Media

Movie Renter's Guide Number 155 - February, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

"Death Sentence" (SD DVD)

movie-death-sentence.jpgSynopsis

Nick Hume (Bacon) is a regular working guy - an insurance company manager - with a wife and two sons. One evening, after his son's hockey game, they stop at a gas station. A group of thugs rob the station, and in the process, they brutally murder the boy. Nick identifies one of the attackers, but when the DA tells him that there is not enough evidence to put him away for more than five years, he declines to identify him in court, and he is released. Nick has his own ideas for punishment, not only for the single attacker, but for the all the rest of them.

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 51 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by James Wan
  • Starring Kevin Bacon, Kelly Preston, Garrett Hedlund, Aisha Tyler, John Goodman
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Extreme
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Death Sentence is B flick revenge movie, pretty much like the classic one called Death Wish. Unfortunately, DS is no DW, in part, I suppose, because it's the same plot. But, wait, maybe not exactly the same. This time, the main character knows nothing about guns or violence, so when face to face with the men he hates so much, he hesitates. But not for long. If you like revenge movies, you will probably enjoy this one, as I did, because it is always fun to see bullies get their brains blown out. Otherwise, don't bother.

Technical

James Wan, who directed Saw, tries something here that hadn't been done before. There is a scene in a parking garage where the protagonist is being pursued by the antagonists (did you think they would sit idly by and watch their membership being attenuated in very unpleasant ways?), and the camera goes from floor to floor, outside the garage, and then into the garage on each floor. In the extras section, they show how they did it. One shot, about five minutes long.

Extras

The extras section is more entertaining than the movie, actually. Kevin Bacon has an interview with three would-be film students, and it is very enlightening. There is also the featurette on how they shot that scene in the parking garage.


 

"The Hunting Party" (SD DVD)

movie-the-hunting-party.jpgSynopsis

Simon Hunt (Gere) was a great journalist until he lost it on the air with war reporting and said a few four letter words. Years later, he shows up in Sarajevo, meeting up with his former camera man, Duck (Howard), and says he knows where the most wanted war criminal in the world is, namely a town a few miles away. Together with a student journalist, Benjamin (Eisenberg), they set out to capture the criminal, called "the Fox", with no guns and no real plan.

Of course, everything comes undone when they are face to face with the Fox, and now it's time to get the hell out of Dodge, or maybe not.

Specifications

  • The Weinstein Company
    2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 41 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • English DTS 5.1
  • Directed by Richard Shepard
  • Starring Terrence Howard, Richard Gere, James Brolin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ljubomir Kerekes
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Explicit
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This appears to be a Direct-to-DVD, and the Indie look is there, but it is a great story, which apparently has some true parts to it. They don't say exactly which parts, except to mention that they are "the most ridiculous parts." So, while the movie is scary, the word "comedy" is used in descriptions of the film I have seen elsewhere. I didn't laugh too much though. Too much despair on the faces of the people affected by the Bosnian war of the time.

Technical

This is an SD DVD, and I was shocked to see how good the video was. In fact, it looked almost high def.

Extras

These include a Director's Commentary and a featurette with some of the actual journalists who hunted for war criminals in Bosnia.

 


 

"Gone Baby Gone" (SD DVD)

movie-gone-baby-gone.jpgSynopsis

Patrick Kensie (Affleck) and Angie Gennero (Monaghan) are private detectives contracted by a Boston family to locate a 3-year old girl, Amanda McCready, who was kidnapped. Captain Jack Doyle (Freeman) of the Boston Police Department, resents their intrusion into the case, and at first, so does Detective Remy Bressant (Harris), but soon, Bressant sees that the two investigators are very competent. In fact, they are so competent, they are the ones who get the real leads on the case.

The difficulty is that Helene McCready (Ryan), Amanda's mother, is a drug addict who is not a very caring parent, so the investigative group has a real problem getting all the answers as to why Amanda was kidnapped in the first place.

Specifications

  • Miramax
    2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Ben Affleck
  • Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Bloody
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The film is Ben Affleck's directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay. He has had a real problem with his reputation as a good actor over the years, but this movie is actually reasonably entertaining. Not bad for a first shot. Of course, it helps to have Academy Award winning actors like Freeman and Harris.

Technical

Photography is excellent, but the camera is a bit too close to some of the characters here and there. Surround sound is good for a mystery with, I am sure, not much budget.

Extras

These include an Extended Ending, Behind the Scenes, Casting, and other things.

