Articles

Movie Renter's Guide - November, 2009

ARTICLE INDEX

"Lie To Me Season One" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-november-2009-lie-to-me

Synopsis

In this unique new crime drama, Tim Roth stars as Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert in “deception detection.” He and his team investigate crimes by carefully interviewing suspects and others looking for signs of lying and other emotions which help lead them to the truth. His team consists of a psychologist (Williams), a computer geek (Hines) and a human lie detector (Raymund) who has a natural ability to detect human emotion from the tiniest of expressions in a subject’s face or body. The plot of each episode takes some unexpected twists and turns as Lightman and his assistants home in on the facts and solve some pretty interesting cases.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2009, Color, Not Rated, 9 Hrs 32 min (13 episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 21Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Tim Roth, Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines, Monica Raymund
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This mid-season show is a unique and fast-paced crime drama that is inspired by actual science. Dr. Lightman who is played expertly by Tim Roth has engaged in years of training and research to turn himself into a human lie detector. He quickly finds that his skills also tell him things about his friends and loved ones that he doesn’t necessarily want to know. Early on, he recruits a new team member in Ria Torres (Raymund). Though untrained in deception detection, she is a naturally gifted reader of emotions, instantly able to tell when people are lying, afraid, or angry. She tends to keep friends at arms length because of her gift and this makes her character somewhat comical as she tries to adapt to various social situations. Eli Loker (Hines) is the team’s techno-geek. His defense mechanism is to always tell the truth whether it’s welcome or not. He is the show’s comic relief as he comes out with some truly funny one-liners. Psychologist Dr. Gillian Foster is nearly as skilled at detection as Dr. Lightman but with a less cynical view of life. She is the glue that binds the whole team together.

The different plot lines are very well thought out, fast-paced and quite original. Each episode covers two different cases. The show is not serialized. The writing is excellent and anyone who is a fan of crime thrillers and twisty-turning plots will appreciate Lie To Me. I remember seeing ads for the show during the last season of 24 so I had been curious to see it. This review opportunity turned into a new show for my wife and I to enjoy.

Technical

Video quality was not the best I’ve seen from TV-based Blu-ray. The image is a bit noisy and contrast levels are sometimes overblown with crushed detail. The image is fairly sharp though with a nicely saturated and natural color palette. Dark scenes are few but shadow detail holds up reasonably well.

The audio is pretty typical of TV with a flatter dynamic range and little use of surrounds or subwoofer compared to most movies. The music is decent and appropriate to the subject matter. Dialog is of average clarity sounding slightly compressed and occasionally sibilant. Tim Roth’s lines sometimes sound muddy as his British accent becomes more prevalent or he speaks more quickly. Voices also sound a bit chesty at times.

Extras

Bonus features are pretty thin with only a single featurette entitled “The Truth About Lies” and a few deleted scenes.


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

movie-november-2009-waterworld

Synopsis

In a far-off future, the Earth’s polar icecaps have melted covering the entire planet with water. Human survivors live on boats and in small communities on the few remaining atolls. The Mariner (Costner) is a drifter living alone on his catamaran scavenging for supplies and food. He sails into an atoll and is quickly discovered to be a mutant with gills and webbed feet. He has evolved to adapt to the “Waterworld.” When the atoll is attacked by “Smokers”, jet ski riding mercenaries, he escapes with a woman, Helen (Tripplehorn) and a young girl, Enola (Majorino). As it turns out, the little girls back is tattooed with a map to the mythical “Dryland.” This makes her a target of the Smokers led by The Deacon (Hopper). After a series of encounters, the girl is captured and The Mariner’s boat is destroyed. The Mariner manages to board The Deacon’s ship, the Exxon Valdez and rescues Enola. After a fortunate rescue by Gregor (Jeter), our heroes manage to decipher the map and they eventually find Dryland. The Mariner feels the pull of the sea however, decides that’s where he belongs, and sails off into the sunset.

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 1995, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hrs 16 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter
  • Directed by Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild with brief nudity
  • Language:Yes

Commentary

This is another film I have always been curious about so I was glad to finally see it in this recent Blu-ray release. The hype surrounding its release in 1995 was extensive due to its immense cost (twice the original budget) and publicized friction between Costner and director Reynolds. It was a flop at the box office but it has enjoyed great success in its various home video releases.

I didn’t find it as bad as some would have you believe. It’s a pretty good action flick as there is rarely a slow moment. Dennis Hopper is truly funny as the over-the-top badguy. Costner delivers his typical deadpan performance but it fits the role well. Jeanne Tripplehorn is a far better actress than this film deserves but she does a fine job. It really wasn’t any worse or any better than other post-apocalypse movies I’ve seen. It’s well worth a rental but I wouldn’t add it to my library.

