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Movie Renter's Guide - May, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

"Indiana Jones: the Adventure Collection" (SD DVD)

movie-indiana-jones-trilogy.jpgSynopsis

Do I really have to detail the plots of these three movies? Is there anyone who has not seen them all at least once, maybe ten times?

They are, in order, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

All three take place during an incredible time of human history, pre-World War II, so there are plenty of bad guys to choose from.

In one of the documentaries, Steven Spielberg says he wanted to make films that reminded him of the old Republic serials, and they certainly do, with lots of action, girls, and cliff hanging suspense.

 

Specifications

  • Paramount
    1981, 1984, 1989, Color, Rated PG, PG, PG-13, 1 Hr 55 min, 1 Hr 58 min, 2 Hr 6 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Steven Spielberg
  • Starring Harrison Ford and a lot of other great actors who really made these movies terrific
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

The trilogy encompasses what is probably the best threesome ever made. The fourth installment is due in theaters this month. Ford looks good, but cannot hide nearly two decades of aging, no matter how much makeup is applied. Obviously a huge amount of computer generated effects too, something that was not available in the 1980's series. I imagine we all hope it stands up to the first three.

Technical

These are the latest SD DVD versions, sold in a box set with brand new extras that have not been seen before. I don't think the video and sound are any different than that in the individual movies, released a while back. I anticipate that we might see all four movies in a Blu-ray box set by the end of 2008.

Extras

What really sells this box set is the inclusion of the extras, with several on each disc, such as how they did the melting face in the first movie. There is also an interview with the three female stars of the films, including Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw, and Alison Doody.

 


 

"Juno" (Blu-ray)

movie-juno.jpgSynopsis

High school junior Juno MacGuff (Page) finds that she is pregnant by her shy boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Cera). She tells her father Mac (Simmons) and mother Bren (Janney), who are of course, shocked, but they are supportive of her decision to have the baby and turn it over to Mark (Bateman) and Vanessa (Garner) Loring, who will pay all of Juno's maternity expenses.

In the meantime, everyone at her highschool is scandalized by her carefree attitude, meaning she is not ashamed of herself at all. In fact, she is proud that she will be able to make a childless couple happy.

So, the story follows her as she deals with the whole thing pragmatically, and, being a very petite young lady, becomes almost as wide as she is tall.

 

Specifications

  • Fox Searchlight
    2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 28 Mbps
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Jason Reitman
  • Starring Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Ellen Page, Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Althought it didn't get good reviews, I thought the movie was very entertaining, and put what otherwise might be a very embarrassing event for most teenagers, in a positive light from the standpoint that there are so many childless couples out there, having an abortion is not necessarily the most obvious or best solution. I get the strong feeling that this was the purpose of the movie, and I think it delivered the message beautifully.

Technical

At 26 Mbps, the image is faultless. Whether the movie has a lot of CGI or not does not seem to be the deciding factor in choosing a bit rate for movies. It seems to be simply the length of the movie and whether or not the extras will be on a separate disc. In this case, the extras have to be on a second disc because it has a digital copy for uploading to your video iPod if you like.

The high def soundtrack utilizes DTS-HD Master Audio. This is not really a sound-intensive movie, so I suspect there might not be any audible difference between the HD audio tracks and plain old DD 5.1.

Extras

Besides the digital copy, there are Director/Screenwrite commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel, screen tests, and other things.

 


 

"Predator" (Blu-ray)

movie-predator.jpgSynopsis

A team of special forces from the USA, with Dutch (Schwarzenegger) leading them, heads for South America to extract American soldiers being held hostage by rebels.

When the extraction goes wrong, Dutch et al. find out why. There is some sort of alien in the jungle who is preying on all the humans.

Of course, the American special forces group, having the latest military toys that go boom, boom, boom, think they can kill the predator.

Oops!

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    1987, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 46 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-2 @ 19 Mbps
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by John McTiernan
  • Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Kevin Peter Hall
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This movie set a new level of graphic violence, sort of like Jaws did in the '70's. When I watched Predator at the theater, the blood drained from my face when I saw those skinned soldiers hanging from the trees.

