Media

Movie Renter's Guide - October, 2009

ARTICLE INDEX

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Snow White and the Seven DwarfsSynopsis

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom ruled by an evil queen (La Verne) who was vain about her beauty. Each day she would go to her magic mirror and ask the mirror who is the fairest in the land. The mirror (Olsen) would answer that the queen is the fairest.

But, her stepdaughter, Snow White (Caselotti), becomes very beautiful as she grows into a young woman, and one day, the mirror says that Snow White is the fairest in the land.

Meanwhile, Snow White meets a young prince in her garden, and they fall in love instantly.

The queen orders her huntsman to take Snow White into the forest and kill her, and bring back her heart as proof of her death. The huntsman cannot bring himself to kill Snow White, and tells her to run into the forest and never return.

Snow White discovers a quaint cottage, where seven dwarfs live. She tells them she will keep house and cook for them if they let her stay.

Everything is fine for awhile, until the queen asks the mirror about her beauty, and the mirror says that Snow White still lives. So, the queen uses her own magic spell to turn herself into an old woman. She finds the cottage, with Snow White there alone while the dwarfs are off working in their diamond mine, and coaxes her to bite a poisoned apple. Snow White falls into a deep sleeping death, with the only antidote being the kiss of true love.

The dwarfs come home to discover the queen in her disguise, who runs away, and they chase her to the top of a mountain, where the queen falls to her death. When the dwarfs return to their cottage, they find Snow White apparently dead. They don't know that she is just in a deep sleep. They put her in a glass coffin and stand watch over it constantly.

The prince happens by, and gives Snow White a kiss, she awakens, they ride off into the sunset, and live happily ever after.

 

Specifications

  • Walt Disney
  • 1937, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 24 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring (Voices of) Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Billy Gilbert, Harry Stockwell, Moroni Olsen
  • Directed by David Hand
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

OK, so you already know every detail of the story in this movie. But did you know it was Disney's first animated full length feature? In fact, it was the first full length animated feature that had ever been produced, at any studio.

At the time, Walt Disney owned Hyperion Studios, where he made cartoon shorts. The problem was, the cartoons didn't really make much money. He realized that the only way to get the big bucks was to make a full length animated film. So, he started putting it all together. He hired 300 people (before that, there were only a handful of employees at his studio), borrowed money from the bank, and went to work.

The trade papers said it was a ridiculous idea to make a full length cartoon, and that no one would pay to see it. Well, it turned out to be a smash hit, and others, such as Laurel and Hardy, who also were making shorts, decided to go into full length features. Charlie Chaplin realized the value of full length features over shorts a bit earlier, with Modern Times (1936).

It was a good thing that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was successful, because it cost a staggering 1.5 million dollars. Disney originally estimated it at $250,000 and had to go back to the bank and convince them to lend his studio more money. So, Disney brought the bankers to his studio and showed them the film in an uncompleted form, with some of it in color, and other parts in penciled sketches. The bankers told Disney he was going to make a fortune on the movie, and sent him the check.

Also, something I did not know is that Snow White had been made into a movie with actors in the silent era, before this animated version was produced. Snow White is actually one of the original Grimms Fairy Tales, entitled Little Snow White. (There is also a tale called Snow White and Rose Red.)

Like movies with live people, animated features have flubs. I noticed that in one scene, Doc was playing the guitar right handed, but in the next scene, he was playing it left handed. Also, notice the glass coffin has Snow White resting on a platform covered by the glass case. But, when the prince arrives, the glass case is gone and she is just resting on the platform. I suppose the studio realized that (1) Snow White would run out of air if the glass case covered her, and (2) the prince would have to have the dwarfs help him remove the glass case in order for him to kiss her.

I gave the disc a five star entertainment rating mostly for historical reasons. But, it does have its laughs (the rule for making cartoons in those days was to deliver a laugh each minute), and sorrowful moments. It will entertain your young children, and is certainly one for your permanent collection.

Technical

The image is quite sharp, and I can imagine the difficulty in restoring the film from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives. Technicians scanned more than 350,000 frames, removing all dust and scratches. There is not much detail in the animation because each frame was hand painted, and in 1937, cartoons didn't have much detail in them, because it wasn't needed. Nevertheless, there is a life to the images that I don't sense in modern films that use state of the art CG to produce characters and scenery that have an enormous amount of detail.

