Media

Movie Renter's Guide - June, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

Classic War Films: "The Sand Pebbles" (Blu-ray), "Battle of Britain" (Blu-ray), "Patton" (Blu-ray), "The Longest Day" (Blu-ray), "A Bridge Too Far" (Blu-ray)

movie-war-films.jpgSynopsis

These five movies represent several stages leading up to WW-II and the war itself. The Sand Pebbles (1966) takes place in China in 1926 when the Nationalists were trying to organize their country, while other nations including the US hung around to make sure no one else got too ingrained in the Chinese favor. Steve McQueen is Jake Holman, a Navy engine mechanic on the San Pablo, which is a US gunship anchored in Shanghai. The Chinese want everyone out while they organize, so the presence of the US ship causes a lot of problems. Jake ends up having to rescue some American missionaries during the process. The disc is mastered in MPEG-2 at 20 Mbps, and the image quality is very good. Directed by Robert Wise, this one has the most depth out of the five movies reviewed here. It is also a long movie, at 2 hours 59 minutes.

In 1940, Hitler offered the British a guarantee of non-invasion if they would leave Europe to the Nazis. Of course, the British said no, and Germany planned its invasion, which is the basis of the film Battle of Britain, (1969), 2 hours 12 minutes. The Germans waited too long though, and Britain had time to build planes and train pilots, so when Goering, who was head of the Luftwaffe, finally sent his sorties to knock out the British airfields, Britain gave them a big surprise. Hitler had to cancel the invasion plans. Stalingrad didn't work out too well for him either (Operation Barbarossa), but that is not part of this story. Stars include Laurence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, Michael Caine, and Robert Shaw. MPEG-2 at 18 Mbps delivered a reasonable image quality. The sound was harsh though, due to the original I am sure, no fault of the digital soundtrack.

Patton (1970) had a brilliant screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and a wonderful actor - George C. Scott - playing the title role. The story, 2 hours 52 minutes, covers Patton's activities in WW-II, from action in North Africa in 1942, to the final European campaign in 1944/45. He considered his main adversary to be Erwin Rommel, a German general, but also, he and British General Bernard Montgomery hated each other, and they were constantly trying to best each other. Although he was probably the most accomplished military leader of the war, his mean spirited personality got him into terrible trouble and it almost got him fired. The image quality is the best I have ever seen from a movie disc, being encoded with AVC at 23 Mbps, but mostly due to the fact the movie was shot in 70mm, and probably mastered from the camera negative. It is spectacular. It is also at an aspect ratio of 2.20:1 instead of 2.35:1 because of the 70mm film space.

The Longest Day (1962), 2 hours, 58 minutes, is another long movie because it covers the planning and execution of the most complex military invasion in human history. How they kept it a secret from the Germans is simply amazing. There are plenty of big stars in this one, including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, Robert Mitchum, and many others. That was because there were some big heroes to be played, but also, in those days, the studios put everyone in their big budget films. It is in black & white. Most of it looks very good, but the whites are blown out here and there, perhaps just to emphasize a high-key presentation when the scene called for it. Although we tend to think of the invasion beginning on Normandy beaches at dawn, June 6, 1944, there was actually quite a bit of activity the night before, with paratroopers dropping in to soften things up.

In late 1944, after the Normandy invasion, the Allies were making their way towards Berlin. Operation Market Garden, which was the basis for the movie A Bridge Too Far (1977), 2 hours 56 minutes, was a plan to take bridges in Holland away from the Germans so that Allied soldiers could take themselves and a whole lot of armaments across those bridges and march to the heart of Germany. So, the story is about one particular bridge in Arnhem, where the Nazis made a very tough stand and prevented the Allied soldiers from taking the bridge. Stars include Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, and many others.

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox and United Artists
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC and MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1, DTS-HD Master Audio
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

These five movies are among the best war films ever made (along with a few others like The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, which I am still waiting for), and I am delighted they have finally made their way to Blu-ray. They are a bit ponderous, but only because they had to cover so much ground, and are must-haves for any war movie aficionado.

Technical

All five films look excellent, much better in fact, than early Blu-ray releases. They are really getting a hold on what it takes to produce top notch movie discs now. I hope they will eventually take the time to go back and redo the earlier Blu-ray movies that are not so good. The high definition sound does not make much difference in most of these movies, because they are very old, but it might as well be there anyway, to get the best of whatever the old sound recordings could deliver.

Extras

Plenty of extras because of the historical significance of the people and the events.

 


 

"The Eye" (Blu-ray)

movie-the-eye.jpgSynopsis

Sydney Wells (Alba) was blinded as a child and finally has the chance for a corneal transplant.