 


 

"Becoming Jane" (SD DVD)

movie-becoming-jane.jpgSynopsis

The story chronicles young Jane Austen (1775-1817) who strives to become a novelest at a time when women were frowned upon for letting everyone know that they are just as intelligent as men (in fact, women average 1 or 2 IQ points higher than men). Her father is supportive, but her mother thinks she should just accept the marriage proposal of a rich young suitor.

Of course, Jane (Hathaway) wants to marry for love, and when an aspring lawyer, Tom Lefroy (McAvoy) comes to visit, his fiery temperament matches her own, and they fall head over heels.

The problem is, Tom's boss at law school and also his uncle, does not want Tom to marry a penniless nobody (at that time, Jane was an unknown author).

They finally elope with intentions of living on love in London, but Jane discovers a secret that may be the undoing of their plans.

Specifications

  • Miramax
    2006, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 00 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Julian Jerrold
  • Starring Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Many people would call this a Victorian Melodrama, but "Victorian" refers to the time of Queen Victoria who lived from 1819 to 1901. Jane Austen died two years before Victoria was born. But, the label still is descriptive, and if you want to call it a Victorian Melodrama, I won't object.

Tom Lefroy was considered simply Jane's boyfriend in historical accounts. The movie makes a lot more of their relationship though. In any case, Lefroy went on to become a Chief Justice of Ireland, and Austen's novels are considered to be some of the best in English literature.

Technical

It is hard to pay attention to whether or not the photography is good, when the subject is the gorgeous English countryside. A $20 camera couldn't take a bad photo of that stuff. I don't know when they filmed it, but everything sure seemed wet all the time. A characteristic of the Hampshire deep woods I suppose.

Extras

These include Discovering the Real Jane Austen, Director's Commentary, and Deleted Scenes.

 


 

"American Gangster" (HD DVD/SD DVD)

movie-american-gangster.jpgSynopsis

In the late 1960's, Frank Lucas (Washington) takes over for Harlem drug kingpin, Bumpy Johnson, after he dies. Frank has big ideas, including importing pure heroin from Viet Nam directly, rather than buying it through other dealers who cut its purity with powdered sugar.

It works, and all of a sudden, addicts can buy pure heroin at a fraction of the cost of the diluted product supplied by Italian gangsters in the city.

No one can believe that an African American can do what the Italians have never been able to do, and Detective Richie Roberts (Crowe), as leader of a drug enforcement team in New York City, assumes that Lucas is working for someone else, and tries to find out who it is.

He is shocked that Lucas is at the top of the drug pyramid, and in trying to bring him down, discovers that there is a conspiracy in the drug enforcement group involving so many officers, he doesn't know where to turn.

Meanwhile, Lucas has amassed 250 million dollars in profits, and Roberts gathers a small detail of men he can trust to aid him in breaking one of the most amazing drug gangs that New York has ever seen.

 

Specifications

  • Universal
    2007, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 38 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • English DD 5.1
  • English/French DD Plus 5.1
  • Directed by Ridley Scott
  • Starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Armand Asante
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Explicit
  • Language: Terrible

Commentary

The movie is based on a true story, and 3/4 of the drug enforcement group in the New York City Police Department were indicted for their corruption.

Technical

The image and sound are terrific, but I wish the photographer had opened up the lens a bit more. The story uses the available light approach, and film does not have nearly the dynamic range that the human eye has, so a lot of the shots are just too dark.

Extras

These include an Unrated Extended Version of the movie, Deleted Scenes, Cast Interviews, and other things.

 


 

"Beowulf" (HD DVD)

movie-beowulf.jpgSynopsis

In the 6th century, Denmark, King Hrothgar (Hopkins), his new wife Wealthow (Wright-Penn), and their subjects are tormented by a beast from Hell, Grendel (Glover) who lives in a cave. Whenever the people have a celebration that makes loud noises, Grendel comes and kills some of the revelers.

One day, Beowulf (Winstone) arrives and says he and his archers will kill Grendel and free Hrothgar's kingdom of the beast.

After doing so, Hrothgar is so appreciative, he gives his throne to Beowulf.

But something is amiss, and a curse now settles onto Beowulf, one that he now realizes was Hrothgar's doing in the first place.

Specifications

  • Paramount
    2007, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 54 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • English DD 5.1
  • English/French/Spanish DD Plus 5.1
  • Directed by Robert Zemeckis
  • Starring Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Robin Wright-Penn, Brendan Gleeson, Crispin Glover, Angelina Jolie
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

The film is based on a legend, and in fact, is the oldest existing piece of literature in the English language. The original story must have been honed and fine tuned over thousands of campfires during the several hundred years of its telling, so it is virtually perfect. Having a brilliant director and superb actors makes this movie a must-have for any collection.