Technical

This new transfer is fairly typical for a catalog release. It doesn’t measure up to the latest films in terms of sharpness and cleanliness but it is a faithful representation of the original. Film grain is preserved nicely though there is added edge enhancement which I thought unnecessary. Color is highly saturated and sometimes looks pasty and flat, especially in flesh tones. The actors do look like they have spent a lot of time in the sun which is certainly realistic. Contrast levels are consistent with good shadow detail and fairly deep blacks. Dirt is evident on the film which detracts a bit. I wouldn’t say this transfer was done with loving care but I have seen worse.

Audio is above-average for a 14-year old film. The surround channels are used extensively to create the sounds of the sea and of course in all action scenes. The environment is very realistic due to the excellent sound mix. The subwoofer channel is used reasonably well but without the super-low extension of a more modern film. The musical score is composed by James Newton Howard and is a typical Hollywood blockbuster style with a full orchestra and lots of percussion effects.

Extras

There are no on-disc features save for a trailer. The box advertises BD-Live content but doesn’t specify what that is. I did not view this during my review.


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

movie-november-2009-big

Synopsis

A young boy, Josh Baskin, is frustrated with the problems of being young. His baby sister is moving into his room, and other frustrations lead him to wish that he would grow up. Surprisingly enough, the carnival machine that he makes the wish to grants it to him the next morning and he awakes as an adult (Tom Hanks), but still the same person mentally that he was the night before. Now Josh must struggle to find the machine that granted him this wish, as well as discover what life is like as an adult as he tries to fit in and adjust to his new life.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1988, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 13 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia
  • Directed by Penny Marshall
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Mild

Commentary
Having not seen Big since it originally was released, I was curious how it would hold up over the course of 20 years. I must say I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the movie still was, and Tom Hanks does quite a good job in his role of someone young trapped in a body and life that they aren't prepared to handle yet. This is one movie that I will keep on the shelf for when our kids are old enough to watch and enjoy it, as I can enjoy it with them.

Technical

To my eye, Big looked to be quite good for a 20+ year old film. While not as sharp as a modern film would be, it was a better transfer than even some current films that I have watched on Blu-ray, and brought out quite a bit of detail. It was still a touch soft, but overall it was quite nice. The soundtrack is very much what you would expect from a comedy 20 years ago, with some use of the surrounds but not extensively, but dialog was clear and sharp, and I didn't hear any dynamic issues with the audio.

Extras

Most of the extras are carried over from the previous DVD release of the film, with an audio commentary featuring the producer and writers that is spliced together and not scene specific, and is a bit strange compared to most commentary tracks. Also included are some featurettes and a TV special, along with deleted scenes, all of which are in SD. The theatrical trailer is also included, and is presented in HD. I should mention that you can watch the original cut of the film, or an extended cut, which are presented using seamless branching.


"Army of Darkness" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

Army of Darkness

Synopsis

The movie begins with a brief synopsis of Evil Dead 2, showing Ash (Bruce Campbell), being sucked through a portal to the year ~1300AD. He's captured and thrown into a rather nasty pit where he does battle with a ghoulish creature. Thankfully his trusty chainsaw and boomstick followed him through the portal and he's able to lay waste to the baddies. Ash then needs to figure out how in the hell he can get back home. The only way to do this is to find the Necronomicon. To properly retrieve this cursed book, one must chant a special phrase. Ash fails to do this properly and unleashes an Army of Darkness: skeleton soldiers, ghouls, and other Deadites, as they are referred to. Ash then leads the kingdom of soldiers to battle against this Army of Darkness.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1992, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 21 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Bruce Campbell
  • Directed by Sam Raimi
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Gory horror violence, mostly comical
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Some

Commentary

Army of Darkness is a cult classic. Sam Raimi would not be where he is today in Hollywood if it weren't for the popularity of this movie. If anything it defines him as a director. It's a great movie that is a ton of fun to watch with a group. It will have everyone in the room talking about their Boomstick. I think there have been roughly 213* versions of this film on VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. I've watched 2 different dvd versions and the quality was lacking. This new Blu-Ray edition is in another league in terms of looks and sounds. While not perfect, it's the best looking and sounding version of Army of Darkness I've ever watched. Fans should not hesitate to pick it up, unless they are looking for a ton of extras. Universal will no doubt release this movie again, hopefully with a necronomiton of extras in a super duper Boomstick edition.

