Articles

Movie Renter's Guide - January, 2009

ARTICLE INDEX

"Hancock" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-hancock.jpgSynopsis

Besides being a drunken bum who sleeps on sidwalk benches, Hancock (Smith) is a Super Hero. He can fly, bullets don't hurt him, and in fact, he can't be injured at all.

So, when bad things happen in the city, someone has to wake him from his drunken stupor to do something about it, such as solve a bank robbery - hostage situation.

The problem is that he is careless with his powers, and when helping people, he causes a lot of damage to the surroundings.

After saving the life of a PR Manager, Ray Embrey, Hancock becomes one of his clients. Ray's job is to make Hancock into a Super Hero who behaves like one.

Then comes the discovery that Mary Embrey (Ray's wife) has the same super hero skills as Hancock, and she holds a secret to Hancock's past that could cost them both their lives.

 

Specifications

  • Sony/Columbia Pictures
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 32 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
  • Directed by Peter Berg
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I can see why Will Smith movies are so popular. He always portrays characters who are vulnerable in some profound way, but he survives. No complexity, no arrogance, just an all around nice fellow.

Technical

Image quality is not the best I have seen, but this movie is a good demo for surround sound, and Dolby TrueHD carries the load well.

Extras

These include an unrated version of the movie, and numerous featurettes: Suiting Up, Home Life, The Making of, Seeing the Future, Building a Better Hero, and Behind the Scenes. There is also a digitial copy that you can upload to your video iPod and and an On Set Visual Diary - Picture-in-Picture Track.

 


 

"Swing Vote" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-swing-vote.jpgSynopsis

President Andrew Boone (Grammer) is running for re-election, and election day has come.

Bud Johnson (Costner) lives in Texaco, New Mexico, working in an egg packing plant, and does not care much about anything in life, especially politics. His daughter Molly (Carroll) wants him to become involved, so she has registers him as a voter in the Independent category. She tells him to be sure and do his duty, and vote.

When he does not show up at the voting precinct, she sneaks in and votes for him, but there is a glitch in the computer, and it turns out that the Presidential race is a tie, with Bud having the right to go back and recast his vote.

So, now, of course, the President and his aides, as well as the Democratic challenger, Donald Greenleaf (Hopper) and his aides, do everything they can to sway his vote towards their side.

 

 

Specifications

  • Touchstone Pictures
  • 2008, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane, Kelsey Grammer, Madeline Carrol
  • Directed by Joshua Michael Stern
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

The movie casts a pretty bad light on politics and politicians, but this is a light we have seen for centuries. However, it does not wallow in current topics that divide our political parties, but just shows the humor in ways the parties go to spin their standings on specific issues to get Bud to vote their way.

In school, Molly reads her report on politics and makes a statement that is actually quite profound for a movie script, saying that all modern civilizations go through several stages, from bondage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, and from apathy back to bondage. I think in our case (USA) we have reached the back to bondage stage in our national debt of 9 trillion dollars that is about to become a lot bigger with the bailouts that are coming.

Technical

The image is nice and sharp, but there's not much use of surrounds. I guess surround sound is more of a feature that suits movies with a lot of special effects, especially chase scenes and explosive encounters.

Extras

These include Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production, which discusses the studio's making fun of ourselves in the way we approach politics, and shows the town of Belen, New Mexico where the movie was shot. There is also a set of deleted and extended scenes, and a director and writer commentary.

 


 

"The Bourne Trilogy" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-bourne-trilogy.jpgSynopsis

The trilogy is based on novels by Robert Ludlum and deals with a CIA Assassin Jason Bourne. In the first installment (The Bourne Identity), Jason finds himself in Zurich, Switzerland, with no memory of who he is or what his profession is. But when CIA Director Conklin (Cooper) sends out his team to kill Bourne because he failed in his mission, Jason soon realizes that his job was a dangerous one. Along the way, he picks up a young woman, Marie, (Potente) to help him get away from Conklin's killers.