It turns out that Jean-Claude Van Damme started out as the actor portraying the predator, but he didn't like being in a suit without due credit. So, he quit, and McTiernan hired Hall, who was over 7 feet tall.

Technical

The film is only on one layer of the disc, and does not have much of a bit rate. It is very grainy, and so, the image is a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, it is still better than the SD version. This is a classic monster flick, worthy of any collection.

The high def soundtrack utilizes DTS-HD Master Audio, but there are only four channels, probably taken from a Dolby stereo matrixed soundtrack original.

Extras

Special features are almost non-existent, with only a trailer. I would have thought they would put a feature on here that showed how they did the semi-transparent special effect for the predator.

 


 

"Face/Off" (Blu-ray)

movie-face-off.jpgSynopsis

FBI Agent Sean Archer's (Travolta) son is killed by drug lord Castor Troy (Cage), and when Castor is captured, Sean takes his face so that he can infiltrate the rest of his gang when they think Troy is in prison.

Castor awakens in the surgical recovery room, and when he finds out what has happened to him, he takes Sean's face and goes home to Sean's home for revenge, and to find out what Sean is actually up to. In the meantime, he has to be a father to Sean's daughter, and this is ironic, because Sean has not been much of a father up to this point.

Sean has his hands full too, including taking care of a rather wild girlfriend as he tries to gather evidence in the drug ring.

 

Specifications

  • Paramount
    1997, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 20 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS 6.1, English DD-EX
  • Directed by John Woo
  • Starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Face/Off, along with Broken Arrow, have established John Woo as an action director whose skills match those of any other director of this genre. I just wish he had done more of them.

One of the more interesting turns in the story is how Troy, with Archer's face, deals with the Archer daughter, Jamie (Swain). He sees her presumptious boyfriend trying to take advantage of her, tosses him through a window, and hands her a switchblade, telling her that if she dresses like a floozy, she will be treated like one, but in the meantime, use the knife to protect herself.

Similarly, he starts giving Archer's wife Eve (Allen) more attention than she was used to with the real husband. So, you know that in the end, Castor Troy will have fixed Sean Archer's family problems, regardless of how the drug war thing works out.

This particular action movie was nominated for an Academy Award.

Technical

Blu-ray is undeniably great stuff, and this movie was very entertaining even in SD resolution, so you can imagine how nice it looks in high definition. There is no high def soundtrack though, just conventional DD and DTS.

Extras

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

 


 

"Next" (Blu-ray)

movie-next.jpgSynopsis

Las Vegas has lots of magicians, including Cris Johnson (Cage). The difference is, Cris' act is not an illusion. He really can see three minutes into the future.

FBI Agent Callie Ferris (Moore) realizes Cris potential, and asks him to help them locate a terrorist group that has brought a nuclear weapon into Los Angeles.

Cris is reluctant to get involved, but Callie is insistent, and she chases him all over Nevada until he finally agrees to help. And it is just in time, for the bomb is being readied for detonation.

 

Specifications

  • Revolution Studios
    2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English PCM Uncompressed
  • Directed by Lee Tamahori
  • Starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Being able to see into the future, along with time travel, are some of the oldest dreams we have. This story is kind of an interesting twist.

It probably should have been moved into the Rated R category though, as the whole thing is just a bit too banal.

Technical

This is a recent film, so Blu-ray represented itself well here, with excellent image detail. The high def soundtrack is uncompressed PCM. I am surprised there was no Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio.

Extras

These include making of, Two Minutes in the Future with Jessica Biel, and other things.

 


 

"Commando" (Blu-ray)

movie-commando.jpgSynopsis

Retired Col. John Matrix (Schwarzenegger), who was notrious for getting the job done when he previously commanded a special forces group, is forced to deal with a Latin Dictator named Arius (Hedaya) who wants him to assassinate the new president there so he can retake power.

They kidnap his daughter Jenny (Milano) as incentive.