*Not Factual

Technical

The video quality is a mixed bag. Some scenes will look good, but then it will cut to another shot and the quality jumps down. One scene will have a bit of edge enhancement, while the next will have loads of film grain and spots, followed up by a very soft and dirty shot. The increased resolution also show's off the age of the film's special effects. Overall the picture quality suffers from too much artificial sharpening, which lessens the film's natural look. However, it's certainly a huge leap over the DVD transfers. The audio is pretty darn good, when you consider the film's age and original budget. Solid bass track, although I could have used a little more punch, and a nice use of the surrounds. This Blu-Ray is definitely the best Army of Darkness has ever sounded.

Extras

I'm not exactly sure what "Screwhead Edition" means, but jam-packed with extras is certainly not it. This disc is bare bones with only a few supplements.

Universal's U-Control functionality superimposes production photos over the movie. Then there is a retrospective look at the movie's special effects called Creating the Deadites (1080i, 21:29). Also included is an alternate ending, theatrical trailer, and BD-Live connectivity.


"Child's Play" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

Child's Play

Synopsis

From the start, there is a gun fight and chase that ends up in a toy store. One of the men, Charles Ray, grabs a Good Guy (Chucky) doll and performs some sort of voodoo magic chant that seems to fuse himself into the doll. Ah the magic of lightning! So many magical powers. Then it's off to the Barclay's house were it's Andy's birthday. He gets awesome clothes for his birthday! Yeah!! Poor guy just wants a Good Guy doll. Fortunately his mom scores one in a shady alley from a homeless guy. Chucky's tomfoolery begins quickly as he manages to turn the tv on to see the 9 o'clock news. He then decides to take care of the babysitter. The police of course expect Andy, since a killer doll is pretty hard to believe.

Andy seems like a pretty crazy kid since Chucky only talks to him. Chucky uses Andy to help him commit several murders. The only way back to a normal life for Charles "the Lakeshore Strangler" (Chucky), is to fuse himself into Andy's body. What ever will Andy do?? He's doomed!

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1988, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 27 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon
  • Directed by Tom Holland
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Gory horror violence, mostly comical
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Some

Commentary

This was my first time watching the "horror classic" Child's Play. The actor playing Andy (Alex Vincent) reminded me of the incredibly talented Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace. That's not a good thing. I did enjoy the use of first person perspective for a view from Chucky's world. It's interesting how horror movies have changed through the years. This was a nice change of pace from the gruesome Saw-esque movies. Fan's of these 80's horror movies should not miss out on this release.

Technical

For a movie made in 1988, the video quality is very good. Excellent film-like quality to it. Colors are rich and accurate. Lots of detail in every scene. Quite a bit of film grain but I'd take that anyday over the fake look of too much digital noise reduction.

Pretty good audio for a movie of this age. Dialoge was a bit tinny and empty, but that's to be expected or a movie of this age. The soundtrack has great atomsphere and fidelity, i was quite surprised. Don't expect the wiz-bang surround effects of today's movie's with this soundtrack, but they are pretty good none-the-less.

Extras

Audio Commentary with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chucky designer Kevin Yagher, Audio Commentary with producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini, Scene-specific Chucky commentaries, Evil Comes in Small Packages 3 Featurettes: The Birth of Chucky, Creating the Horror, Unleashed, Chucky: Building a Nightmare Featurette, A Monster Convention Featurette, Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play Vintage Featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer, Still Photo Gallery


"Role Models" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

Role Models

Synopsis

Danny Donahue (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Sean William Scott) are two energy drink salesmen giving anti-drug (Minotaur sales pitches) speeches to local schools. Danny hates his job along with everything else. A totally "Negative Nancy." He attempts to propose to his girlfriend but she turns him down. Things only get worse when their truck gets towed. They try to drive it away off the tow truck only to crash it into the school statue. Danny and Wheeler are sentenced to log 150 hours of community service over the next thirty days. The judge selects for their community service a big-brother style program called Sturdy Wings, led by Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch), an ex-drug addict, who takes an instant dislike to Danny and Wheeler. Wheeler is paired up with Ronnie Shields, a foul-mouthed boy who has driven away all the other big brothers. Danny is paired up with Augie Farks, a nerdy teenager obsessed with live action role-playing games (LARPing).

