thing everyone is after, but it doesn't matter what it is. In any case, this film noir attempt doesn't belong in the same room as the film cans that store Hitchcock classics. It's terribly put together, and it looks like three or four 1940's characters running around in 2009.

One of the things that amused me about all those old '40's crime dramas was that their hats never came off even during fist fights. As an aside that has nothing to do with Malone, if you look through some of the DVDs that have the old 1940's serials and B-movies, you will find a couple of them that have Clayton Moore with no mask on (Moore was The Lone Ranger in the TV series). I remember when Moore appeared on the Johnny Carson show, and he wore dark glasses. Suppose Carson had advertised that on that evening's show, Moore would appear with no mask (or glasses) so that we all could see what he looked like. I bet NBC could have charged the same amount for 30 seconds of advertising as the Superbowl for that one show.

Doug Hutchison gives the most interesting performance as a nut case who likes to set people on fire.

Technical

At least the picture is sharp, but the surrounds could have used a bit more activity.

Extras

There are only interviews with the actors.


"Law Abiding Citizen" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-march-2010-citizen

Synopsis

When citizen Clyde Shelton's (Butler) wife and daughter are raped and murdered, the two perpetrators, Clarence Darby and Rupert Ames, are caught.

Although the evidence is clear to Shelton, as he had witnessed the brutality after being knocked to the floor, the D.A., Nick Rice (Foxx), says that a conviction is not certain, but Darby is willing to testify that Ames was the one who did the raping and murdering, in return for reduced sentence. Clyde objects, but Rice says it is the only way to be sure to get them in jail. Ames, who actually just watched while Darby did the bad stuff, is convicted and executed.

Ten years later, when Darby is released, Clyde kidnaps him and tortures him to death. He confesses to the crime and is sent to prison.

However, Clyde still holds grudges against the justice system, and through his contacts on the outside, has those associated with the trial executed one by one. Nick is unable to stop Clyde, and then, when Clyde says he is going to murder the Mayor, Nick has to decide whether he will stay within the law to stop him, or step outside.

 

Specifications

  • Anchor Bay Entertainment
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 48 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Jamie Foxx, Gerard Butler, Colm Meaney, Bruce McGill
  • Directed by F. Gary Gray
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Rape
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This is a revenge flick, but things sure have changed since Death Wish, with Charles Bronson. Instead of just shooting the bad guys, Clyde Shelton chops them into pieces. Of course, with TV shows like CSI, body parts being shown on the screen are the norm. So, what differentiates movies like Law Abiding Citizen and the TV shows with almost as graphic violence as the theater films? Well, in this case, nothing really. It just takes the whole concept of what humans do to each other a bit further than you would see on network television, and only just a bit.

Technical

Excellent picture quality, but the surrrounds could have used some more action.

Extras

These include The Director's Cut (unrated), Producers' Commentary, The Justice System: Law in Black and White, Behind the Scenes, Preliminary Arguments, and The Verdict.


"Couples Retreat" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-march-2010-couples-retreat

Synopsis

Couples Retreat is the story of 4 dysfunctional couples, although only one pair are actually aware of their problems.  Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) have had issues trying to conceive a child and this has put too much stress on their relationship.  They devise a plan to convince their friends to join them on a special "Pelican Package" getaway at the tropical island resort of Eden.  Once at the island, the couples soon find out that the relationship therapy is required.  If not completed, they would be forced to leave the resort.  It is also discovered that the resort is split into two sides- Eden West, a place for couples to reunite, and Eden East- a place for singles to hook up.  Jean Reno's character, Marcel, the guru of Eden, explains that the two sides are not allowed to mix.  The next morning after arriving, all the couples meet with their assigned therapist.  Once here, all the couples learn how dysfunctional their relationships appear to be.  A few nights later, one of the women escapes to the East side to party.  The rest sneak over and the men end up splitting up from the women to search for Trudy, their missing friend.  It is amidst the debauchery of Eden East that each couple reunites and rediscovers their love for one another.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2009, Color, PG-13, 113 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, John Favreau, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis
  • Directed by Peter Billingsley
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence:  No
  • Sex: maybe some suggestions of sex
  • Language: mild

Commentary

I enjoyed Couples Retreat. It wasn't as funny as I thought it would be, but it was indeed entertaining. I think most people would be fine just giving it a rent, but if you have already seen it, or you are a huge Vince Vaughn fan, it's worth picking up.

