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Movie Renter's Guide - March, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

"Things We Lost in the Fire" (SD DVD)

movie-lost-in-the-fire.jpgSynopsis

When Audrey Burke's (Berry) husband Brian (Duchovny) passes away suddenly, she turns to a former boyfriend Jerry Sunborne (Del Toro) for comforting.

Unfortunately, Jerry is dealing with his own problems, namely heroin addiction, but he wants to be with Audrey very much, so he agrees to go through withdrawal and heal himself.

In the meantime, he gets to know Audrey's family.

He finds that getting off drugs is the most difficult thing he has ever done, but being with Audrey and her children helps a great deal, and finally, he decides that his recovery is a must.

 

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
    2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 58 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Susanne Bier
  • Starring Halle Berry, Benicio Del Torro, David Duchovny, Alison Lohman
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Physical Drug Withdrawal
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This film reminds me of an old flick called A Man and a Woman (Un homme et une femme) released in 1966, which won two Academy Awards, but I don't think this one will be the classic that the earlier film has been. Perhaps that is because this one is more about incredible suffering to obtain love (not pleasant to watch), and the former one is simply about discovery of each other (much easier to identify with).

Technical

The story is shot with handheld cameras a lot of the time, so it has a docudrama look to it as if the show 20/20 were coming along to see how he deals with his addiction problem. The movie has received accolades, but apparently not much activity in the making money department.

Extras

Not much here except deleted scenes and commentary.

 


 

"Hitman" (Blu-ray)

movie-hitman.jpgSynopsis

Agent 47 (Olyphant) from the video game comes to the big screen.

When Interpol officer Mike Whittier (Scott) is called to Africa to investigate an assassination of rebels, he knows the work of Agent 47 when he sees it.

He tracks 47 to St. Petersburg, Russia, but has not discovered who his next target is.

Then, Russian President Mikhail Belicoff (Thomsen) is murdered, and Mike joins the KGB in hunting down 47 before he does any more damage.

Meanwhile, 47 meets Nika Boronina (Kurylenko), who tells him that she is Belicoff's mistress and that he is trying to kill her. But, 47 says he assassinated Belicoff.

47 says he will protect her if she helps him find out whether Belicoff, or his double, is now running the country.

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    2007, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 34 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 16 Mbps
  • English/Spanish DD 5.1, English DTS HD Master Lossless Audio
  • Directed by Xavier Gens
  • Starring Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Michael Offei, Olga Kurylenko, Ulrich Thomsen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Frontal Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The movie has a video game look to it, because it comes from a video game. Lots of wide angle views from above, just like the game. It is hard to follow the story because it assumes you are already familiar with the game, which has an established plot.

Technical

The image and sound are very good, but perhaps just a bit too much contrast, and not enough use of surrounds. This is a single layer disc, encoded using AVC at 16 Mbps, which is a bit lower than you would see with a satellite or cable HD broadcast, so the image quality could have been much better.

Extras

Besides various featurettes on disc 1, there is a second disc that has a low bit rate version of the movie for uploading to your iPod or PC.

 


 

"Celine Dion: Live in Las Vegas" (Blu-ray)

movie-celine-dion.jpgSynopsis

Celine Dion presented her show in Las Vegas more than 700 times over a 5 year period.

These discs (two) document not only the show itself (which is now closed), but all the background activities of the show that were involved in producing it.

The music is spectacular, and the discs are a tribute not only to Dion, but the huge number of people that worked with her.

 

 

 

Specifications

  • Dragone; Productions J
    2007, Color, Unrated, 5 Hr 7 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Unspecified
  • English DD 5.1, Dolby TrueHD 5.1, PCM Stereo 24/96
  • Directed by Jean Lamoureux
  • Starring Celine Dion
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Frontal No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Although Celine Dion is an incredible singer, I was surprised at how little stage presence she has in this show. The dancers were very fresh and enthusiastic, but she seemed bored. I suppose after 700 concerts, anyone would be tired of doing the same thing.

Technical

This is a good disc to demonstrate black levels, because most of the time, the stage is very dark. Even the behind the scenese material is often very dark. However, everything is rendered in excellent detail because Dion and the dancers have spotlights on them.

