Media

Movie Renter's Guide - December, 2008

ARTICLE INDEX

"Kung Fu Panda" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-kung-fu-panda.jpgSynopsis

Po (Black) is a Panda who works in his fathers noodle shop, but he dreams of being a Kung Fu Warrior who can help protect his city along with a group called The Furious Five - Viper (Liu), Tigress (Jolie), Monkey (Chan), Crane (Cross), and Mantis (Rogen).

When a contest is announced to select The Dragon Warrior at The Jade Temple, Po is accidentally entered in the contest, and a turtle named Oogway names Po as The Dragon Warrior.

A legendary Kung Fu Master, Shifu (Hoffman), must now train Po in a very short time to face formidable odds, especially since an evil warrior, Tai Lung, is on his way to do some harm because he thinks that he should have been The Dragon Warrior.

Part of Po's problem is that he loves to eat, and this gets in the way of Shifu being able to turn Po into anything resembling a Kung Fu Warrior.

 

Specifications

  • Dreamworks
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring (voices of) Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Ian McShane
  • Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Cartoon Style
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Although this is a children's movie, the Kung Fu action is a little intense, but I guess they are used to that on many animated TV programs.

Technical

The image is sharp, because it has not been passed through a camera lens. Animation is great stuff to show off Blu-ray picture quality. Dolby TrueHD keeps up with the necessary vocalizations that go along with all the fighting.

Extras

These include Dragon Warrior Training Academy, Learn to Draw Po, Help Save Wild Pandas, and other things.

 


 

"Mama Mia!" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-mama-mia.jpgSynopsis

Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) is planning to get married.

Of course, she wants her father to walk her down the aisle at the wedding.

Problem is, she doesn't know who her father is, so she is determined to find out.

She reads her mother's (Streep) diary, and finding the names of three men, she invites them all to the wedding in hopes of discovering her father's identity.

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Amanda Seyfried
  • Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

Here is a story about an upcoming wedding where the bride-to-be's seemingly biggest problem is finding her dad. This makes for a feel good story and some great comedy. Having co-stars like Streep, Brosnan, and Firth add to the movie's acting depth. The scene with Streep singing "Dancing Queen" with a group of other women is a highlight.

Technical

Nice sharp picture (Blu-ray production teams now seem to have the whole process under control), but there is not much use for surround sound in this kind of movie. Even so, it is nice to have DTS-HD Master Audio along for the necessary details.

Extras

These include The Making of, Becoming a Singer, and other things.

 


 

"Event Horizon" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-event-horizon.jpgSynopsis

A ship sent into space for exploratory purposes disappears for seven years.

The ship sends a weak radio signal that prompts a rescue team, headed by Captain Miller (Fishburne) and including Dr. William Weir (Neill).

Apparently, the ship had vanished into a Black Hole, but has returned to regions of space that the rescue ship can find it.

Unfortunately, the ship has a new passenger, and the crew probably wishes they hadn't taken the trip. Maybe just return to earth with all their fingers and toes intact would be good.

 

 

Specifications

  • Paramount Pictures
  • 1997, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 35 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan, Sam Neill
  • Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

It's a short movie mostly because Paramount cut out a large amount of the scenes, in particular, the bloody stuff. By today's standards, those scenes would still be there.

Technical

Picture quality and sound are great, due to Blu-ray and Dolby TrueHD, although, high def sound is a bit of overkill on older films such as this one.

Extras

These include The Making of, The Point of No Return, The Unseen Event Horizon, and other things.

 


 

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-the-day-the-earth-stood-still.jpgSynopsis

In Washington, D.C., a spaceship of the flying saucer variety lands.

The military and onlookers surround the ship and wait to see what happens. The door slides open and out steps Klaatu (Rennie), who looks and speaks like a human being. Behind him stands a huge robot named Gort (Lock Martin).

Klaatu says that he comes in peace, but when he offers an instrument that would allow earthlings to see into other worlds, they shoot it out of his hand. Gort reacts by cremating the soldiers and tanks that have surrounded the ship. Klaatu orders Gort to stop, and allows himself to be taken into custody, but he escapes.

He contacts a scientist and asks that he bring together all of the world's leaders so that he can give them an important message. In the meantime, the Army is out to catch him any way they can. Klaatu stays with a family who does not know who he is, and they befriend him.

Soon, of course, Klaatu's identity is discovered and he runs for his life, but is shot and apparently killed.

Gort retrieves the body and restores it to temporary life, and then Klaatu delivers his message to the world's leaders who have come to Washington. The message is not a pleasant one, and apparently more than half a century later (2008), we still have not learned our lessons.

 

 

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
  • 1951, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 32 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 26 Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray
  • Directed by Robert Wise
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Direction by legendary Robert Wise, and a haunting film score by Bernard Herrmann make this not only a classic, but one of the best Sci-Fi motion pictures ever produced.

Technical

It's old, black & white, but it never looked or sounded better than this. The upcoming "Remake" will obviously have all the latest whiz bang special effects in color and surround sound, but it will have to be special to compete with the 1951 masterpiece.

