Media

Movie Renter's Guide - April, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

"Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (SD DVD)

movie-sweeney-todd.jpgSynopsis

In ca. 1850's London, Benjamin Barker (Depp) returns after having been in prison for 15 years for a crime he did not commit.

Judge Turpin (Rickman) put him in prison because he coveted Barker's wife, and when Barker was taken away, Turpin imprisoned her in his home.

Barker finds that his wife has committed suicide, but that his daughter, Johanna, still lives with Judge Turpin.

He re-opens his barber shop above a meat pie restaurant, owned by Mrs. Lovett (Carter).

Benjamin says he has changed his name to Sweeney Todd, and will exact his revenge on those who destroyed his family. Mrs. Lovett decides to give him a hand.

And, exact he does, in the most graphic movie scenes I have ever witnessed. The budget for stage blood must have been enormous.

 

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
    2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Tim Burton
  • Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The movie is a film version of the Broadway musical by the same name, with music by Stephen Sondheim. The story is based on an English legend, where a barber in the 1750's (the movie was moved up to the 19th century instead) murdered 150 people in his shop, cutting their throats, taking their money, and dumping the bodies into the basement below, where a Mrs. Lovatt cut them up and turned them into meat pies for her restaurant.

Technical

The movie is very dark, literally, with many scenes taking place at night, and regardless of the time of day, in very dark rooms. It is an excellent disc to test your display's black levels, as well as your stomach for graphic murder. The problem I had was that most of the time, the actors were singing, even when cutting throats, and it was very difficult to understand what they were saying. Nevertheless, it is a very entertaining movie. Depp is incredibly versatile, and soon, he will win one of those Best Actor nominations he keeps getting.

Extras

The extras are mostly on a separate disc and include rehearsals, the history of Sweeney Todd, The Making of, and other things.

 


 

"Noble House" (SD DVD)

movie-noble-house.jpgSynopsis

In Hong Kong, Ian Dunross (Brosnan) becomes Tai-Pan, the head of Noble House, which is a trading company, a.k.a, Struan & Co., when Struan retires, turning over the company to Ian.

As Tai-Pan, Ian finds that the company is in deep financial trouble, and tries to secure loans to at least temporarily fix the problem.

An investment orgainization from the USA, headed by Linc Bartlett (Masters) and Casey Tcholok (Raffin) want to take over Struan, but they don't tell Ian their true motives when inquiring about investing with the company.

In the meantime, Gornt & Co., run by Quillan Gornt (Rhys-Davies) also knows about Struan's financial mess and wants to take it over himself.

Ian must now decide if involving himself in the drug trade, by borrowing money from Four-Finger Wu (Dhiegh) is worth the risk in order to save the company from being taken over by his competitor, Gornt.

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
    1988, Color, Not Rated, 6 Hr 16 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • English DD Mono
  • Directed by Gary Nelson
  • Starring Pierce Brosnan, Deborah Raffin, Ben Masters, John Rhys-Davies, Julia Nickson, Khigh Dhiegh, Nancy Kwan
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is a TV mini-series from 1988, and it is very good. I watched an episode every night for nearly a week. In those days, they really knew how to keep audiences interested, without extreme violence, explicit sex, bad language, or computer generated special effects. It was all story and characters. In this case, the story was by James Clavell. Tia Carrere was early in her career, making an appearance here as a concubine named Venus Poon.

Technical

For being 20 years old, the film was obviously in excellent shape. I didn't see any evidence of color shift, scratches, or dust. It's mono, but that is not a problem, because you will be focused on the storytelling.

It is presented in widescreen, so I don't know how it was shown in 1988, when we didn't have widescreen TVs. It appears to be a European production, so it may have been cropped to 4:3 for American TV audiences.

Extras

None.