As everyone knows, Toshiba just announced it is cancelling its support and development of HD DVD, and Beowulf is not on Blu-ray. This is definitely a movie that should be re-encoded (at the higher bit rate that Blu-ray allows), so that consumers can continue to enjoy it in the future. Beowulf is one heck of a movie.

I sure would like to know what kind of a diet Ray Winstone went on to get in shape for this movie. Maybe I should just stop going to Starbucks so often.

Technical

Taking live action and adding CGI over it makes the whole thing blend beautifully, instead of having conventional live action with obvious CGI special effects that seem to be separated from the actors. Topping the whole thing off with it having been produced in 3D sets the stage for future film making in the world of fantasy adventure.

Extras

These include The Making of, The Art of, Designing the Creatures, and other things.

 


 

"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (SD DVD)

movie-elizabeth-golden-age.jpgSynopsis

Elizabeth I was one of the most powerful women who ever lived (1533 - 1603). Once she became Queen of England, she established herself as smart, shrewd, and determined.

Elizabeth turned a weak nation into a major power in Europe.

She was nicknamed the Virgin Queen, and everyone at court wanted her to marry and bear a successor. They shoved every young royal from several countries at her, but she would have none of them.

In 1585, Spain, under King Philip, attacked England with the intent of turning the Protestant nation to Catholicism. The Armada was defeated, and England remained Protestant.

Specifications

  • Universal
    2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 55 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Shekhar Kapur
  • Starring Kate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The producers missed an opportunity here. They glossed over the Armada sequence when it should have been a major part of the movie. As a result, the focus on the love interest between Elizabeth and Walter Raleigh gives the story more of a TV mini-series look to it. Without the action to look forward to, the film is boring.

It's too bad they ended the Elizabeth movies with such a dull thud. However, because of Elizabeth I's historical importance, and because the acting is superb, this is still a movie worth renting.

Maybe they could make one more film, with the subject being Elizabeth's love affair with the much younger Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. This occurred when she was in her 60's and he in his 30's. There is no question but that Blanchett would play Elizabeth, but who would be Devereaux? The 1939 version of this story (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Warner Brothers) had Bette Davis as Elizabeth and Errol Flynn as Devereaux. That's a tough act to follow.

If you are interested in reading more about the amazing Elizabeth I, I recommend The Life of Elizabeth I, by Alison Weir, Ballantine Books, 1998.

Technical

There is a bit too much ringing (edge enhancement) for me, but maybe I am just getting used to the crystal clear images in HD discs. Not much use of surrounds, and they could have made great surround sound with the echoes in the vast palace halls that had stone floors.

Extras

These include The Making of, Creating the Armada, Towers, Courts, and Cathedrals, and other things.

 


 

"Michael Clayton" (SD DVD)

movie-michael-clayton.jpgSynopsis

A New York law firm has Michael Clayton (Clooney) on contract because he fixes big problems.

Well, here comes the biggest problem the firm has ever had. The head attorney, Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), in a class action suit against one of their clients that makes weed killer, has stopped taking his medication (he is manic-depressive), and he now has decided to blow the whistle on the client and hand over very damaging internal memos to the plaintiffs.

So, Michael's job is to reign Arthur in, make him take his medicine, and stop the potential disaster.

Another attorney working on the case, Karen Crowder (Swinton), doesn't care for Michael's soft touch technique, and thinks a more direct approach is necessary. One that will result in Arthur not having to take any medicine ever again.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
    2007, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Tony Gilroy
  • Starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Explicit Discussions
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This film, like No Country for Old Men, had been nominated for Best Picture, but lost - and rightly so - to No Country.

Tom Wilkinson's performance was incredible, and he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Clooney was fair, but he was still nominated for Best Performance by an Actor. He lost. So did Wilkinson. Swinton won for her role, and she was spectacular at it.

No Country won a bunch of awards, but as I said in the Daily Blog, I hated the ending. So did the people sitting around me in the theater. Clayton had a more satisfying ending, but it was weak nonetheless. There needs to be more creativity in the ending sequences of movies, as they represent much of what we take with us when we leave.

Technical

A lot of mosquito noise plagued this film in the SD DVD release. Way too much in fact.

Extras

These include only Additional Scenes and Director/Editor Commentaries.