After being home from the hospital for awhile, she begins having strange visions. As it turns out, her corneas came from a woman who had committed suicide because she also had visions, of the souls of dead people.

Her doctor tries to help her, but she is the only one that can really do anything about it.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate and Paramount
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 37 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud
  • Starring Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola, Parker Posey
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Although Jessica Alba is a pretty good actress, this type of plot has been beaten to death over and over in previous films. There is simply nothing new in this one, and it is rather boring.

Technical

Like most Blu-ray discs now, the image quality is good, but nothing spectacular. The sound track benefits from DTS-HD Master Audio more than the picture benefits from 1080p.

Extras

There are two discs for this movie, and a digital copy of the film, in SD, is on the second disc for loading onto your video iPod.

 


 

"Jumper" (Blu-ray)

movie-jumper.jpgSynopsis

David Rice (Christensen) suffers a near-death experience and then finds that he can teleport himself anywhere when he accidentally teleports himself away from the accident.

Because he lives in a broken home, he runs away, teleports himself into a bank vault, and then out again - but with bags full of money. He sets himself up in a nice apartment, and lives the good life for a change.

Unfortunately, he is not the only teleporter in the world, and there is a group of hunters, called the Paladins, that want to destroy them for religious reasons. They think that only God should have the powers that the teleporters have, not humans.

Roland (Jackson), the chief Paladin, locates David, and David only narrowly escapes. So, for the rest of the story, David and his longtime girlfriend are chased all over the world.

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 35 Mbps
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Doug Liman
  • Starring Hayden Christensen, Jaime Bell, Rachel Bilson, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Teleportation and time travel are probably our strongest scientific fantasies. Jumper does a reasonable job, but it could have been so much more.

Technical

The entire movie is full of special effects, so a high bit rate (35 Mbps) had to be used. However, the image just does not look very sharp. If someone had said it was SD rather than HD, I might have believed him. Perhaps just high frequency filtering here so the live action would match the special effects overlays, but whatever it was, the picture suffered.

Extras

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

 


 

"Bella" (SD DVD)

movie-bella.jpgSynopsis

Jose (Verastegui) is a rising soccer star in New York City, and is about to sign a multi-million dollar contract, but when driving in town with his agent, he accidentally runs over a little girl.

Althought it is not his fault, the accident destroys his life and his career. He ends up as a line chef in his brother Manny's (Perez) restaurant.

One of the waitresses there, Nina (Blanchard), finds that she is pregnant, but Manny does not understand why she can't be on time to work, and he fires her.

Jose is sympathetic, decides to help Nina, and through their new companionship, he finds his salvation in her little girl, Bella.

Specifications

  • Roadside Attractions
  • 2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 31 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: MPEG-2
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Alejandro Monteverde
  • Starring Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is an Indie film that has received many awards since its release in 2006. Rent it and you will see why.

Technical

Although this is an SD DVD release and not Blu-ray, the image quality is superlative.

Extras

These include a director's commentary, behind the scenes, and other things.

 


 

"Witless Protection" (Blu-ray)

movie-witless-protection.jpgSynopsis

Larry Stalder (Larry the Cable Guy) is a deputy sheriff in a small town, dating a cafe waitress Connie (McCarthy).

One afternoon, some guys in dark suits and dark glasses come into the cafe escorting a woman named Madeleine (Milicevic). The chief dark suit, Alonzo Mosely (Kotto), appears to have very tight control over Madeleine, and Larry assumes that she is being kidnapped.

So, he follows their car and "rescues" her.

The dark suits turn out to be officers who have Madeleine in the witness protection program, and they chase Larry and Madeleine in Larry's car, trying to get her back.

But, Larry is suspicious of their true intentions, and for good reason, so he continues to apply his own witness protection.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 37 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD EX, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Charles Rober Carner
  • Starring Larry the Cable Guy, Ivana Milicevic, Yaphet Kotto, Peter Stormare, Eric Roberts, Joe Mantegna, Jenny McCarthy
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I guess this is one of those movies you need a six-pack to enjoy. I am not a beer drinker, but I enjoyed it anyway, sort of. This is the first Larry the Cable Guy movie I have seen. The highlight for me was Joe Mantegna's portrayal of a nutty doctor, and it has to be seen to be believed. I am more familiar with him as an officer on the HD TV series, Criminal Minds.

Technical

Well, Blu-ray does help with the details of all the candy wrappers and other stuff that Larry had in the front seat of his car.