The sound is remarkable for having been dug out of the 1937 vault, but it's mono, and the jacket states that the soundtrack is 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. I barely got a sense of sound coming from the left and right front speakers, let alone side and rear surrounds.

Extras

These include the SD DVD version, a Music Video, Deleted Scenes, What do You See?, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Newly Discovered Storyboards, The One that Started it All, Dopey's Wild Mine Ride, Disney Through the Decades, and other things.


"The Proposal" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

The ProposalSynopsis

Margaret Tate (Bullock) is the Editor-in-Chief of a book publishing company called Ruick & Hunt.

The staff hate her because she is a take-no-prisoners type of personality.

Her personal assistant, Andrew Paxton (Reynolds), particularly dislikes her because he is around her all the time.

One afternoon, the president of the company calls her into his office and says that she is being deported back to her native country, Canada, because she didn't fill out the immigration papers correctly.

Realizing that she would not be deported if she were married, she tells the president that she and Andrew are engaged. Andrew reluctantly agrees, knowing that after the marriage, they can get a divorce and all will be well.

Down at the Immigration Services however, they are told that if this is a fraudulent marriage for the purpose of keeping Margaret from being deported, Andrew could go to prison for five years.

So, Andrew uses this to make the deal a bit sweeter for himself, insisting that she promote him to Editor and publish his manuscript into a book.

They travel to Alaska to meet Andrew's family, because Margaret has an appointment with the Immigration Services to be questioned in great detail, and if she doesn't know the answers to questions about Andrew's family, the ruse will be discovered.

What happens in Alaska is the comedic core of the story, with an ending that all of you would guess.

 

Specifications

  • Touchstone
  • 2009, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 48 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen, Betty White
  • Directed by Anne Fletcher
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Sandra Bullock always is enjoyable in movies because of her talent for getting into and out of very funny situations.

Technical

The image is not as sharp as it should be, and there is essentially no use of the surround channels.

Extras

These include an Alternate Ending, Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, and other things.


"Qdeo HD Video Test Disc" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Qdeo HD Video Test DiscSynopsis

Marvell has produced a new HD test disc that enables objective evaluation of the quality of video processing in HD audio-video products like Blu-ray players, A/V receivers, and HDTVs. The HD test disc has been designed to provide a mechanism for comprehensive testing of the main elements of video processing, namely noise reduction, format conversion, and image enhancement. The noise reduction test patterns check the ability of the system under test to reduce analog and digital noise.

The format conversion test patterns provide a comprehensive test of the capabilities of the de-interlacing done by the system. The enhancement patterns check for the presence and performance of a variety of leading-edge types of enhancements including detail enhancement, adaptive contrast enhancement, intelligent color remapping, and bit-resolution-expansion. The disc also includes a set of test patterns for calibration of the video settings of the system, as well as a demonstration section and an HD video montage to show the visual impact of high quality video processing.

 

Specifications

  • Marvell Corporation
  • 2009
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD
  • Produced by Marvell Corporation
  • Clearly Qdeo

Commentary

There are a number of companies out there who have introduced test discs for HD calibration, but they are also designed to show flaws in the decoding. If you are really into finding out what your DVD player and HDTV can and cannot do, it would be a good idea to get all the discs, because each one has different tests. I would take the discs to the store where I was planning to buy a player and run some of the tests on the player to see how it performs. This might drive the salesperson crazy, but you will end up with a player that gives you an excellent picture (assuming it passes most of the tests).


"Spears & Munsil HD Video Test Disc" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Spears and Munsil HD Video Test DiscSynopsis

Based on the Secrets DVD Player Benchmark, Stacey Spears and Don Munsil (who now work for Microsoft) put together an HD test disc with some of our original tests, plus others that they designed themselves.

These include patterns for calibration, tests for de-interlacing, samples from various video and audio codecs, and many other things.