The group attempts to bond during a camping trip, but don't have much success. It's not till the very entertaining LARPing scene where the four of them come together and Danny, especially, "grows up." It's a great scene where Augie manages to take out the King, played by the hilarious Ken Jeong, but the King has nothing of it and lies to everyone else. Danny makes a few more mistakes and loses the trust of Augie, but in the end gains it back by getting Augie back into the role playing clan. The four end up creating a new fantasy nation and doing battle against the rest of the nerds.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2008, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 39 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Jeong
  • Directed by David Wain
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Role Models is an entertaining movie. It's pretty light-hearted and shouldn't make you feel depressed after watching. I was expecting it to be a bit funnier than it was. The middle of the movie is a tad slow, but its worth it for the final LARP scene. This Blu-Ray does the movie justice and its certainly worth at least a rental and even a purchase if you are already a fan.

Technical

Good picture quality, but this won't be a disc you pull out to show off to your friends the brilliance of Blu-Ray. The transfer is clean and relatively detailed, perfectly sufficient for this type of movie. The Audio is about the same- sufficient. Nothing that will blow you away, it just gets the job done.

Extras

The Deleted Scenes, Alternate Takes, and Bloopers were my favorite of the extras. Only die hard fans will bother with anything else. Also included are Audio Commentary, Featurettes, U-Control Picture-in-Picture, "My Scenes" Interactive Bookmark Function, Ye Old Crest Maker, and BD-Live Content.

Audio Commentary with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chucky designer Kevin Yagher, Audio Commentary with producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini, Scene-specific Chucky commentaries, Evil Comes in Small Packages 3 Featurettes: The Birth of Chucky, Creating the Horror, Unleashed, Chucky: Building a Nightmare Featurette, A Monster Convention Featurette, Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play Vintage Featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer.

Audio Commentary with Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chucky designer Kevin Yagher, Audio Commentary with producer David Kirschner and screenwriter Don Mancini, Scene-specific Chucky commentaries, Evil Comes in Small Packages 3 Featurettes: The Birth of Chucky, Creating the Horror, Unleashed, Chucky: Building a Nightmare Featurette, A Monster Convention Featurette, Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play Vintage Featurette, Original Theatrical Trailer, Still Photo Gallery


"Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-november-2009-wrong-turn-3

Synopsis

A group of young people are vacationing in a forest in West Virginia and are attacked by a colony of inbred mutants who butcher them in very gruesome ways. Only one of them escapes.

Meanwhile, at Grafton Penitentiary, also in West Virginia, some inmates are being transferred in a bus, and there is an accident. The inmates escape into the same forest where the mutants live.

The criminals are carrying some stolen money, and they have to decide if they are going to kill each other over it, or work together to complete their escape and share the stolen loot.

The convicts discover the mutants, only this time, it is not so easy for the mutants to do their thing. These guys are used to violence and know how to deal it out themselves.

At the end, there is only one person alive. Is it a convict or a mutant?

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 32 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Tom Frederic, Janet Montgomery, Tarner Hassan, Todd Jensen
  • Directed by Declan O'Brien
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I thought graphic violence was about as intense as it could get, but this movie takes it a big leap beyond what I have seen before. It is so graphic, it seems unreal. The acting is very "Indie" . . . very low budget, but effectively scary.

Technical

The picture is extremely sharp. I wish all BDs were this good in terms of image quality. However, there is not much use of the surround channels.

Extras

These include Action, Gore and Chaos!, Brothers in Blood, Three Finger's Flight Night, and Deleted Scenes.


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

movie-november-2009-bruno

Synopsis

Bruno (Cohen) is a host of a TV program in Austria called "Funky Side", which focuses on fashion.

When Bruno is fired from the show, he decides to go to Los Angeles and start another program where he would interview celebrities.

This doesn't work out so well, and he tries working in the Middle East, where Muslims don't particularly appreciate his flamboyantly gay behavior.

Well, what about seeing how National Guard soldiers at Fort McClellan like him? No, I guess not.

So, finally, he becomes a host in a cage fighting venue, and after getting the crowd really cheering about their "straightness", Bruno starts making out with his assistant in the cage arena. You can imagine the results.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 22 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Elton John, LaToya Jackson, Paula Abdul, Sting
  • Directed by Larry Charles and Dan Mazer
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Explicit
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Sacha Baron Cohen is undoubtedly the most outrageous actor who has ever existed. I really don't know how he keeps from getting himself killed. The man does have real talent though. He was nominated for an Oscar and was a Golden Globe winner (for his performance in a different movie).

Technical

The picture has some noticeable edge enhancement, but is otherwise good. Again, not much use of the surround channels.I really wish studios would use the surrounds more. Otherwise, what was the purpose of coming up with the "home theater experience" concept?

Extras

These include Deleted Scenes, Extended Scenes, Interview with Lloyd Robinson, a Digital Copy for your Video iPod, and BD-Live.