Extras

The concert itself is a bit more than an hour and a half, but the extras contain several hours of excellent and very interesting material, perhaps even more entertaining than the music. It is obvious that an enormous amount of work goes into a Las Vegas show, and it is hectic, with timing in costume changes down to the second.

 


 

"Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" (Blu-ray)

movie-magorium.jpgSynopsis

Mr. Edward Magorium (Hoffman) runs a toy shop in town, called the Wonder Emporium.

It's basically a toy store, but uncharacteristically, it's a magic toy store where even the walls are alive. His assistant Molly Mahoney (Portman) helps manage the store, but she longs for a career composing classical piano music.

Magorium is more than 200 years old, and one day, he says he is going to retire.

He hires an accountant Henry Weston (Bateman) to put all the paperwork in order, more than 100 years worth. Of course, Weston is a bit incredulous when he sees a receipt signed by Thomas Edison.

Molly, along with all the magical toys, revolt, and together with a little boy named Jason (Durford), they try to get Mr. Magorium to change his mind.

 

 

Specifications

  • Walden Media
    2007, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 34 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 35 Mbps
  • English/French DD 5.1, English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio
  • Directed by Zach Helm
  • Starring Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Jason Bateman, Issac Durnford
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is the first G-rated movie I have seen in years. It must be very difficult to make such a film, when there is so much violence and action in other movies to get our attention. I don't think it was very successful at the box office, but it certainly is a movie that young children would enjoy at home.

Technical

At 35 Mbps, Magorium is a superb visual experience. Every color known to man is here, and in exquisite detail. I am sure this one will be all over the place at the next CES for demonstrating projectors. I have never seen anything like it in my home theater before. Even the introductory credits are spectacular. The sound is excellent too. Lots of full orchestra swells.

Extras

No extras. All the space (both layers) is taken up by the high bit rate movie. I am glad to see Blu-ray movies making use of all the bits.

 


 

"Ice Age" (Blu-ray)

movie-ice-age.jpgSynopsis

Sometime during the last Ice Age (ended 14,000 years ago), a wooly mammoth named Manfred (Romano) and a sloth named Sid (Leguizamo) set off to head south to find some warmth.

Along the way, they discover a human baby boy left on the ice after his mother was swept away by a river of melting ice.

They decide to detour in order to find the boy's tribe.

In the meantime, a pack of saber toothed tigers are also trying to find the lost child so they can eat him in an environment where food is hard to come by.

The tigers assign one of their group, Diego, to keep Manfred and Sid from finding the tribe, in hopes that they can steal the boy along the way.

Of course, this being a PG movie, all ends well, and even Diego is a good guy.

 

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    2002, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 21 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 16 Mbps
  • English/French/Spanish DD 5.1, English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio
  • Directed by Chris Wedge
  • Starring Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is definitely a feel-good movie for the kids. But, heck, it made me feel good too. It harks back to the Disney formula of nice story, great animation, and you know it is going to end well. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Technical

I am surprised that they did not take advantage of the fact that the images never passed through a lens, except for your projector, and if you use a flat panel display, then no lens at all. They chose to use a relatively low bit rate (16 Mbps), and I could definitely see softness in the picture. The sound is good though, with nice use of surrounds and subwoofer frequencies. I notice that all the Fox titles I have reviewed this month use the DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio instead of Dolby TrueHD. So, instead of having all the high def sound formats, the studios are beginning to choose one or the other.

Extras

These include a Director Commentary, an Animated Short, and other things.

 


 

"i, Robot" (Blu-ray)

movie-i-robot.jpgSynopsis

It's the year 2035, and robots are plentiful. Their purpose is to make our lives easier by performing day-to-day tasks. One afternoon, Police Detective Del Spooner (Smith) sees one of these robots running down the street after stealing a purse from a woman. He chases and causes a scene.

The Police Chief reprimands him, saying that it is impossible that a robot did this, because they are programmed with The Three Laws, which are specifically designed to keep the robots from harming anyone or ever committing a crime. But, Spooner insists he saw what he saw.

Then, he is called to U.S. Robotics, where the robots are built, to investigate an apparent suicide of a friend of his, Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell), who is the designer of the robots.

Spooner is very suspicious, as Dr. Lanning didn't show any behavior that would indicate he was suicidal. The president of the company, Lawrence Robertson (Greenwood) is not completely forthcoming about the events.