In The Bourne Supremacy, Jason has married Marie and is living in Thailand, when Conklin's team makes another assassination attempt. So, off they go again, escaping the attempt, and leaving CIA assassins along the way. Moscow is the backdrop for this installment. CIA officer Pamela Landy (Allen) tries to negotiate a truce, but Jason is no fool.

By the time The Bourne Ultimatum rolls around, Jason has realized who he is, and because he has lost his wife, he is out for revenge, and heads for North Africa, to find a rogue CIA Chief of Operations to hand out his form of justice. His female companion and compatriot in this version is Nicky Parsons (Stiles).

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2002, 2004, 2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 59 min, 1 Hr 49 min, 1 Hr 56 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Scott Glen, Joan Allen, Albert Finney
  • Directed by Doug Liman, Paul Greengrass
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

The series definitely has a James Bond style, but without the jokes. Jason Bourne is all action. He is so busy keeping one step ahead of the CIA assassins, there is not enough time to sit around in hot tubs with his female companions. So, instead of doing the chasing as Bond does, Bourne is the one being chased. His hand-to-hand combat skills are also an order of magnitude beyond those of Bond.

Technical

Great picture quality, and DTS-HD Master Audio has a fine time with the action (and there is plenty of it).

Extras

There are a lot of features with this set, including the BD-Live feature for each movie. Also included are The Bourne Mastermind: Robert Ludlum, From Identity to Supremacy, Inside a Fight Sequence, Racing Through the Streets of Moscow, The Explosive Bridge Chase Scene, Planning the Punches, Driving School, and many other things.

 


 

"The Express: The Ernie Davis Story" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-the-express.jpgSynopsis

Coming from a poor background, Ernie Davis (Brown) gets his chance at Syracuse University, and Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Quaid) knows talent when he sees it. This was in the late 1950's when racism was high. But Davis didn't let this stop him. In fact, he gave them some of their own medicine when he joined a Jewish fraternity. Davis goes on not only to excel beyond anyone's wildest dreams, he becomes the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. It was a tragic loss when Davis died in 1963 from leukemia.

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2008, Rated PG, 2 Hr 10 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Charles Dutton
  • Directed by Gary Fleder
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: On the Football Field
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

The story is as much about Davis' relationship with Coach Schwartzwalder as it is about Davis' extraordinary talent. One interesting note is that Schwartzwalder was not totally color blind himself, but in the final analysis, he knew that the only thing that really mattered was playing the game.

However, the movie is really just one more in a long string of sports films about players, teams, or coaches who overcome obstacles to become successful. As such, there is not anything unique here, but it is still an inspiring tale about a very talented young man, and is definitely a feel good movie.

Technical

Post production really has their Blu-ray skills in the palm of their hand now, as picture quality just does not seem to be an issue with new Blu-ray releases. It's not really a surround sound kind of movie - it's more about character development - but the DTS-HD Master Audio is there for what's required.

Extras

You have the usual suspects on this one: The Making of, The Story of Ernie Davis, The Legacy of Ernie Davis, and some other things such as BD-Live.

 


 

"King Kong" (2005) (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-king-kong.jpgSynopsis

"It was beauty that killed the beast," is one of Hollywood's famous movie quotes. It came from the 1933 version of King Kong, which will always be the Kong movie that has the word "classic" attached to it, in spite of the fantastic CG in the 2005 movie.

It is set in New York City during the Depession, and actress Ann Darrow (Watts) is out of work. Movie director Carl Denham (Black) has not impressed his investors with his latest work, so he proposes a trip to an uncharted island to shoot his next film. He spots Ann in a cafe, and knows immediately that she is the one to be in his picture, along with male star Bruce Baxter.

So, they set course on the S.S. Venture, with everyone, including the script writer, Jack Driscoll (Brody).

When they reach the island, they discover a world that not only has ancient creatures from the age of dinosaurs, but a giant ape. The team of film makers is no match for the ape, which local natives have named "Kong". Ann is captured by Kong and taken deep into the jungle.