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

Doom

Synopsis

Sometime in the near future, something goes horribly wrong on the Olduvai research center on the planet Mars. After receiving a rather frightening request for assistance from the Mars station, "Sarge" (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and his battle-hardened Rapid Response Tactical Squad are teleported to Mars to quarantine the facility and prohibit any potential threats from reaching Earth. Little does the RRTS team know what hell the Olduvai scientists have unleashed.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2005, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 53 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosmund Pike, and Raz Adoti
  • Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Doom will always hold a special place in my heart. Credited with being the breakout "first-person shooter," Doom was a defining moment in video game history and I spent countless hours playing the game and its sequels and expansion packs. "Doom" is not a very faithful translation of the game's storyline (not that the game was big on plot), but the changes really don't impact how the movie plays out. Unfortunately, "Doom" seems to have fallen prey to the same issues that have plagued every other video game translation in Hollywood history; weak storyline, cheesy acting, hokey dialogue, and the loss of what made the video game such a hit in the first place - fun. However, there are some great action scenes, plenty of gore and mayhem, lots of guns, and a kick-ass hard rock/industrial soundtrack. There is also a valiant attempt at recreating the "first-person shooter" point of view used in the video game. I found myself enjoying this movie more than I expected to, at least until the final act of the film. The ending was far too "Hollywood" for my taste, and didn't fit well with the darker tone set up to that point.

Technical

Overall, this was a fantastic looking disc. The image was very sharp, with no noticeable grain or video noise. The picture had great depth to it, with excellent black levels and contrast. This is an excellent disc to test your display's black level and shadow detail performance. Some may think that the footage is too dark, with many scenes being obscured by almost total blackness. This is an aspect that mirrored the game closely, making the viewer wonder what's going to be around the next corner. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was great as well. The LFE and surround channels were used judiciously, with great dynamics befitting an action movie. Dialog was very clear and there were plenty of subtle sound effects that helped establish a feeling of dread. I got a real kick out of the soundtrack, which features cut after cut of thumping industrial-rock tunes. While it may not be to your taste, I think the soundtrack fit the movie very well and was the highlight of the film for me.

Extras

There were some pretty good bonus features on the disc, but not all were in HD. The featurettes include: "Basic Training" - a video that shows the cast getting trained in basic military maneuvers, "Rock Formation," "Master Monster Makers," "Doom Nation," "Game On," and "First-Person Shooter Sequence" for those who wish to view an extended version of the first-person shooter scene from the movie and see how it was shot. There is also some basic BD-Live connectivity to upload favorite scenes and view other movie trailers.


"Shaun of the Dead" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-november-2009-shaun-of-the-dead

Synopsis


Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a normal, everyday working man who is trying to cope with the same things we all do: roommates, family, a job, and a relationship. Just as he decides to turn his life around, a satellite crashes in Britain and starts to turn people into Zombies. Now he must spring into action to save himself and those around him, and get his life into order.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2004, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 39 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Simon Pegg, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Nick Frost
  • Directed by Edgar Wright
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Medium
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Medium

Commentary

I have to be honest and say that Shaun of the Dead was not my cup of tea. All of my friends raved about it, so I really looked forward to watching it when it arrived, but it just didn't click for me. I'm not sure if it's the style of humor, or something else, but I just found it to be slow moving, and not that funny. Perhaps this style of movie (I also don't enjoy "This is Spinal Tap" really) is just not something that I enjoy as much as others.

Technical

Shaun featured a pretty nice looking video transfer, with overall good detail, especially for a movie that had a fairly small budget. I didn't really notice any grain and the overall quality was very high. This carries over to the soundtrack, which is very impressive for a comedy/horror film. Using the surrounds fairly aggressively to draw you into the scene, and with very clear music and vocals, the soundtrack is a winner overall and much better than most other films of this genre.

Extras

This is a fairly loaded Blu-ray, featuring BD-Live content, multiple commentary tracks, deleted scenes and outtakes, trailers, Zombie trivia, and extra commentary from the characters on story-boarded scenes that weren't shot but expand on their character. Universal really loaded this single disc release with all the extras they could fit onto it.