 

Specifications

  • Spears & Munsil
  • 2009
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD
  • MSRP: $25
  • Spears & Munsil

Commentary

One of the things that makes this a great test disc is that it is not designed to highlight any specific technology, but rather, focuses on getting the best out of what equipment you have. These two guys are some of the brightest in the field, and if I were to purchase just one disc to test players and HDTVs, this is the one I would get. If you purchased an OPPO BDP-83 Blu-ray player, this test disc was included. We use this disc in our current Benchmark tests for Blu-ray players.


"The Girl Next Door" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

The Girl Next DoorSynopsis

Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a high school senior who's just about to graduate and move onto college who thinks he's led a fairly boring high school life. His perspective on this changes when a new girl, Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door he finally starts to experience new things. Of course, when his friends discover that she's actually a porn star, things start to move out of control more quickly than he would like.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2004, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Elisha Cuthbert, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant
  • Directed by Luke Greenfield
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Nudity, Explicit Discussions
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I'll admit that I'm outside of the age group now that a teen comedy like this is targeted towards, but there are many teen comedies that I still enjoy today. Unfortunately, this won't be joining the ranks of those movies as it fell flat for me. Most of the humor just wasn't that funny to me, and I didn't really care much about any of the characters. I did somewhat enjoy Timothy Olyphant's performance, but I usually enjoy it when he shows up in a film and it had a very nice soundtrack.

Technical

Unfortunately from the time you see the 20th Century Fox logo, you can tell that not much time or effort was spent on this video transfer. The image is very soft, to the point that you almost feel that it looks like a very nice upconverted DVD sometimes. The soundtrack is also lacking, with very little use of the surround channels at all except for a few times when songs are played back through them. There were plenty of scenes that could have benefited from more aggressive use of the surrounds to bring you more into the movie.

Extras

The Blu-ray features a full length directors commentary with occasional comments from Emile Hirsch and Elisha Cuthbert, some deleted scenes and a gag reel, as well as the standard making-of featurette. All of the extras are presented in SD and not in HD.


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

MiserySynopsis

Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is a writer who suffers a car accident in a blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. Seemingly rescued by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates, who won an Oscar for her performance), a nurse who finds him wrecked in his car and also happens to be his biggest fan. However, Annie's obsession with Paul, and his novels, starts to move beyond that of just an average fan, and when his new novel comes out with a plot twist she doesn't want, things start to spin even more out of his control.

 

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1990, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 47 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring James Caan, Kathy Bates
  • Directed by Rob Reiner
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Heavy
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I used to read Stephen King when I was young as reading horror has never bothered me, but watching horror on the screen has always been hard for me. Misery was no different than any other great horror movie as the tension builds throughout the movie, but doesn't resort to cheap stunts to scare you as many other horror films do. A fantastic performance by Kathy Bates highlights the film and I enjoyed watching it again, though I admittedly did so during the middle of the day with plenty of lights on.

Technical

For a movie that's close to 20 years old, Misery looked fantastic on Blu-ray. I could make out the details and textures on fabrics, and the picture was very sharp. There was a faint hint of film grain, but nothing distracting, and it doesn't harm the detail at all. The only downside was an occasional wide shot wouldn't be quite as sharp as the rest of the shots, but overall the film looked fantastic. The audio track was also very good, with good use of the surrounds and dialog was clear and sharp. A very nice presentation for a movie that's close to two decades old.

Extras

The Blu-ray disc has no extra features on it. Included in the case in a DVD copy of the film that contains a full director and screenwriter commentary and multiple featurettes and a trailer. Given that there was plenty of space left on the Blu-ray disc, it's too bad they weren't included so you could watch the film in high definition with the commentary tracks.All of the extras are presented in SD and not in HD.


"Disaster Movie" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

Disaster MovieSynopsis

"Disaster Movie" is the latest effort from the team that created "Date Movie," "Epic Movie," and "Meet the Spartans." A series of natural disasters serve as the backdrop for Will (Matt Lanter) to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend Amy (Vanessa Minnillo) and save the world from impending doom. The story is played out through a series of spoofs on recent movies such as "10,000 B.C.," "High School Musical," and "Sex and the City," along with parodies of present-day celebrities like Hannah Montana, Michael Jackson, and Jessica Simpson.