The team uses Kong's fascination with Ann to capture him and take him back to New York to put him on display. Kong breaks his chains of bondage and climbs the Empire State Building to await his fateful encounter with biplanes armed with machine guns.

 

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 2005, Rated PG-13, 3 Hr 20 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts, Colin Hanks
  • Directed by Peter Jackson
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: No

Commentary

Coming fresh from winning Academy Awards for his The Lord of the Rings series, Jackson had no problem getting the incredible budget that was obviously necessary to put the latest King Kong movie into production. It's the same story that has been told several times on film, and although I consider this version to be the best one by any measure, it still will never take the "Classic" label away from the 1933 version. It's a very long movie, but the CG is so astonishing, audiences seemed not to have a problem sitting in their seats for the entire adventure.

Technical

It has a razor sharp picture, because most of it is a CG background, which doesn't pass through a lens to be photographed. Of course, with the main character being a giant, the soundtrack is a stunning support, via DTS-HD Master Audio.

Extras

There are only a few extras, such as The Art Galleries (artist renderings), Director Commentaries, and BD-Live.

 


 

"Universal Soldier" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-universal-soldier.jpgSynopsis

In Viet Nam, 1963, two dead soldiers, Luc Deveraux (Van Damm) and Andrew Scott (Lundgren) are put on ice and taken to an experimental US military laboratory, where, years later, they are brought back to life and turned into super soldiers with sophisticated technology. They are called "Unisols" (Universal Soldiers). Deveraux is GR44 and Scott is GR13

The duty of Unisols is to handle situations that the regular military and police can't, such as rescuing hostages held by terrorists.

During one of their missions, GR44 begins to remember his past as a soldier in Viet Nam, and the terrible things he did during that war.

So, he abandons his role as a Unisol and takes off.

The military does not want GR44 to expose how Unisols were created from dead soldiers, and they chase after him with the intention of termination.

 

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 1992, Rated R, 1 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Jean-Claude Van Damm, Dolph Lundgren
  • Directed by Roland Emmerich
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

This was produced by Mario Kassar, who was involved is The Terminator series, so you can assume correctly that this story is filled with great action scenes.

Technical

For a 1992 movie, the image is terrific. Very sharp, perhaps mastered from the camera negative. DTS-HD Master Audio handles the explosive action in the way it should be.

Extras

These include Director Commentary, The Making of, Guns, Genes and Fighting Machines, and other things.

 


 

"My Best Friend's Girl" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-my-best-friends-girl.jpgSynopsis

Dustin (Biggs) is in love with Alexis (Hudson), but she seems a bit bored with their relationship.

Dustin happens to have a friend, Tank (Cook), who is such a complete ass, that he hires himself out to date the girlfriends of guys who are having trouble keeping them. Tank makes the date so miserable, the girlfriends come running back to their original boyfriends because they are so nice by comparison.

So, Dustin asks Tank to date Alexis.

Not only is Alexis more than Tank can handle, Tank now starts to fall in love with her.

Well, you can imagine the conflict this sets up, and this sort of thing is called a Romantic Comedy.

 

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2008, Unrated, 1 Hr 52 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Kate Hudson, Dane Cook, Jason Biggs, Alec Baldwin
  • Directed by Howard Deutch
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

I don't remember seeing this one listed in the theater guides, so I assume it went "Direct to DVD". That's not necessarily a bad thing, because about half a studio's revenues come from DVD rentals. There is nothing particularly unique about this comedy, but it is mildly amusing.

Technical

The image quality suffers from very grainy images. I am not sure what they did to cause this, but it is very distracting. The sound is nothing special either.

Extras

Plenty of extras here, requiring the use of a second disc: Director's Commentary, Making it in Beantown, The Prom: A Teen Rite of Passage, and other things.

 


 

"Max Payne" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-max-payne.jpgSynopsis

Detective Max Payne (Wahlberg) is a DEA Agent in New York City. His wife and child were murdered, and now he spends his time in the Cold Case office, trying desperately to find the killers.