Technical

Excellent picture quality that really makes you want to go to Eden! (filmed in Bora Bora) The tropical blues jump right off the screen. Not too much to complain about in the video quality.  I thought the soundtrack felt a bit tinny and over-processed.

Extras

This disc has the usual assortment of extras. An alternate ending, gag reels, deleted scenes, and some boring featurettes.  Better than a bare-bones disc, but nothing too compelling.

 


"To Live and Die in L.A." (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-march-2010-live-die-in-la

Synopsis

When a notorious, highly sophisticated counterfeiter murders his partner, Secret Service agent Richard Chance (William Petersen, Manhunter, CSI) launches a furious vendetta to capture the man responsible. But master counterfeiter Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe) is always just one step ahead of Chance in William Friedkin's thrilling, suspenseful crime drama. With violent shoot-outs and a turbulent chase scene reminiscent of Friedkin's own The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A. broke with tradition by making the ostensible hero as morally reprehensible as the villain he pursues. Clashing with bureaucratic obstacles, Chance is forced to break the rules in order to procure cash for a sting operation, but the risks he takes snowball into an avalanche of violence and moral repercussions, leading to a morally ambiguous cul-de-sac from which there may be no return.

 

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1985, Color, R, 116 Minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Turturro
  • Directed by William Friedkin
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence:  Yes
  • Sex: Yes, 80's style sex. with synth music. Nudity as well. Including a shot of William's petersen.
  • Language: For Sure

Commentary

Made in 1985, To Live and Die in LA really shows its age.  The fashion, the cars, and the music all scream mid-80's.  It was a pretty entertaining thriller though.  There is a solid car chase scene and the gun fights are pretty brutal. Friedkin isn't a shy director.  Definately worth checking out.

Technical

I was very impressed with the video quality of this disc.  Loads of detail, good color balance, and still retains some film grain. It's always interesting to me when I see such a high quality transfer of a movie from the 80's.  I grew up watching these on VHS, that was the best it ever got.  So to see how these older films really looked is quite enjoyable.

The audio on the other hand, is not as spectacular.  I found myself adjusting the volume frequently as dialog would be hard to hear, but then music and sound FX would be too loud.  The sound quality was so bright and harsh, that it made my teeth hurt.

Extras

This disc has a theatrical trailer in HD. Also included is the Special Edition DVD which does contain a few featurettes.


"The Princess and the Frog" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-march-2010-princess-and-frog

Synopsis

Tiana (Rose) is a young girl growing up in 1920s New Orleans with dreams of opening her own restaurant.  She works two jobs to save the money and just as she scrapes up enough to buy her building, the exotic Prince Naveen (Campos) comes to town.  He is looking for a rich woman to marry.  Unbeknownst to anyone, the Voodoo Man, Dr. Facilier (David) is plotting to take control of the vast fortune belonging to the Prince’s finance, Charlotte (Cody).  I can’t go any further without divulging major plotlines but suffice it to say you’ll see talking and singing animals (and insects) and yes, there are frogs.  It all adds up to another stellar animated feature from Disney Pictures.  While not a traditional fairy tale, the film is very loosely based on The Frog Prince from Brothers Grimm.

 

Specifications

  • Disney Pictures
  • 2009, Color, G, 1 hour, 37 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: not specified
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael Leon-Wooley and Jennifer Cody
  • Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence:  No
  • Sex:  No
  • Language:  No

Commentary

It’s been quite a while since I watched a Disney animated feature.  I must say, I found this movie very enjoyable.  I’ve always been a purist, preferring films based on familiar fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast.  Some of Disney’s more modern stories have left me flat but not The Princess and the Frog.  This, like many of its predecessors will entertain those of most any age or taste.  I’ve always likened these films to Broadway musicals with their endearing characters, lavish artwork and wonderful music.  There is a look and feel to Disney animation that no imitator has yet achieved.  As much as I enjoy computer-generated imagery, hand-drawn presentations like this really have no equal.  The characters, as always, are loads of fun.  We have a hopelessly romantic firefly named Ray, a jazz trumpet-playing alligator named Louis, a wise old voodoo priestess named Mama Odie, and of course, there are frogs.  The music is beautifully integrated into the story and is never boring or too lengthy.  The style is New Orleans jazz and it’s performed expertly.  I haven’t added a Disney animated feature to my library in some time but The Princess and Frog is a keeper.