Unfortunately for them, Matrix is used to giving orders, not taking them, so he decides to do some assassinating alright, but not exactly the ones they wanted. Escaping from the jet that was supposed to take him to South America, he enlists the aid of a stewardess, and launches his own attack. He has eleven hours to get the job done, because that is how long it will be before the jet lands in South America, and they will know he is not on it.

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
    1985, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: MPEG-2 @ 24 Mbps
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Mark Lester
  • Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dong Chong, Alyssa Milano, Dan Hedaya
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Not the same director as Predator, not the same enemy, but similar to all the Schwarzenegger stuff of the 1980's before he started getting out of shape. Plenty of great action, and of course, there is an innocent bystander who goes along for the ride. In this case, it is a flight attendant (Chong). Lots of good one liners too, just like in the Dirty Harry series. I was amused that the dictator's soldiers all had sideburns. It was like watching an R-rated version of the Charlie's Angels TV show.

Technical

At 24 Mbps, the image is pretty good, taking into account that the original is more than 20 years old. The high def soundtrack is useful for the horrendous explosions in terms of dynamics. If you like action movies and Schwarzenegger, this is probably a disc to purchase.

Extras

Very little in the way of extras. None are needed really. It's just a good action film. It could also have been entitled Mayhem, Inc.

 


 

"Alvin and the Chipmunks" (Blu-ray)

movie-chipmunks.jpgSynopsis

Dave Seville (Lee) is a starving musician, and his latest song is rejected by Jett Records. He discovers three talking chipmunks in his kitchen, stealing food. Well, if the fact they can speak is not enough, he discovers that they can sing. Their names are Alvin (Long), Simon (Gubler), and Theodore (McCartney).

So, if the world does not like his singing, maybe the world will like a chipmunk trio singing. The chipmunks are a big hit, make lots of records, and go on a world tour.

Dave's old business manager, Ian Hawke, tries to horn in on the act and exploit the trio for himself, and of course, Dave, who by now is very attached to his furry friends, can't let that happen.

Specifications

  • Fox 2000
    2007, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 16 Mbps
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Tim Hill
  • Starring Jason Lee, David Cross, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Cameron Richardson, Justin Long
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The nice thing about singing chipmunks, is that the skills of the actors who sing for them are not important, because the voices are sped up to make them high pitched. There are plenty of musical numbers here, and the whole thing is just one big family fest.

Singing chipmunks have been around for decades, since way back when they first hit the record charts in the 1960's. The person who started the phenomenon used the stage name Dave Seville, and sung all three of the chipmunk parts by recording himself at slow speed, and then playing it back at high speed.

Jason Lee is also the star of My Name is Earl, and he sure looks different with a haircut and no moustache.

Technical

With animation, high bit rates are best if you want to show off the image details, but for some reason, they chose a very modest rate at 16 Mbps. It is a single layer disc with a few extras, so I guess the bit rate had to be low. Probably just a cost thing, since I suspect this one didn't exactly save the studios from financial ruin. At least they had an HD soundtrack, and with music being the core of the movie, that was a no-brainer.

Extras

A couple of things here, including the history of the singing chipmunks and a music featurette.

 


 

"Rambo 4" (Blu-ray)

movie-rambo.jpgSynopsis

John Rambo (Stallone) lives in Burma, where the military-run government is living the high-life and trying to suppress the rebels who don't particularly care for an oppressive administration.

A group of Americans approach Rambo, asking for his help in guiding them to a village up the river where medical assistance is needed. At first he says no, but finally is convinced to aid them.

Once the Americans are there, he leaves, only to find out a few days later that the military has taken them hostage. He joins a group of mercenaries who are sent in to retrieve the hostages.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
    2008, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio
  • Directed by Sylvester Stallone
  • Starring Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Ken Howard
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Rape
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Stallone produced this film, which is number four in the series. By now, he knew exactly what Rambo fans wanted to see (the bad guys getting their faces ripped off), and he delivered. The violence is extremely graphic, with heads being blown apart, and body segments generously distributed all over the scenes.

It is coincidental that this movie is being released to DVD just now, when Burma, a.k.a., Myanmar, is so much in the news. Rambo is not exactly a flattering look at the Burmese government. Odd that the fourth installment has the same title as the first.