Extras

These include deleted scenes, bloopers, and other things.

 


 

"Step into Liquid" (Blu-ray)

movie-step-into-liquid.jpgSynopsis

This documentary details the spectacular waves and superb atheletes who surf them in beautiful spots around the world, including California, Maui North Shore, Costa Rica, and Tahiti. There is also some surfing in not so beautiful oil tanker wakes off Galveston, Texas, but it is fun nonetheless.

Surfing is obviously a very dangerous sport, and the 66 foot wave that one surfer navigated was apparently the largest wave ever surfed on film at the time this one was made (2003).

It looks like a lot of thrills, and I have been to the North Shore of Maui, Hawaii many times to see this sport, but it is windy, so I prefer to sit in the sand with a Starbucks and just watch, thank you very much.

Even the photographers out in boats filming these guys looked like they were scared half to death by the huge waves.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2003, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Dan Brown
  • Starring Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama, Ami DiCamillo, and many other surfing superstars
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Apparently, Gidget was an actual surfer back in the 1960's, and the movie by the same name was based on her. Up to that point there were about 1,000 surfers worldwide, and after the movie, millions of people got into the sport.

Technical

There are a lot of very grainy shots, but I suspect it was just due to overcast days and the necessity of needing fast (grainy) film so they could use high shutter speeds to capture the quick action.

Extras

These include the director's commentary, making a surfboard, and other things.

 


 

"Meet the Spartans" (Blu-ray)

movie-meet-the-spartans.jpgSynopsis

In this spoof of 300, King Leonidas (Maguire) of Sparta has an Australian accent and dental braces.

He raises an army that goes out to meet King Xerxes (Davitian) of Persia. King Xerxes, whom Leonidas says looks like the fat guy in Borat, demands that Leonidas bow before him and turn Sparta over to Persia, or he will "shish kebob his ass."

The result: mayhem a la The Naked Gun comedy style.

Specifications

  • New Regency
  • 2008, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 27 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 22 Mbps
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
  • Starring Sean Maguire, Carmen Elektra, Ken Davitian, Kevin Sorbo
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is an unrated version, but it would probably be PG-13 for grossness.

Technical

Excellent image quality, but not a very entertaining film unless you have had a six pack beforehand.

Extras

These include the director's commentary, gag reel, and other things.

 


 

"The Spiderwick Chronicles" (Blu-ray)

movie-spiderwick-chronicles.jpgSynopsis

In the early 1900's, Arthur Spiderwick (Strathairn) discovers a world of faeries and goblins outside his home and writes a field guide on how to deal with them. His daughter Lucinda is hospitalized because she said he was carried away by the faeries.

Nearly 90 years later, the great grandchildren, Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace, come to live in the house, and when they discover the field guide in an old chest, they also discover that the world of the faeries and goblins is still alive.

They locate their Aunt Lucinda in a local retirement home and enlist her help. She tells them the field guide must be protected at all costs or the goblins will destroy the faeries.

Specifications

  • Paramount
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 41 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English Dolby TrueHD
  • Directed by Mark Waters
  • Starring Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte, Joan Plowright, David Strathairn, Andrew McCarthy
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The movie is based on five books so it tries to cover a lot of ground in less than two hours. It probably would have been better to spread this out in at least two films.

Technical

Good image quality, but way too much photography in dark rooms. I mean, how many families would move into a home in the middle of the night? The soundtrack is very rich and orchestral, composed by James Horner.

Extras

Lots and lots of them. The kids will enjoy these almost as much as the movie itself.

 


 

"Weeds, Season 3" (Blu-ray)

movie-weeds-season-3.jpgSynopsis

Nancy Botwin (Parker) was married to a DEA agent, and when he passed away, she didn't have any money. So, to survive, she begins growing and selling marijuana from her home.

Of course, her friends are buyers, and when the word gets around, her little business to survive turns into a big money-maker.

So, after two seasons of success on Showtime, here is the third season, all 15 episodes. The "business" is the core and the idea is how she gets into and out of various problem scenarios trying to maintain the soccer mom image, while she keeps the soccer team stoned.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate/Showtime
  • 2007, Color, Not Rated, 6 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Directed by Various
  • Starring Mary-Louise Parker, Elizazbeth Perkins, Romany Malco, Hunter Parrish
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This is the first TV series that I have seen the Blu-ray set from, and I have to say, I am impressed. I hope my favorite HDTV series, such as CSI Las Vegas, CSI Miami, CSI New York, Criminal Minds, NCIS, and Numbers will deliver all the past seasons in Blu-ray.