"The Scorpion King" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-november-2009-the-scorpion-king

Synopsis


In an ancient desert land, the evil ruler Memnon (Steven Brand) is conquering all lands around him with the help of his future-telling sorceress (Kelly Hu). The remaining free people of the world hire a band of three Acadian assassins to kill the sorceress in an effort to make Memnon's armies vulnerable to attack. Led by Mathayus (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), the Acadians quickly realize that Memnon is no easy mark and that the future of the world may hinge upon their success.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2002, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 32 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kelly Hu, Bernard Hill, Grant Heslov, Peter Facinelli, and Michael Clarke Duncan
  • Directed by Chuck Russell
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Some sensuality
  • Language: None

Commentary

"The Scorpion King" may not be an Oscar-worthy film, but it certainly was fun. The plot was simple, yet effective, and keeps the story progressing nicely. The action sequences were entertaining, with some good swordplay and fight sequences. Overall, the acting was okay, but this is not a dialogue driven film. The Rock played the part of Mathayus well, and it was nice to see him use his natural comedic talents. His signature "eye arch" when he falls (quite literally) into the home of Memnon's concubines is simply priceless. "The Scorpion King" was an entertaining movie, and certainly worthy of a viewing for those who enjoy a good popcorn flick.

Technical

Video quality was consistently good througout the film. The image was sharp, without significant edge enhancement. Colors were vibrant, yet not over the top. Film grain appeared to be befitting of the source material, though there was the occasional bit of dust or dirt on the print. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack did not disappoint either. Bass impact was forceful and the surrounds were used to good effect, as they should be in an action movie. The overall sound was very clear and well balanced, though I thought that the soundtrack could have come through with a bit more punch. If you listen to the song that plays during the end credits, it sounds like it was recorded from within a paper bag, with no force or energy. I own the soundtrack to this movie on CD, and the hard rock songs have far more life and dynamics to them on the CD.

Extras

There was very little in the way of bonus content on this disc. There is a commentary track from the director and some U-Control-based behind the scenes footage that can be accessed while watching the movie (but only if you enable U-Control).

"The Rundown" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-november-2009-the-rundown

Synopsis


Beck (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is a repo-man with dreams of opening his own restaurant. The only problem is that he doesn't have enough cash for the startup. To solve the cash flow problem, Beck takes one final job from his boss Walker. The job: retrieve Walker's son Travis (Seann William Scott) from a South American mining town and bring him back to the US. Upon arriving in "Helldorado," Beck finds the town under the harsh and oppressive rule of Hatcher (Christopher Walken). However, Travis holds the key to a long-lost relic that could free the people of Helldorado from their virtual slavery. Together with the help of the town barmaid Mariana (Rosario Dawson), Beck and Travis embark on a journey through the jungle to find the sacred artifact and restore freedom to the people.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2003, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 45 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Seann William Scott, Christopher Walken, Rosario Dawson
  • Directed by Peter Berg
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Moderate

Commentary

After the stresses of everyday life, I always enjoy sitting down and watching a movie that just entertains me. No complex or convoluted plot, no deep earth-shattering revelations, just pure simple fun. "The Rundown" is that type of movie. The Rock, Seann William Scott, and Christopher Walken all played their roles very well, with each actor injecting their own style of humor into the film. I love seeing Walken play the villain, and the role of Hatcher suited him well. There was plenty of action throughout the film and the pacing remains quick and focused. The plot may not be very deep, but it keeps the story entertaining. The rain forest settings were beautiful, and there were some fantastic aerial shots of the "Amazon" jungle (in reality, Hawaii).

Technical

Considering that this was only a single-layer BD-25 disc, picture quality was very good. There was a fair amount of film grain, but the picture was still very sharp and fine details were easily visible. Colors were vibrant, but I felt that the greens in the jungle scenes were slightly oversaturated and crossed into the "nuclear" range. While not natural, it certainly gave the jungle scenes some added "pop." The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was also well done, with great bass and plenty of action in the surround channels. Dialogue was very clear and easy to understand. The final action scene was a blast, and will give your audio system a great workout.

Extras

Extras are a mix of SD and HD (mostly SD) and include: feature commentaries, deleted scenes, "Rumble in the Jungle," "The Amazon, Hawaii Style," "Appetite for Destruction," "The Rundown Uncensored," "Running Down the Town," and "Walken's World."


"High Crimes" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-november-2009-high-crimes