While visting an informant at a party, one of the guests is murdered, and Max notices that she has an unusual tatoo that turns out to be the symbol of the Valkyrie, or soldier's angel. This leads him on a trail involving the Russian Mafia and a drug called Valkyr that gives soldiers a feeling of invinicibility.

The drug has gone underground because of its side effects, and Max discovers that a company called Aesir Pharamaceuticals designed it, but has attempted to bury its secrets.

Max's wife Michelle worked for Aesir, and he begins to uncover a conspiracy that resulted in her death.

All you need to do is look at the cover art on the DVD package to know what happens to those who destroyed his family.

 

 

Specifications

  • Twentieth Century Fox
  • 2008, Unrated, 1 Hr 40 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: AVC @ 22 Mbps
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Marc Wahlberg,Beau Bridges, Chris O'Donnell
  • Directed by John Moore
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is the best action movie I have seen in a long time. Everything works. Great direction, lots of action, exciting special effects, and Mark Wahlberg is just perfect in his role.

Technical

The image quality is very good, but not the best. However, the soundtrack is thunderous in DTS-HD Master Audio.

Extras

Not very many extras here. Just the Director's Commentary, The Making of, Behind the Scenes, and a few other things.

 


 

"Saw V" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-saw-v.jpgSynopsis

This is the fifth in the series of a story about a serial murderer named John Kramer (Bell), a.k.a. Jigsaw, who puts his victims in a dungeon and gives them a chance to escape, usually having to sacrifice one of the captors to save the others. Kramer's justification is that all his victims have done bad things in their lives, and so they deserve horrific punishment.

The problem is that John Kramer died in Saw IV, so the producers had to come up with another way of keeping the story going.

It is solved by implicating Detective Mark Hoffman (Mandylor) as the real perpetrator, and having Detective Peter Strahm (Patterson), who barely escaped death in Saw IV, investigate Hoffman.

 

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2008, Rated R, 1 Hr 36 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Scott Patterson, Costas Mandylor, Tobin Bell
  • Directed by David Hackl
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

Apparently, the Saw series is the most profitable horror movie series in history, so even with Saw V, the story ends in a way that promises Saw VI. However, in Saw V, the blood and gore have become a little tiresome, with nothing novel to offer.

Technical

Top notch image quality and great surround sound.

Extras

These include Director's Commentary, The Fatal Five, Slicing the Cube, and other things.

 


 

"Space Buddies" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-space-buddies.jpgSynopsis

A company called Vision Enterprises is launching a test of their Vision One, a spacecraft designed to take average citizens into space for the adventure of their lifes.

The children of a local gradeschool get the opportunity to watch the launch, which is supposed to be unmanned.

Well, Vision One is launched, and it is unmanned, but five dogs belonging to some of the children and who followed them to the launch site accidentally get on board. So, Buddah, Budderball, B-Dawg, Mudbud, Gravity, and Rosebud find themselves out of this world.

After refueling at a Russian space station and picking up another dog, Spudnik, while they are there, Vision One lands on the moon, relaunches, and makes it home in one piece, thanks in part to the ingenuity of all the dogs.

 

 

Specifications

  • Walt Disney Studios
  • 2009, Rated G, 1 Hr 24 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Jason Earles, Diedrich Bader, Amy Sedaris, Liliana Mumy, Josh Flitter
  • Directed by Robert Vince
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Good use of CG to make the dogs' mouths move with their speaking. It's definitely a small children entertainment movie, so if your kids are, say, 12, they will be doing the IM thing on their cell phones instead of watching.

Technical

Excellent picture quality, but hardly any use of surround sound

Extras

These include Buddy Facts, Buddy Bloopers (you can imagine the bloopers with the actors being half a dozen dogs), Dancing in the Moonlight (Music Video), DisneyPedia - The Buddies' Guide to Space Travel, and Buddy Finder. The movie is also BD-Live.