Technical

This stuff looks better than some theater films. I suspect it was shot on high def TV cameras at 24 fps, which means it only had to pass through a lens one time from live scene to Blu-ray disc.

Extras

These include commentaries, gag reel, and other things.

 


 

"Chipmunk TV Shows" (SD DVD)

movie-chipmunks.jpgSynopsis

Alvin and the chipmunks have several adventures in these two DVDs that are taken from TV shows produced in the late 1980's.

In The Chipmunk Adventure (1987), the boys get bored when David Seville leaves on a trip, so they enter a hot air balloon race to Europe, competing with the Chipettes (girl chipmunks).

In Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to the Movies (1990), there are several stories that parody modern movies such as Star Wars and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where Alvin and the guys play the stars of those movies.

Specifications

  • Bagdasarian Productions
  • 1987, 1990, Color, Rated G, 1 Hour/Each
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • 480i
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1
  • Directed by Janice Karman
  • Starring Voices by Various
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

After reviewing a modern Chipmunk movie a few weeks ago, I wanted to see what the old ones looked like. It is shocking to see how far animation has come in two decades. These discs are perfect for car trips if you have young children and a DVD player for the back seat.

Technical

Although the jacket says this stuff came from the 35mm original, the picture is not very good, but it will be good enough for those young kids.

Extras

The Chipmunk Adventure has a second disc with supplementary music selections.

 


 

"Gangs of New York" (Blu-ray)

movie-gangs-of-new-york.jpgSynopsis

In 1846, there was a terrible place in New York City called The Five Points, where five streets met. At that time, Irish immigrants were flooding the city, and this is where they ended up, forming numerous gangs to survive. The gangs often fought and many people died.

Priest Vallon (Neeson) was the leader of a gang called The Dead Rabbits. During one of the battles, Bill Cutting (Day-Lewis), the leader of The Natives, kills Priest, witnessed by Priest's son, Amsterdam (DiCaprio).

Amsterdam ends up in a reform school for 16 years, and when he is released, he heads back to the Five Points to seek revenge.

Bill does not recognize Amsterdam and he hires him into his gang, which by now, is working with a corrupt New York politician named Boss Tweed (Broadbent) to control New York City.

Finally though, Amsterdam lets Bill know who he is, and there is the ultimate showdown, during which New York City is being attacked as the Civil War rages.

Specifications

  • Miramax
  • 2002, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 46 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English PCM 5.1 Uncompressed
  • Directed by Martin Scorsese
  • Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

The Five Points is an actual place, and its history of violence and poverty is shown in graphic clarity here. The whole thing with the gangs reminds me of tribes in Europe during the Dark Ages.

Technical

Although this is a Blu-ray disc, the image quality is not as good as I would have liked to see. Far too much edge enhancement. I am not sure what the bitrate is, but it sure does not seem very sharp.

Extras

These include History of the Five Points, Uncovering the Real Gangs of New York, and other things.

 


 

"National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" (Blu-ray)

movie-national-treasure-2.jpgSynopsis

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, apparently there was a missing page that had been torn out of his diary by Thomas Gates (Gretsch), who had met the assassin. In that page, Gates' name was mentioned.

A century and a half later, Mitch Wilkinson (Harris) shows up at a lecture that Ben Gates (Cage) is giving, and shows everyone the missing page of the diary, implicating Ben's great great grandfather in Lincoln's death.

Of course, Ben and his father Patrick (Voight) know that they must clear the family name, and in examining the missing page, they find some hidden code that may be clues to a city of gold.

They discover that the President of the United States has access to a book of secrets, one that all past presidents have known about, and some of these secrets are additional clues to the whereabouts of the gold.

So, off to various places around the world, including the Royal Palace in London, looking for further clues to the treasure, with Wilkinson hot on their trail. He wants to be the first to find the treasure, and clear his own family's name in the process.

Finally, they locate the treasure in a famous US park, and Ben and Mitch battle it out to be the first through the door.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 2007, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 4 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English DD 5.1, English Dolby TrueHD
  • Directed by Jon Turteltaub
  • Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Ed Harris, Jon Voight, Bruce Greenwood, Helen Mirren, Joel Gretsch
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Well, I'm sorry to say that this one is a pretty poor excuse for a sequel. The budget was there, but everyone just seemed to be going through the motions of shooting film. I didn't see any real enthusiasm. That, to me, is the director's fault. It is his responsibility to instill a sense of purpose and excitement in the movie-making process.

Technical

Excellent image quality. Too bad the story didn't match the picture.

Extras

These include deleted scenes, director's commentary, behind the scenes, and other things.