Extras

These include The Making Of, Commentary by Robert Wise, A Brief History of Flying Saucers, and other things.

 


 

"Serenity" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-serenity.jpgSynopsis

Based on the TV series Firefly, the movie chronicles activities on board the spaceship Serenity.

Captain Mal Reynolds (Fillion) trys to keep the ship moving along without internal conflict, but those on board will not have it.

A stowaway, River Tam (Glau), is a walking lethal weapon, and an operative (Ejiofor), who is on the side of the evil "Alliance" wants to convert her to their side and take her away from the captain's protective wing.

Other crew members include Zoe (Torres), Wash (Tudyk), Jayne (Baldwin), Doctor Simon (Maher), and the ship's engineer Kaylee (Staite), each of whom has to deal with his or her own issues on board.

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 59 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres
  • Directed by Joss Whedon
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

If this sounds like a cross between Star Wars and Star Trek, that's what it seems to be. The TV series was cancelled, so they took it to the big screen instead. It's fast paced, with plenty of interesting character interaction. Multiple little stories between the various characters is what TV series do, but this one just didn't make it there.

Technical

The latest batch of Blu-ray movies all seem to have a good picture and sound quality, in this case, due to DTS-HD Master Audio. No problems here that I could detect.

Extras

These include Outtakes, What's in a Firefly?, Director's Commentary, and other things.

 


 

"The Cheetah Girls: One World" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-cheetah-girls-one-world.jpgSynopsis

From the TV series on the Disney Channel, Chanel (Bailon), Dorinda (Bryan), and Aqua (Williams), who are the stars of the musical group "The Cheetah Girls", are cast in a musical in India ("Bollywood").

Once there, they are told that they will have to compete to see who gets to be the "Star" of the show.

Although the girls are already a big hit together as a group back home, this business of one of them being the top dog in the musical sets off a huge conflict that threatens to destroy their friendship, and maybe even the group.

 

 

Specifications

  • Walt Disney Studios
  • 2008, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 28 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Uncompressed PCM
  • Starring Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan, Kiely Williams
  • Directed by Paul Hoen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

With so many TV channels out there offering gratuitous  - and graphic - violence, and language that causes some embarrassment when you watch TV as a family, the Disney Channel is welcome relief. Although I am an action movie fan, once in a while I like to just sit through a relaxing story knowing that I won't be surprised by someone's head getting blown off.

Technical

It's getting harder and harder to detect whether TV programs are being shot on film or high def TV cameras because the image is so good now from studio HD cameras. Although the TV program is broadcast in DD sound, there is a soundtrack on the disc in uncompressed 48 kHz PCM, so the musical numbers will sound much better in your home theater than they did on the TV broadcast. This is nice because the disc contains some extended musical productions.

Extras

These include Cheetah Spots, Bloopers, a special featurette where viewers of the TV program were allowed to vote on what was put in there, and some music videos. The blooper reel is mostly giggles and not terribly funny. I guess they just didn't make any really embarrassing mistakes. The music videos are in standard definition for some reason. It really is time for all Blu-ray packages to contain material that is all in high definition. Not just the main feature.

 


 

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-mummy-dragon-emperor.jpgSynopsis

Rick O'Connell (Fraser) and his wife Eve (Bello) have done away with the mummy in earlier adventures and have settled in Oxford, England. Eve writes novels about the mummy expeditions.

Their son Alex (Ford) is supposed to be be in college, but actually has dropped out to excavate the tomb of the Dragon Emperor in China. He and his team open the tomb and find the Emperor, now a mummy.

Thousands of years before, King Han had battled other kings in China, attempting to overthrow them all and become Emperor. He asked a witch to help him become immortal, but sensing his evil nature, the witch curses him and his army, turning them all into terra cotta (fired clay).

The British Government asks Rick and Eve to transport the Eye of Shangri-La to China as a gesture of good will, and when they arrive in Shanghai, they discover Alex there, instead of in college.

In the meantime, a rebel Chinese army wants the Eye of Shangri-La because it will help them bring the Emperor back to life, after which he will restore his terra cotta army and rule Asia.

So, it becomes a big chase to Shangri-La, with Rick et al trying to keep the Eye out of the Army's hands, and the Army trying to get it to restore life to the Emperor.

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 52 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Maria Bello, Luke Ford, Isabella Leong, Michelle Yeoh
  • Directed by Rob Cohen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Of all the Mummy series, this has the best CG, but it is not the most exciting. The earlier ones had more of an Indiana Jones feel, but this one just has a graphics emphasis. (Come to think of it, the latest Indiana Jones movie had the same problem. Sounds like it is time to get back to focusing on the characters rather than razzle dazzle images.)

Technical

The disc has terrific image quality, but the soundtrack is what shines. Lots of great use with the surrounds.

Extras

These include The Making OF, From City to Desert, Legacy of the Terra Cotta, Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Preparing for Battle, Jet Li: Crafting the Emperor Mummy, and Creating New and Superlative Worlds. Much of this is about the locations and site construction. 70% was shot in Montreal, Canada. There is a second disc containing some of these extras, but it is not in high def. This makes them hard to watch because everything else is in high definition. I wish the studios would just shoot everything, including all extras, in high definition. It makes the package less attractive when so much material is in standard definition, even though it is 1.78:1.