 


 

"Independence Day" (Blu-ray)

movie-independence-day.jpgSynopsis

When radar picks up an incoming blip, everyone thinks it is an asteroid, and when the asteroid seemingly breaks up into smaller pieces, they assume the earth will be in ruins when all the pieces land in cities. Well, the earth will be in ruins alright, but not from asteroids.

Then they realize that the blip is actually a large extra-terrestrial mothership, and the smaller ones are fighters that have left the mothership.

At first, the military tries to contact the mothership's occupants in a friendly manner, but are soon made aware that the visitors from beyond are hostile.

So, in the face of a superior military strength, earth must find a flaw in the huge ship, attack, and destroy.

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    1996, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 25 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 27 Mbps
  • DTS HD MA, DD 5.1
  • Directed by Roland Emerich
  • Starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum. Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Although an entertaining movie, the plot has been beaten to death since the 1950's, and by much better storytellers. There is a lot of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars here, but then, that is pretty much the norm for most Space Invaders types of movies.

Technical

This disc has a high bit rate (27 Mbps), which shows in all the fine detail. With fast moving objects flying around all over the place, anything lower would have resulted in a lot of artifacts. For the high def sound, only the DTS is available, no Dolby. I am glad to see studios narrowing the sound tracks down to one or the other. No reason to have both.

Extras

There is a modicum of extras, including a director's commentary, special effects supervisor commentary, and a few other things.

 


 

"Cloverfield" (SD DVD)

movie-cloverfield.jpgSynopsis

At a surprise birthday party in New York City, one of the party-goers is videotaping the event when there is a huge explosion at the other end of town.

They take the camera outside and begin taping the firestorm that begins.

Then, there is panic when they all realize that this is something much more deadly than just a fire, and they see military vehicles going down the streets shooting at something very big . . . something moving.

The entire city is in chaos, and the birthday well wishers are now just trying to stay alive, all the while with the video camera running and documenting the various things going on, including the head of the Statue of Liberty bouncing down the street.

As the camera runs out of tape, the group runs out of luck, and they find themselves face to face with the monster that has been terrorizing the city all night long. And this is just a baby!

 

Specifications

  • Paramount
    2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 24 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • DD 5.1
  • Directed by Matt Reeves
  • Starring Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Well, the film has an Indie look to it, but this one had a huge budget and lots of expensive promotion. It is entertaining at first, because it is so different than previous monster-terrorizing-the-city movies, and then it starts to get a bit boring, but the story comes to a climax just in time (it's a very short film). Actually, the extras are more entertaining than the movie.

Technical

The whole movie is supposedly one long video, and it appears to have been shot with Panavision's new digital video cameras. At 24p no doubt, because it has a film-look to it.

Extras

These include deleted scenes, alternative endings, outtakes, and other things.

 


 

"The Lives of Others" ("Das Leben der Anderen") (Blu-ray)

movie-lives-of-others.jpgSynopsis

In 1982, before the Berlin Wall came down, the GDR still held a heavy hand over the people in East Berlin. Many of them wanted to escape to the West, and many tried, and lots of them ended up in prison or the graveyard.

Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz (Tukor) and Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Mühe), officers in the Stasi (Secret Police) are constantly vigilant in looking for traitors who would escape.

One such person under suspicion is a playwright, Georg Dreyman (Koch), living with his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Gedeck), who also stars in his plays.

Hauptmann Wiesler is ordered to bug his apartment and listen for what he might be up to. In fact, he is writing a play that will depict the GDR in an unfavorable light.

In the meantime, Christa-Maria is being forced into a sexual relationship with another Stasi officer, Minister Bruno Hempf (Thieme), who is the one that asked Wiesler to monitor Dreyman's activities.

Georg meets with a banned writer, Paul Hauser (Bauer), and when they discuss their actual plans to cause a big problem with their new play, Wiesler now is very excited because he will soon be able to spring the trap, capture the traitors in the act, and advance his career.