Technical

The image is reference-level with spectacular color and sharpness throughout.  The multi-layered animation is rendered perfectly with a great sense of depth and dimension.  There was no perceptible edge enhancement; thank you Disney!  Foreground action comes off the screen as intended with backgrounds awash in pastel colors and soft textures.  Each character is drawn by a tiny team of animators and it shows in the perfect consistency of each scene.  The wealth of artistic talent here is simply tremendous.

Sound design is first-rate.  The music fits the film perfectly and is performed and mixed to reference standards.  Balance is never an issue with just-right amounts of voice and background accompaniment.  This Blu-ray is a great demo for lossless sound.  The DTS-Master Audio track is at all times clear and detailed.  The instruments and voices always sound honest without the synthetic feel that is sometimes added in post-production.  Sound effects are also balanced well.  I never had to reach for the remote to adjust the volume.  For me, this adds to the live-theater feel that the film tries to portray.

Extras

The package I received contained not only the Blu-ray but a DVD and a digital copy of the film.  Bonus features are all in HD and include a making-of featurette that has interviews with filmmakers and animators, and documentaries about specific production aspects like music and character design.  There are also deleted scenes, a music video, art galleries and an interactive game.

 


"Old Dogs" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-march-2010-old-dogs

Synopsis

Dan (Williams) and Charlie (Travolta) are lifelong friends and business partners.  Together, they run a successful sports marketing firm.  As the movie opens, they are working on the biggest deal of their career with a Japanese company.  Just as the deal nears fruition, Vicki (Preston) shows up.  She and Dan had been married for a day during a wild trip seven years prior.  It turns out Dan is the (surprise!) father of seven-year-old twins.  Vicki is going off to serve a two-week jail term and she needs someone to care for the kids while she’s away.  Needless to say, chaos and mayhem ensue and both Dan and Charlie are forever changed by their experiences.

 

Specifications

  • Disney Pictures
  • 2009, Color, PG, 1 hour, 28 minutes
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: not specified
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Starring:John Travolta, Robin Williams, Kelly Preston and Seth Green
  • Directed by Walt Becker
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence:  No
  • Sex:  No
  • Language:  No

Commentary

This film is basically an hour and twenty minutes of slapstick gags and shtick tenuously held together by the thinnest of storylines.  Travolta and Williams are very funny in their roles as is Seth Green playing the up-and-coming young executive.  My personal favorite is when Dan and Charlie get their numerous medications mixed up and suffer some hilarious side-effects.  The comedy is very wholesome and will offend no one.  What’s missing is a decent story to tie all the gags together.  It’s nothing that hasn’t been done many times before.  While I’m sure many families will sit down together and enjoy this movie, it doesn’t stand out from the many other films Disney has made using this formula.  The kids will enjoy this one; adults, not so much.

Technical

Image quality is first-rate with naturally saturated color and good dynamic range.  Black levels are slightly elevated on occasion but only enough to reduce the Video rating by one star.  There is also a little use of edge enhancement, though it’s far from the worst I’ve seen.  Why any edge enhancement is necessary for a modern film to video transfer is beyond me.  Most people already have the sharpness set too high on their TVs as it is.

Audio is also excellent with very dynamic music at appropriate points.  One scene at a concert event demonstrated particularly good sound quality with deep bass and well-mixed vocals.  Voices are just a bit recessed in the mix but I didn’t have to play with the volume control to make the dialog clear.  Overall, the soundtrack fit the film very well.

Extras

Bonus features include music videos, a blooper reel, deleted scenes and audio commentary by the director, producer and writers.  The combo pack I received includes both Blu-ray and DVD copies of the film plus a digital copy for computers and portable devices.