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2008, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Matt Lanter, Vanessa Minnillo, Gary "G-Thang" Johnson, Nicole Parker, Crista Flanagan, Kim Kardashian, and Carmen Electra
  • Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Moderate
  • Sex: Brief Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The title of this movie pretty much sums up my feelings on this one. Quite simply,"Disaster Movie"was an absolute disaster to watch. The plot was non-existent and the acting was horrible. I could forgive this if the movie was actually funny, but it wasn't. The spoofs and parodies were just pointless and dragged on for far longer than they should have without adding any laughs or helping the plot along. However, there is obviously an audience for this type of movie (since they keep making more of them), but I'm just not a member.

Technical

The video quality was befitting of a recently released film. The picture was sharp, with fairly vibrant colors and good image depth. In fact, there was an almost video-like smoothness to the whole film, though it couldn't make up for the abysmal storyline. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was also fairly dynamic, at least during the musical scenes. Dialog intelligibility was very good but there was not a ton of action in the surround channels. Bass was solid, particulary in a few of the musical and disaster scenes. I was also surprised to see a true 7.1 mix on this disc and have to commend Lions Gate for going the extra step and including the discrete back surround channels.

Extras

There are a fair amount of extras on the BD50 disc, and all of the ones I checked out were in HD. There is a "BonusView" picture-in-picture commentary as well as a few "sing alongs" featuring a couple of the key musical sequences from the movie. There is also a BD Live application called "MoLog" that lets viewers insert and animate shapes, pictures, text, and audio into the movie and then share their creations with other "MoLog" users.


"The Tale of Despereaux" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

The Tale of DespereauxSynopsis

In the kingdom of Dor, the Queen suffers a heart attack after an unfortunate incident involving a rat named Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and a bowl of soup.  The King then banishes all rats and the cooking of soup, which casts the kingdom into a depressed state.  Shortly afterward, a tiny mouse with gigantic ears named Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) is born beneath the castle.  Despereaux is unlike other mice.  He is not afraid of cats or humans, and during one of his explorations he manages to befriend Princess Pea (voiced by Emma Watson).  When the princess is captured by the rats, Despereaux races to action and with the help of Roscuro they manage to save the day and restore Dor to its former glory.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2008, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 34 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, William H. Macy, Tracey Ullman, Emma Watson, and Sigourney Weaver
  • Directed by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This movie had a lot of potential, but a fragmented plot kept it from being very entertaining.  The pacing was very slow, even for adults.  I can't imagine this story holding the interest of a child for more than a few minutes.  Despite the excellent actors cast to do the voice-overs, I didn't feel any type of emotional connection to any of the characters.  The animation was also done with a very muted color palette.  While the drab colors may be historically accurate, they don't do anything to jazz up the presentation of the film.  The animation also lacked depth and "life" compared to other animated films (Ratatouille for instance).  Many of the animals (Roscuro in particular) had a sort of "plastic" look about them that made them seem less real.

Technical

Despite the muted color palette, the overall picture quality was very good, as most computer rendered animation tends to be.  The picture was very sharp and free from any grain.  During the many scenes in Ratworld, blacks were deep and displayed good shadow detail.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was well recorded, with solid bass where needed and some nice subtle effects during the quiet scenes.  The surrounds were used appropriately when called for.

Extras

Included on the disc are two discarded musical numbers, a making-of featurette, a break down of six scenes, and three interactive games designed for younger viewers.  There are also some BonusView enabled picture-in-picture scenes and a 10-minute preview of "Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey!"


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

MASHSynopsis

M*A*S*H focuses on three Korean War Army surgeons played by Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerritt and Elliott Gould. Though highly skilled and deeply dedicated, they adopt a hilarious, lunatic lifestyle as an antidote to the tragedies of their Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and in the process infuriate Army bureaucrats. Robert Duvall, Gary Burghoff and Sally Kellerman co-star as a sanctimonious Major, an other-worldly corporal, and a self-righteous yet lusty nurse.