But, when the Berlin Wall falls, and Wiesler finds that in listening to Georg's and Hauser's discussion of how the GDR is not exactly the most democratic of institutions, and knowing that Hempf has personal reasons for wanting Dreyman to find his way to prison, he begins to sympathize. The final conflict: tell Grubitz what is going on, or let the writing continue and risk his career.

 

Specifications

  • Sony Pictures - Bayerischer Rundfunk
    2006, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 17 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC
  • DD 5.1
  • Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
  • Starring Sebastian Koch, Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Hans-Uwe Bauer
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Germany is producing some great films, and this is one of them. It reminds us of continuing suppression of free speech in Iron Curtain regions of Europe.

Technical

The image is razor sharp, without excessive edge enhancement. Dialogue is very clear (in German, with English subtitles). The music score is a bit odd on occasion.

Extras

These include director interview, making of, deleted scenes, and other things.

 


 

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (Blu-ray)

movie-jesse-james.jpgSynopsis

In post-Civil War 1860's, Jesse James, having ridden with Quantrill's Raiders as a southerner, is faced with the same things that other southerner's are suffering from, namely, greedy carpet baggers from the North who are exploiting the poverty on the losing side of the war.

He uses his experience to terrorize by robbing banks, whose major depositors are northerners investing in the South. He also robs the railroad companies, who are funded from northern investors.

Because the southerners feel the North has taken advantage of them, they sympathize with Jesse's gang, often hiding them from the law.

The railroad companies hire Robert Ford, who has worked his way into the James gang, to bring Jesse in, dead or alive.

Of course, we all know what happened, when Ford shoots Jesse in the back of the head.

 

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
    2007, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: VC-1
  • DD 5.1
  • Directed by Andrew Dominik
  • Starring  Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, Brooklynn Proulx, Dustin Bollinger
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Unlike most previous movies about Jesse James, this one lets us all know what he really was: a psychopath who often shot people in cold blood. Also, this movie focuses on Robert Ford rather than Jesse. Affleck's portrayal of Ford is brilliant, which earned him an Oscar nomination.

Ford was called a coward for shooting Jesse in the back, but Jesse was not very brave himself. Rather, he was a paranoid killer who reveled in having his victims defenseless. When the gang tried to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, the townspeople showed the James gang what it is like when the bullets come flying back the other way. Several gang members were killed. Jesse decided to retire at that point. He didn't like it when the victims fought back. So, who was the coward after all?

I think the reason Jesse James was a folk hero, is the same reason that Bonnie and Clyde were folk heroes: in both cases, the country was in the middle of serious economic troubles. See my blog on April 15, 2008 for more detail on this.

In any event, the movie is pretty tame - action wise - compared to the average western shoot-em-up. It's more of a character study, and it is too long for a movie without much riding and shooting.

Technical

The image is very sharp, but does have noticeable edge enhancement. I am getting so used to Blu-ray, I can't stand to watch anything else.

Extras

There is a documentary on the James gang, but it is not very entertaining.

 


 

"I Am Legend" (Blu-ray)

movie-i-am-legend.jpgSynopsis

In 2012 New York, Virologist Robert Neville (Smith) may be the last person still alive after a virus that was supposed to cure cancer evolved and turned humans into extremely violent creatures almost unrecognizable from their human original.

Robert is trying to develop an immunization plan to protect anyone not yet infected, and as part of this, must capture some of the very dangerous creatures that have already turned.

In the meantime, he tries to find someone, anyone, left in New York, who is still a sane, uninfected human being. For the time being, he relishes moments spent with his dog Sam.

The most important thing for survival is to keep the creatures from discovering where he lives, and he accomplishes this by staying indoors when it is dark, only venturing out during the day, as the creatures are very sensitive to light.

When another person and her son are found, the three must now fight for their lives when the creatures discover his home.

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
    2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 50 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • DD 5.1, Dolby TrueHD
  • Directed by Francis Lawrence
  • Starring Will Smith, Alice Bragha, Dash Mahok
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is basically a remake of The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston. In that version, the creatures could speak, being led by Anthony Zerbe. In the 2007 version, the creatures are much more frightening, and the only time they open their mouths is to bite a victim.