Technical

I don't know what the video codec was here, but the image quality is fantastic. The DTS-HD Master Audio has 7.1 tracks.

Extras

Lot of extras on this one, including Resurrection of an Icon, The Weaponry of Rambo, a second disc with a digital copy for loading on your video iPod, and other things.

 


 

"Rambo 1,2, and 3" (Blu-ray)

movie-rambo-1-2-3.jpgSynopsis

Part I

John Rambo (Stallone) comes home from Viet Nam, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, as well as many other wartime awards, and makes his way to a town south of Portland, Oregon, trying to look up an old friend. He finds that his buddy has passed away.

He leaves, and while he is passing through town, the sheriff picks him up and asks him not to stay, because the US flag on his coat will get him into trouble with townsfolk who were against the war. When John resists, he is arrested, fingerprinted, and treated with abuse by the police.

He escapes and heads for the mountains. The police try to catch him, but Rambo was trained to survive and remain free. A Colonel Trautman (Crenna) in the Green Berets shows up and says that he trained Rambo, and they should let him go. They say no way, they are going to get him. Big mistake.

Part II

Rambo is in prison for the fiasco in Oregon. Col. Trautman arrives at the prison and tells him he can get out with a pardon if he goes on a mission to North Vietnam to retrieve American soldiers missing in action and believed to be still held there against their will (the war has been over for awhile).

He accepts the mission, is captured and tortured by Soviet soldiers who are advising the North Vietnamese. He escapes, produces a great need for body bags in the Soviet military, and rescues said American POWs.

Part III

Col. Trautman asks Johnny Rambo for his services once again, this time in Afghanistan, and Trautman is captured, so John must rescue his friend and mentor.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
    1982 (Part I), 1985 (Part II), 1988 (Part III), Color, Rated R, 96 min, 95 min, 105 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Ted Kotcheff, George Cosmotos, Peter MacDonald
  • Starring Sylvester Stallone, Richard Crenna
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I did not see the original three movies in this series when they were at the theater, and I did not get around to watching them on TV. For what reason, I don't know because I love action films. Anyway, I was surprised at how good they are. In fact, one of them was nominated for an Academy Award. Part II is probably the best, and I sense it had a much, much bigger budget than Part I. These come in a box set of all three, as well as individually, and I would suggest getting them all as a set.

Technical

For their being old movies, the image quality is great. Studios are doing a wonderful job of resurrecting aging camera negatives for Blu-ray. They all have DTS-HD Master Audio, but that is probaby overkill for movies that simply had Dolby Stereo, unless they went back to the original sound recordings and remixed them for 5.1 discrete surround sound.

Extras

There is a modicum of extras including commentaries with all three directors, and other things.

 


 

"Bee Movie" (Blu-ray)

movie-bee-movie.jpgSynopsis

Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) is graduating from Bee college and now has to choose the job he will have for the rest of his life. Barry and his best friend Adam (Broderick) check out all the "professions" in the hive, and Barry notices that the Pollen Jocks get to go outside. So, he signs up to try that out.

He accidentally gets into a human's house, and becomes fascinated with the young lady there, Vanessa (Zellweger), who is a florist. He speaks to her, and of course, that causes a problem since bees don't speak, do they?

He also discovers that humans steal honey from bee hives, and so, besides letting humans know that bees can speak, Barry decides to sue the human race for honey theft.

Specifications

  • DreamWorks
    2007, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 30 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English Dolby TrueHD
  • Directed by Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner
  • Starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Altman, Kathy Bates, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Renée Zellweger
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This movie might otherwise just be something for the kids that parents have to sit through, except that the star, Jerry Seinfeld, is a very successful comedian, and he puts his skill into the one-liners such that it is far from boring, even if you watch it without the kids.

Technical

Blu-ray is a superb medium for digital animation films because the scenes never went through a camera lens, so, if you watch them on a flat panel display, the image quality is not degraded at all from the original.

Extras

These include a commentary by Jerry Seinfeld, alternate endings, animator's corner, and other things.