 


 

"Burn After Reading" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-burn-after-reading.jpgSynopsis

CIA agent Osbourne Cox (Malkovich) resigns from the CIA, and in the meantime, another agent Harry Pfarrer (Clooney) has been having an affair with Osbourne's wife Katie (Swinton).

When a CD containing sensitive CIA information (Osbourne's memoirs) is left in a locker at Hardbodies Fitness Center, two employees, Chad Feldheimer (Pitt) and Linda Litzke (McDormand) decide to blackmail the CIA by telling Osbourne that they will make the information public unless they pay them $50,000.

Not getting the response they quite expected, Chad and Linda take the CD to the Russian Embassy and offer it to them.

Word of this gets back to the Director of the CIA, and now Harry, having been been implicated in the loss of the CD, has to retrieve the CD by befriending Linda and pretending he is interested in improving his health at Hardbodies.

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2008, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton
  • Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This is supposed to be a comedy, but blackmail and murder just don't make the story very amusing. Really great performances by Pitt, McDormand, and Malkovich though.

Technical

The disc has very good picture quality, but there is not much use of surround channels.

Extras

These include Finding the Burn which is The Making Of, DC Insiders Run Amuck which is about Washington, D.C. insiders trying to stay one step ahead of each other, and Welcome Back George, highlighting Clooney's third collaboration with Ethan and Joel Coen. The disc also has the BD Live feature so you can go on-line and communicate with other people about the movie.

 


 

"The Duchess" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-the-duchess.jpgSynopsis

In 1774, London, the Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes) contracts with Lady Spencer (Rampling) to marry her daughter Georgiana (Knightley), after which she becomes the Duchess of Devonshire. The Spencers are a fine family, and basically all the Duke wants is a male heir to his estate and position in society.

At first, Georgiana is quite happy, but soon discovers that the Duke is sharing his (their) bed with other women.

She learns to accept this, and in her loneliness, befriends a young woman, Bess Foster (Atwell), whom she invites to stay with them at their Devonshire House in London.

Now, she finds that the Duke is bedding Bess as well, who explains that the Duke promised to get her children from her estranged husband if she would share his bed.

So, Georgiana decides to make some intimate friends herself, selecting a young man, Charles Grey, who is a member of Parliament, and who is campaigning to become Prime Minister. She becomes more involved in politics in the process, but the Duke will have none of this and threatens her if she does not break off her relationship with Charles.

So, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, must choose between love for Mr. Grey, and her responsibilities at home, which include several children.

 

 

Specifications

  • Paramount Vantage Pathe
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 49 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Charlotte Rampling, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell
  • Directed by Saul Dibb
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

The film is based on a true story, and Charles Grey eventually was elected Prime Minister. It's a bit ponderous, but is beautifully photographed with natural lighting in magnificent homes of the affluent, with costumes that I think deserve an Academy Award nomination, and the acting is superb. Ralph Fiennes, in particular, is very good at playing a character who has the class of something you occasionally get on your shoe.

Technical

The picture is very sharp, but the soft lighting hides that sharpness a bit. Just basic use of surround channels, but the musical score is very nice.

Extras

These include Making The Duchess, Georgiana in Her Own Words, Costume Diary, and other things.

 


 

"The Dark Knight" (Blu-ray)

movie-december-2008-dark-knight.jpgSynopsis

In Gotham City, The Joker (Ledger) is robbing banks and getting away with it.

Meanwhile, The DA, Harvey Dent (Eckhart), is prosecuting Salvatore Maroni (Roberts), purported head of the Falconi Crime Family.

All of the heads of various gangs in Gotham City organize to hide their millions, because Batman is making things a little difficult. Mr. Lau (Han), who lives in Hong Kong, offers to keep all the money from all the gangs safe, and they agree.

Unfortunately, Batman captures Mr. Lau and brings him back to Gotham City to be prosecuted, with a leniency deal offered if he will tell the DA where the money is hidden and testify in court of the gangs' conspiracy.

So, The Joker offers to kill Batman if the gangs will give him half their money.

Therein, the plot thickens as The Joker begins terrorizing the entire city.

 

Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 33 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Eric Roberts, Chin Han, Morgan Freeman
  • Directed by Christopher Nolan
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This Batman installment is much, much different than any of the others. It is much more violent, and less of just a comic strip come to life. Heath Ledger's performance is so incredible, he completely dominates any scene that he is in. In fact, it is so dominating, the scenes he is not in are almost boring.

Technical

An extremely sharp image and great sound make this movie a real experience to watch. Interestingly, the movie contains both 2.35:1 and 1.85:1 scenes. Most of the movie is 2.35:1, but all the overhead shots of the city are at 1.85:1.

Extras

These include Gotham Uncovered, The Incredible Gadgets and Tools, Batman Unmasked, and many other things. It also has the BD Live feature.