I figured that the 2007 film, like most remakes, would be boring, but I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. Smith's laid back portrayal of Robert Neville trying to maintain his sanity when all alone in the world is really very good. It sort of reminds me of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, talking to his volleyball.

Technical

A beautiful picture here, with no edge enhancement. Great use of surround sound too, and blow-you-out-of-your-chair scary moments.

Extras

These include Creating I Am Legend, The Science of I Am Legend, and Animated Comics.

 


 

"AVP Requiem" (Blu-ray)

movie-avp-requiem.jpgSynopsis

A ship carrying Predators is taken over by Aliens, and the ship travels to earth where the Aliens begin impregnating humans with their larvae.

Back on the Predators' home planet, they discover that the ship carrying their brethren has been overrun, so a few of them travel to earth, with the intention of PAYBACK.

This being an Indie film, the humans suffering at the hands of the Predators are teenagers, with, of course, some local police getting involved.

So, while the Aliens are killing teenagers, the Predators are trying to kill the Aliens.

I guess they call this a threesome.

Specifications

  • Twntieth Century Fox
    2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 34 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 29 Mbps
  • DD 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Colin Strause and Greg Strause
  • Starring Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Johnny Lewis, Ariel Gade
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Once a particular type of monster establishes itself in the history books of filmdom, eventually they all get together. It happened when Frankenstein met the Wolfman, Godzilla had his way with Rodan, and now Alien vs. Predator.

Actually, though I make light with this story, it's reasonably entertaining. Alien and Predator look the same as they did in their original movies. This cannot be said when Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. both played Frankenstein, following Boris Karloff's orginal portrayal.

Technical

At 29 Mbps, the image is about as good as it gets. I just wish they had not shot so much of it in a dark sewer. With that kind of potential, I would have enjoyed the detail that sunlight could deliver. The audio has a nice spread around the soundstage, to make sure you don't know which end of the room Alien is coming from.

Extras

This one has a second disc with the movie in a form that can be uploaded to your video iPod, should you wish to watch Alien babies jump out of someone's chest while you are eating your lunch.

 


 

"27 Dresses" (Blu-ray)

movie-27-dresses.jpgSynopsis

Jane Nichols (Heigl) is a wedding planner for a small company, and is in love with her boss, George (Burns), but of course, she is too shy to let him know how she feels. Her friend and co-worker, Casey (Greer), is constantly trying to help Jane express herself.

A local news reporter, Kevin Doyle (Marsden), who writes a column on weddings, falls for her, but she just finds him irritating. Unbeknown to her, he uses a pen name, and she loves his columns. She just doesn't realize that this irritating young man is the author.

So, Jane's sister Tess (Akerman) comes to New York for a visit, and Jane is discouraged to see George and Tess hitting it off big time.

Meanwhile, Kevin writes a story about Jane, using photos of her in 27 dresses that she has kept, while being in the weddings she has arranged.

Jane watches Tess lie to George in order to make him think that she is Ms. Right, and when he proposes, Jane must decide whether to expose her own sister's falsehoods at their pre-wedding dinner.

Specifications

  • Fox 2000
    2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 51 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 34 Mbps
  • DD 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Anne Fletcher
  • Starring Catherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman, Judy Greer, Edward Burns
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is a very easy going, pleasant Chick Flick. You know the plot and the eventual outcome by 10 minutes into the story, but there is nothing wrong with that. My wife and I had our neighbors over to watch it, and all four of us enjoyed it.

Technical

I was kind of surprised to see such a visually uncomplex movie being transferred at 34 Mbps, but I certainly am not complaining. I wish all movies would just use the maximum space available for every film.

Extras

Plenty of extras with this movie, including The Wedding Party, You'll Never Wear That Again, and other things.