 

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1970, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 56 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall, Tom Skerritt
  • Directed by Robert Altman
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

As a fan of Robert Altman's later films, it was a treat to go back and watch something he did early on.  Featuring great performances from Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and the rest of the cast, MASH is a very enjoyable, though fairly quirky, look at life in an Army surgical hospital during the Korean War.  The film never takes itself too seriously, though it does veer a little too close to screwball comedy at the end for me, and as someone that never watched the TV show growing up I can say that I enjoyed the film quite a bit and plan to revisit it down the road.

Technical

The picture is a bit soft due to the age of the film stock and the way it was shot, but I believe this is as good as MASH will look at home.  There are good, solid blacks and shadow detail, and I didn't notice much damage to the elements, but it will always look a bit soft due to how Altman shot the picture.  The DTS-HD track is also limited in dynamic range due to the age of the elements but dialog is fairly crisp and clear, and there isn't much use of the surrounds at all, but the film was originally presented in mono so that is to be expected.

Extras

The Blu-ray features a full length commentary recorded by Robert Altman before he passed away, as well as many featurettes on the back story of MASH and where it stands 30 years after it's original release, as well as a couple of trailers.  All of the supplements are in 1.33 SD and most likely pulled over from previous releases on DVD.


"Powder Blue" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-october-2009-powder-blueSynopsis

Set in LA in the days leading up to Christmas, four strangers with their own burdens wind up crossing paths.  Rose Johnny (Jessica Biel) is an erotic dancer trying to earn enough money to save her dying son.  Charlie (Forest Whittaker) is an ex-priest grieving over the the loss of his wife.  Qwerty (Eddie Redmayne) is a very shy mortician on the verge of losing his funeral home.  Jack (Ray Liotta) is an ex-con looking for some kind of emotional connection before cancer takes his life. Little do they know that a complete stranger holds the key to their salvation.

 

Specifications

  • Image Entertainment
  • 1999, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 46 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Jessica Biel, Ray Liotta, Eddie Redmayne, Forest Whittaker, Kris Kristopherson, Lisa Kudrow, and Patrick Swayze
  • Directed by Timothy Linh Bui
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Explicit

Commentary

In.the same vein as "Crash," "Powder Blue" takes completely separate story lines and ties them together in the film's final act.  The performance by all four leads was strong, as were the supporting roles played by Lisa Kudrow and Patrick Swayze.  In my opinion, the filmmakers pushed far too hard to show the emotional anguish of each character, which made for a rather depressing viewing experience and some over-the-top lines.  Pacing was a bit slow, but at least they took the time to flesh out the individual characters.  Despite the great acting, the story felt a bit flat, which ultimately kept this from being a great film. However, if you are a fan of films like "Crash" or just want to see Jessica Biel topless, you may want to give this movie a whirl.

Technical

Picture quality was very inconsistent throughout the film.  Most scenes were very soft, looking more like standard definition as opposed to HD.  There was excessive film grain visible in many scenes (i.e. the scene towards the end where Jack appears to be in Heaven), which further marred the picture quality.  Some of the close-up shots were sharper, but not all.  Black levels were poor, with most scenes only reaching down to dark grey instead of black.  The lighting used was different for each character (done intentionally as you learn in the commentary track) so color tones are all over the map.  Certain scenes displayed blooming and color-banding as well.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack was much better than the video, and helped set the somber mood of the film.  There are some dynamic moments that allow the soundtrack to shine, particularly the strip club sequences and a trip into a trans-sexual populated dance club.  Having spent some time DJ'ing house and trance music myself, I can tell you that they captured the sound of the club just about right.

Extras

Extras are pretty light on this disc, with just a standard audio commentary, a making-of featurette (in SD), a photo gallery of still shots from the movie, and a the original trailer for the film.