Synopsis

Claire Kubik (Judd) is a successful San Francisco attorney who is living a near-perfect life with her husband Tom (Caviezel). One night they are out together and Tom is arrested by a team of FBI agents. It turns out that he is being accused of the murder of nine civilians in a remote Latin American village fifteen years earlier while serving in the Marine Corps. Claire decides to represent him and enlists the aid of a young inexperienced military lawyer and old salt ex-military lawyer named Charles Grimes (Freeman). Once the trial starts there is one twist after another as the defense team uncovers various conspiracies and buried facts. Claire and her sister Jackie (Peet) are suddenly the target of mysterious thugs and Grimes manages to become a victim as well as he digs deeper and closes in on the truth. When the facts come out, it sets up an ending that is totally unexpected.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2002, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 55 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 18.85Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Jim Caviezel, Amanda Peet, Tom Bower
  • Directed by Carl Franklin
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Brief
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I really enjoy a good crime drama and this is one is a great example of the genre. The different character roles are perfectly cast and fine performances are turned in by all the principal actors. Ashley Judd plays the devoted wife determined to clear her husband’s name. Morgan Freeman provides an ideal counterpoint with his shrewd approach to the military justice system. Jim Caviezel is a tremendous actor and his every emotion spills forth for all to see as he tries to maintain his wife’s trust and prove his innocence. There is a just right blend of action and dialog driven scenes. The only head-scratcher for me in this film was the inclusion of Claire’s sister Jackie, played wonderfully by Amanda Peet. Although she is a fine actor, I could not determine what her purpose was in the story. Her character merely fills up time in various scenes playing a complete opposite to Claire’s tough take-no-prisoners personality. Jackie is totally self-centered and always dependant on others for her very survival. The plot would have been exactly the same without her and the film perhaps twenty minutes shorter. This is a film I would watch again and I have added it to my library.

Technical

The image is above average for a catalog title. Contrast is deep and uniform with solid shadow detail and decent black levels. Color is superb with a high degree of accuracy and crisp delineation. It’s always clear how a particular scene is lit whether it is under fluorescents, sunlight, candlelight or tungsten. Flesh tones are nicely saturated with a warm look and sharp focus. Film grain is minimal and fine elements are nicely rendered. Tiny details like skin texture and hair pop right out in every scene. The only thing that keeps this transfer from being reference-quality is the added edge enhancement. It persists throughout the movie and is very obvious in bright scenes. I continue to puzzle over why telecine operators add any sort of artificial sharpness to a film transfer. The vast majority of viewers will have some sort of image enhancement feature active on their display anyway. Why not leave the video unspoiled and let those of us who have sworn off such features see the product in its natural state. With a properly calibrated display there is absolutely no need for this.

Audio is also above average for a catalog release. Dialog is very clear and crisp and you can plainly hear what environment everyone is speaking in. Outdoors sounds like outdoors, small rooms sound like small rooms; you get the idea. This sort of sound mixing is a great way to pull the viewer into a scene and I applaud the creators for their efforts. Surrounds and LFE are used sparingly but appropriately. The car crash scene near the end of the film is very impactful. Quick pans are used across the front soundstage with plenty of loud thumps and crunches from the subwoofer.

Extras

Bonus features include a full-length audio commentary by director Carl Franklin, six short standard-def featurettes and the original theatrical trailer.

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Synopsis

A Confederate soldier named Bill Carson has made off with $200,000 worth of the South's gold. Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef) is the man hired to get it back. Tuco (Eli Wallach) and Blondie (Clint Eastwood) are unlikely partners who use Tuco's wanted status as a creative way to earn a living. After a rather harsh parting of ways, Blondie and Tuco stumble onto Bill Carson during his waning moments on Earth. With his dying breath Carson tells Tuco the name of the cemetary where he hid the gold. Carson dies while Tuco is fetching some water, but not before he gives Blondie the name of the grave where the gold is buried. In order to find the loot, Blondie and Tuco must put aside their differences and keep each other alive, which is no easy task with Angel Eyes, the Confederacy, and the Union all standing in their way.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1966, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 41 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 18 Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffre, and Mario Brega
  • Directed by Sergio Leone
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Moderate
  • Sex: Brief Nudity
  • Language: No

Commentary

Sad as this may be, I had never seen this classic film until now. Having heard how great this movie was from many different sources, I went into it with high expectations. After the nearly three-hour journey, I was left scratching my head. Yes, Clint Eastwood was pretty cool as Blondie. Yes, the cinematography was amazing. Yes, the music was cool. However, what was with the cheesy voice-overs and lip-syncing? Was this a Chinese martial arts film? The actors appeared to be speaking in English in all of the scenes, so why couldn't they just record their voices? What was with all of the "Mexicans" being played by those of obvious Italian descent? Why film a western in Italy to begin with? I watched the movie with my wife, and we both found ourselves giggling (yes, I do giggle) at the silliness of these things. On the flip side, there were some pretty cool aspects to the movie, such as some fine acting and incredible shots of the land. I particularly liked the role of the "Alcoholic Union Captain," as he made you think about the senselessness of war and how thousands of men would be sacrificed for a spot on a map. I also enjoyed how the plot kept the three leads at constant odds with one another. Despite my criticisms, I still enjoyed this film as it had an endearing degree of fun to it that you don't often see in a movie.