So, Detective Spooner investigates deeper and discovers that a new model of robot is being built by the thousands, a robot that doesn't adhere to The Three Laws.

Spooner and one of the staff, Susan Calvin (Moynahan), must intervene in order to prevent a world ruled by machines.

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    2002, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 54 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 25 Mbps
  • English/French/Spanish DD 5.1, English DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio
  • Directed by Alex Proyas
  • Starring Will Smith, Berdget Moynahan, Bruce Greenwood, James Cromwell
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The film is based on a story by Issac Asimov, and has some obvious religious overtones. It has a bit of paranoia too, from a time when everyone was concerned about technology turning into Big Brother.

Technical

The images are superb, with a bit rate of 25 Mbps. The surround sound is terrific as well.

Extras

These include Behind the Camera, Production Diaries, Commentaries, and other things.

 


 

"The Kite Runner" (SD DVD)

movie-kite-runner.jpgSynopsis

In Afghanistan, young Amir (Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Mahmidzada) are best friends even though Hassan is the son of the servant who takes care of Amir's house.

One of their favorite activities is to compete with kites, where one flier tries to cut the string of the others. The competitors are teams of two, and of course, Amir and Hassan are a team. Hassan is the kite runner.

During the competition, Hassan is looking for a kite that has fallen to the ground in an alley, and a group of young thugs attack him and rape him because he won't give them the kite he found.

Because of the culture, Amir is forced to shun Hassan, so Hassan's father leaves the household and takes Hassan away.

A decade later, Amir (Abdalla) is living in America, and an old friend of Amir's father calls him and asks him to come back to the Middle East because he is very ill. When he arrives, he discovers a secret about Hassan that he never knew, and also confronts the man who raped Hassan as a boy.

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
    2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 7 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Marc Forster
  • Starring Khalid Abdalla, Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Atossa Leoni, Said Taghmaoui, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Amad Khan Mahmidzada
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Rape
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The film is based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, and it caused quite a stir in the Middle East because the people over there thought that the actor who played Hassan as a boy was actually raped. In any case, the movie is riveting and one of the most entertaining films I have seen in years.

Technical

Unfortunately, this version was only SD and not Blu-ray, so the image is just adequate. The movie is so good, I anticipate it being released in high def at some point.

Extras

Just a few extras, including commentaries and some other things.

 


 

"There Will Be Blood" (SD DVD)

movie-there-will-be-blood.jpgSynopsis

At the turn of the twentieth century, when men of ambition realized that the new fangled automobile needed oil and gasoline distilled from oil, there was a frantic search for places to sink oil wells.

Part of this search involved buying land owned by farmers or leasing it for sinking the wells.

Daniel Plainview (Lewis) was just such a man.

Taking his son H.W. (Freasier) with him so that he could learn how to run an oil company, Daniel sets out to purchase every acre of oil-laden land he can find.

One day, a young man, Eli Sunday (Dano) comes to Daniel's office and says that his father's farm, called the Sunday Ranch, has oil and would he come pay a visit to his father and make an offer.

When Daniel and H.W. arrive, he finds that Eli is no fool when it comes to how much the land is worth, and Eli demands plenty of cash, including some for his church where he plans to be deacon.

So, a deal is struck, and the well is sunk, with oil soon discovered.

The problem is that Eli wants the oil business to be part of his big plans for the church. It seems that oil wells are not the only things sought after by ambitious men.

Daniel is patient, but deep within, is a violent man, and Eli's religious nature will not prevent Daniel from expressing himself in ways that result in bloodshed.

Specifications

  • Paramount
    2007, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 38 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Dillon Freasier
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I can see why Lewis won the Academy Award® for Best Performance by an Actor®, as he is spectacular in this movie. In fact, it is one of the most amazing acting jobs I have ever seen. The only criticism I have is that there needed to be some more editing down of some of the scenes that just take too long. For example, when Daniel is taking H.W. inside from an accident on the well platform, the camera follows him for a long, long time while he runs. Instead of 2 hours and 38 minutes, the movie should have been about 2 hours.

Technical

Even thoug it is SD, the image quality is very good. Probably a high bit rate on this one. Perhaps it was because so much of the story takes place in deep shadows, which with a low bit rate, would have been too noisy.

Extras

These include The Making of, Dailies Gone Wild, The Story of Petroleum (a silent movie from 1923), and some other things.