"Drag Me To Hell" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

Drag Me to HellSynopsis

Evil Dead. Army of Darkness. Drag Me To Hell. Sam Raimi's latest campy horror flic fits well with his previous movies.  A tale of a young girl  working as a loan officer who gets cursed by a creepy old gypsy, Mrs. Ganush, because she doesn't give the old hag a THIRD extension on her mortgage. Tough luck old lady, life sucks and we all have issues. Maybe you should have made your payments! The girl, Christine (Alison Lohman), denies the gypsy the extension in an effort to gain a promotion from her boss.  Christine is stalked by Mrs. Ganush in the parking lot and an intense fight goes down. Mrs. Ganush removes a button from Christine's coat, curses it, returns the button to her and vanishes. Later, while going home with her psychologist boyfriend, Clay Dalton (Justin Long), they pass by the fortune teller Rham Jas, and Christine decides to consult him. He advises Christine that she has the cursed Lamia, the Black Goat, upon her.  She hears voices, gets tossed around by shadowy beasts and all sorts of creepy stuff.

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2009, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 39 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC MPEG-4
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver, Dileep Rao, David Paymer
  • Directed by Sam Raimi
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Horror
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Moderate

Commentary

This film is filled with vomit, blood, goats, and mud.  Really everything a good horror movie should have.  It's not a movie to be taken seriously and that's pretty apparent from the get-go as the intro to the movie is pretty cheesy, but in a good way.  I definitely enjoyed the movie and it is certainly worth a rental.  Popcorn is a must during this flick! The movie IS Sam Raimi and it's a return to what he does best.  If you are a fan of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, then this Drag Me To Hell Blu-Ray disc belongs on your shelf right next to them. Beautiful video and superb audio make this fun movie worth buying.

Technical

Top notch quality again from Universal.  The video quality is sharp and detailed while retaining that natural film-like quality. The colors are accurate and have a good pop to them, without looking like an oversaturated LCD an display at the local mega-electronics store.  It is about as close to a perfect transfer as you can get. Superb demo disc for a surround system.  Horror flics often use the aural sense to create shock and tension. A quiet scene and a close up shot of the main character (Christine in this case, played by the lovely Alison Lohman) creates the tension, You know something is behind her, out of the shot, you are expecting it.. Then BAM! loud and I mean LOUD creaks and groans from the house fill your home theater, making you jump out of your seat.  Terrific dynamic range on this DTS HD lossless track.  The sound mix uses the full 360 degrees to pull you into the frightfest.  Your subs will get a good workout from this movie and in a good way.  Even Christopher Young's score comes through clearly with excellent soundstage and depth.

Extras

Production Video Diaries hosted by, unfortunately, Justin Long, this series of shorts does not do the movie justice. Maybe they are waiting for a Super Deluxe Hellfire Edition for all the meat and potatoes? The disc also contains BD-Live and DBOX support. You also get a separate disc with a digital copy of the movie.


"Hot Fuzz" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

Hot FuzzSynopsis

An all too serious London cop gets transfered to a small country town where things seem too good to be true.  After a serious of "accidents" Policeman Officer Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) gets suspicious. He's partnered with a chubby, slow-witted fan of action movies Danny Butterman (Nick Frost).  Of course like any buddy-cop movie, they are oil and vinegar, fire and ice, yet they come together in the end.

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2007, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 1 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Timothy Dalton, Jim Broadbent
  • Directed by Edgar Wright
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Gun Violence
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This is my second time watching Hot Fuzz. My initial thoughts were mixed. I loved Shaun of the Dead, but Hot Fuzz didn't seem as tightly written.  That's how I felt after my first watch. However, watching this bluray edition I can say that I really enjoy Hot Fuzz. Maybe it was the mood I was in when I saw it first? I'm really not sure.  Simon Pegg is great in it and so is the rest of the cast - Timothy Dalton, Nick Frost, and Jim Broadbent. Hot Fuzz is an excellent movie that only gets better with multiple viewings. The A/V on this Blu-Ray disc are top notch, as are the supplements. Highly Recommended!

Technical

Outstanding transfer, great depth to the image, provided by terrific contrast and colors.  There is film grain present in some shots, but its the good kind of film grain and its handled properly. No compression artifacts, edge enhancement, or digital noise reduction here. Pristine transfer, well done Universal!

This movie has the most constant use of bass I think I have ever heard. Sometimes it can be a bit too much and I found myself having to adjust the volume several times.  It's a fun soundtrack with some wonderful uses of the surround channels.  I'm sure they were going for a very "in your face" audio mix and well, they certainly nailed it!