Technical

At first, I was surprised by how good the image looked for such an old movie. Colors were rich and vibrant, and there was some great depth to most of the shots. Close-ups in particular looked fantastic. However, as the movie progressed, I started noticing that in almost every long shot, there was almost no detail visible. Shrubs and trees looked more like green and brown blobs, with no individual branches or leaves visible. Apparently, there a lot of digital noise reduction (DNR) used in the encoding process in order to remove macroblocking and other artifacts. This is a real shame since the close up shots prove how good this movie could have looked throughout. Film grain was still apparent, as was dust and dirt in the print. There was one particular scene (where Blondie and Tuco are riding in the Confederate wagon) that showed some nasty examples of damage to the original film source, with yellowish-brown lines and haze through the shot.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio was a bit of a letdown for me. While I loved the musical score, I found the presentation to be very harsh and biting. I'm surprised that they didn't apply at least a touch of equalization in order to bring the excessive mid-range and treble down from the stratosphere. There was little use of the surround channels, but given the age of the film and the mono source, I can't really complain about that too much. Dialogue intelligibility was very good and there was some impressive bass scattered throughout the movie as well. The cannons and revolvers packed some real punch, particularly in the final battle over the river bridge.

Extras

This disc is well stocked with extras, though most of these were ported over from the last DVD release. There are audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, a featurette on Sergio Leone, a Civil War documentary, a look into the restoration of the film, a featurette on composer Ennio Morricone, and the original trailers (in HD).


"Monsters, Inc." (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Monsters, Inc.

Synopsis

At Monsters, Inc., all the boogey men who scare children in their bedrooms at night are trained.

One day, a human child named Boo (Gibbs) accidentally walks through the secret door into the world of Monsters, Inc.

Sully (Goodman) and Mike (Crystal) do their best to hide the child, since if she is discovered by their boss and they are blamed, they will be banished from Monsters, Inc. forever.

Unfortunately, Boo is discovered in their world, so Sully and Mike are banished.

Now to the problem of getting back into Monsters, Inc., and at the same time, getting the child back into her real world of humans.

Specifications

  • Disney/Pixar
  • 2001, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Mary Gibbs
  • Directed by Pete Docter and David Silverman
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This was a big hit for Pixar back in 2001, and the Blu-ray version literally jumps off the screen. It will be especially sharp to those with flat panel displays, as opposed to projectors, because the images will never have passed through a lens. The animation is spectacular, and Disney/Pixar has learned how to entertain both the kids you take to see their films, and the adults who take them.

Technical

I think this is about as sharp as Blu-ray can get. Wow!! And finally, full use of the surrounds.

Extras

There are four discs in this special package, so you can imagine all the extras. They include Ride and Go Seek, Filmmakers' Round Table, Mike's New Car, For the Birds, Pixar Fun Factory Tour, Banished Concepts, the SD version of the movie, and a Digital Copy for your video iPod.


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

Up

Synopsis

Carl Fredericksen (Asner) has been an adventurer all his life, and the little girl next door (Ellie) is just as adventurous. Of course, when they grow up, they marry and set out on life's main adventure.

Carl is a balloon salesman, and when he retires, he gets a little bored.

So, he attaches a load of helium-filled balloons to his house, and up he goes.

Unfortunately, a little boy named Russell (Nagai) who came knocking on his door was still on the porch when the house took off to the wild blue, and now, together, the two "explorers" are heading into the unknown.

They land on Paradise Island, and find strange creatures there, including a talking dog named Dug. They also just happen to find Charles Muntz, who, when Carl was a boy, had set off to Paradise Island to bring back one of the strange creatures.

But now, it is time to go home, and getting back isn't as easy as they might have thought.

Specifications

  • Disney/Pixar
  • 2009, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, John Ratzenberger, Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo
  • Directed by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Disney/Pixar is really getting the hang of creating animation films that everyone can enjoy, young and old alike. In this one, they have included some material that might bring tears, just as does life's real adventures.

Technical

Like Monsters, Inc., reviewed just previous to this movie, UP has spectacular image quality, especially if you watch it on a flat panel display, as the images never will have passed through a lens. The surrounds were not used as much as with Monsters, Inc., but still, more than the average flick.

Extras

Disney has put four discs in the package. The extras are on the other three discs, and they include Dug's Special Mission, The Making of, The Many Endings of Muntz, Global Guardian Badge Game, Married Life, Travel to the Real Paradise Falls, the SD version on DVD, and a Digital Copy for your Video iPod.