Extras

Hot Fuzz Ultimate Edition is exactly that. Ultimate! It contains more stuff than you will probably ever watch or listen to.  The commentary tracks are great and worth the time, especially since there are FIVE of them: 1- Actor and Co-writer Simon Pegg & Director and Co-writer Edgar Wright. 2- The Sandford Police Service: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Rage Spall, Kevin Eldon & Olivia Colman. 3- The Sandford Village People: Kenneth Cranham, Timothy Dalton, Paul Freeman & Edward Woodward. 4-  Edgar Wright & Quentin Tarantino. 5- The Real Fuzz: Andy Leafe & Nick Eckland, We Made Hot Fuzz, Behind-the-Scenes, Special Effects: Before & After, Inadmissible Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Plot Holes, Speculative Video Blogs,  The Fuzzball Rally: Uncut, Dead Right: Edgar's First Cop Movie, U-Control: Fuzz-O-Meter & Storyboards

 


"The Passion of the Christ" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-november-2009-the-passionSynopsis

The Passion depicts the final twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ.  The film begins in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus prays to God to be spared the fate he knows awaits him.  He is then captured and taken by soldiers to be questioned by Hebrew leaders in the Temple.  They are quite determined to brand him a heretic for the assertion that he is the “King of the Jews.”  As the Pharisees cannot condemn to death, they bring him before Pontius Pilate, the local Roman governor, to demand his crucifixion.  Despite Pilate’s assertions that Jesus is not a criminal, he is forced to sentence him to death to prevent an uprising of the Hebrew people.  After a brutal scourging, Jesus is forced to drag his cross out of the city and up to Calvary, the place of execution.  The film follows the events written of in the New Testament and will be vividly familiar to anyone who grew up learning about the Bible in school.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 2004, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 6 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 22.5Mbps
  • Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Sergio Rubini
  • Directed by Mel Gibson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Extreme
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I was curious about this film when it came out in 2004 but after reading a few reviews I though it might be too difficult to watch.  This Blu-ray release is my first experience with it.  I couldn’t help but compare it to Shindler’s List in the category of movies that are important but difficult to witness.  The suffering and death of Jesus is presented in excruciating and graphic detail.  Jim Caviezel’s portrayal is simply astounding to watch.  I have rarely been drawn into a movie as I was with The Passion.  It is not for the faint of heart however.  Crucifixion is a horrible way to die and this film will leave you in no doubt of that fact.  The emotions portrayed by every principal character are quite intense and I was, to put it mildly, quite moved.

As you can see in the specs, the entire film is spoken in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin.  The subtitles are presented at the bottom of the frame (not in the black bars).  The use of ancient languages really adds to the realism.  There has been some controversy surrounding the historical accuracy of these languages versus Greek which many believe was spoken at the time.  I found it really made the film that much more believable.  My hat’s off to the actors who must have had quite a challenging time acting in such unfamiliar languages.

I need to explain my Entertainment rating.  This film is in no way entertaining; that’s just not the right adjective.  It struck me more as a controversial piece of art.  It was well-crafted and the intent of the Mr. Gibson was quite clear.  He meant to provoke a reaction and stir emotion.  Granted many movies with lighter subject matter do this but no film I have ever screened reached to my very soul like The Passion.  Though gruesome in the extreme, there was no question that I needed to view this film.  I do have a hard time imagining anyone wanting to see it more than once but like Shindler’s List, I’m glad I experienced it.

Technical

Image quality was fair at best.  Resolution wasn’t too bad but it didn’t measure up to the better Blu-ray releases.  I found the color presentation to be average.  I didn’t see the original so I can’t say it’s Mel Gibson’s interpretation or the telecine operator’s.  Darker scenes lit by oil lamps and torches were suitably warm but outdoor locations had a filtered look.  Flesh tones were also lacking in dimension and somewhat cool.  Contrast was fair with occasional crushing of highlight and shadow detail.  The picture was generally flat throughout.

The DTS-HD Master Audio track was of average quality with little to no use of surrounds.  Dynamic range was good with appropriate use of the LFE channel.  Dialog was nice and clear and properly placed within the soundstage.  I really enjoyed the musical score expertly composed by John Debney.  The music earned the film an extra star for audio.

Extras

Disc 1 contains the theatrical version of the film as well as a version “edited for graphic elements.”  I didn’t watch this but I’ll bet it’s a lot shorter!  You can also view the film with Biblical footnotes and audio commentary from Mel Gibson, filmmakers and theologians.  Disc 2 is a standard DVD with a making of featurette and a historical retrospective.  Also on disc 2 is a photo gallery and deleted scenes.

 


"Away We Go" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-october-2009-away-we-goSynopsis

Burt (Jim Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) find themselves expecting their first child, and not tied down or attached to where they currently live.  They set out across the country to visit friends and family and find the perfect place to raise their family.  Written by Dave Eggers and directed by Sam Mendes, Away We Go has an impressive cast in-front and behind the camera.

Specifications

  • Focus Features
  • 2009, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 38 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal
  • Directed by Sam Mendes
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: Sexual References
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Since I have enjoyed Dave Eggers' novels, as well as previous films from Sam Mendes, I was really looking forward to this film and saw it in theaters as soon as it came out.  The film is enjoyable, and features some very funny, and touching, scenes, but on further reflection certain things don't really make as much sense logically.  However, these little things didn't bother me while I watched the movie, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The lead actors do a good job, and some of the supporting actors are fantastic in their roles, and a good soundtrack helps to round out a very enjoyable movie.

Technical

At times, the picture seems a bit soft, but other times the picture is really quite sharp, so I believe these issues are more likely due to flaws in the actual print than in the transfer.  It's just missing that little bit of extra details that the best Blu-ray discs have, but it's a very nice picture most of the time.  The soundtrack is mostly centered around the front three channels, with occasional use of surrounds when it's necessary.  Dialog is very clear, and when the soundtrack comes on the music is very nice and detailed.

Extras

There is a full length audio commentary with the director and both writers which I listened to and enjoyed for the most part.  There are also a couple of featurettes on the disc, as well as some additional BD Live features that you can access with a Profile 2.0 player.

 


"Field of Dreams" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-october-2009-field-of-dreamsSynopsis

While tending to the corn on his Iowa farm, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) hears a voice utter the words, "If you build it, he will come."  Shortly afterward, a vision appears of a baseball field set amidst the rows of corn.  With the blessing of his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), Ray builds his ball field.  Much to his amazement, the ghosts of the infamous Chicago Black Sox come out of the corn to play ball.  However, Ray's journey is just beginning and the "Field of Dreams" has an even greater role to play.

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1989, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 47 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster
  • Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: None
  • Sex: None
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

It has been quite a while since I last saw "Field of Dreams" and I forgot just how much I enjoyed this movie.  The story was extremely moving and well-paced.  While I'm not usually a fan of Kevin Costner films, I think he did a great job in the role of Ray Kinsella.  The rest of the cast was excellent as well.  The only chink the story's armor is how accomodating Ray's wife Annie is when Ray decides to spend their entire savings on a baseball field.  This certainly wouldn't fly in my household.  Regardless, anyone with fond memories of baseball or just playing catch with their father should definitely sit down and watch this film.

Technical

For such an outstanding movie, picture quality is very poor and is barely better than the DVD.  The overall picture is soft, with little depth to the image.  Even the Iowa skies and cornfields seem lifeless, though the greens and blues appear to have been pumped up a bit.  Film grain is appropriate, but there also appears to be a lot of noise in the picture.  This was clearly evident on my 50" screen, so expect it to be even worse on larger setups.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is uninspiring as well.  The is barely any use of the surrounds or LFE channel.  I also noticed a bit of harshness to some of the soundtrack.  You can hear this during Ray's first foray into the cornfield, where the instrumentation seems to have just a bit too much "bite."  At least the dialog is clear and easy to understand, which helps make the fine acting stand out all the better.

Extras

Extras are all in SD, which is not surprising considering that this movie was released in 1989.  Included are a "making-of," deleted scenes, a standard commentary track, movie stills, and a round-table discussion about baseball with Costner, Bret Saberhagen, George Brett, and Johnny Bench.  I particularly enjoyed "The Diamond in the Husks," which talks about the actual field used in the movie.