 


 

"Bangkok Dangerous" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-bangkok-dangerous.jpgSynopsis

Joe (Cage) is a hired assassin.

After finishing a job in Prague, he heads for Bangkok to begin a series of hits on mob bosses.

He hires Kong (Yamnarm) to be his assistant, and plans to kill him as he has done on all previous missions so as not to leave any witnesses to what he does for a living.

Kong is excited by Joe's lifestyle, and asks Joe if he will teach him how to do this kind of work. Since the next job will be Joe's last, he decides to pass his skills on to Kong instead of following his rule of killing an assistant after a job is done.

Unfortunately, this leads to disaster when gang members find out who Joe is through Kong' sister.

Now, Joe becomes the object in front of the gun instead of behind it.

 

 

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 2008, Rated R, 1 Hr 40 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Nicolas Cage, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Charlie Young
  • Directed by The Pang Brothers
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

Like many movies where the star is also the producer, the quality suffers. It moves too slow and generally is just not very interesting.

Technical

The image is grainy to the point of distraction, and surround sound is almost non-existent.

Extras

These include Alternate Ending, A Look at Hong Kong Cinema, and The Execution of the Film. It is also BD-Live.

 


 

"Righteous Kill" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-righteous-kill.jpgSynopsis

Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) are detectives in the NYPD and both are about to retire, but one last case is haunting them, and they won't leave the force until they solve it.

A serial murderer is killing people who have committed crimes and gotten away, either never prosecuted, or acquitted when they should have been found guilty. The killer always leaves a poem with the body that justfies the "execution".

The NYPD seems to be at a loss for finding the killer, and then, slowly, Turk becomes a suspect.

Rooster defends Turk, but two other detectives, Simon Perez (Leguizamo) and Ted Riley (Wahlberg) are persistent in their attempts to prove that Turk is their guy.

Meanwhile, the bodies continue to pile up.

 

Specifications

  • Anchor Bay
  • 2008, Rated R, 1 Hr 41 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy
  • Directed by John Avnet
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

It's supposed to have a surprise ending, but about 2/3 of the way through, you will figure it out. Nevertheless, De Niro and Pacino show once again how good they are when paired in movies together. However, it really is just a vehicle for their talent, as the story really is not all that exciting and certainly runs a slow pace. As a result, this is a ho hum cop movie with a couple of the best actors in the world.

Technical

Nice sharp image, but not much surround sound use. I am surprised at how many movies have limited surround. It's such a great opportunity to envelop the viewer, and they don't bother to use it.

Extras

These include An in Depth Look at Righteous Kill, Director's Commentary, and An Exploration of Cops and Killers.

 


 

"Dexter: The First Season" (Blu-ray)

movie-january-2009-dexter-first-season.jpgSynopsis

Dexter Morgan (Hall) is a Miami CSI officer who analyzes blood spatter. At least that is what he does by day.

At night, he murders people who have committed the crimes but eluded prosecution. So, he prosecutes, convicts, and executes.

As you can imagine, Dexter is not really just your average person during the day either. He pretends interest in anything and any other people, such as his sister (Carpenter) and girlfriend (Benz). As he says, "I fake all human interactions, and I fake them very well."

His father taught him all the skills necessary to do the job, having been a policeman himself.

 

Specifications

  • Showtime/Paramount
  • 2006, Not Rated, 10 Hr 51 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec: Not Specified
  • English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring Michael Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Erik King, James Remar, Rita Bennett
  • Directed by Michael Cuesta and Tony Goldwyn
    Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Mild
  • Language: Bad

Commentary

What is it about violent crime TV series that keeps us coming back for more, episode after episode? That's why CSI is the top show on TV. Dexter (Showtime HDTV series) sort of has the same idea as the Saw movie series, but without quite as much gore, and no dungeons with clever escape mechanisms.

Technical

Very sharp image, nice surround soundstage.

Extras

These include The Academy of Blood, A Killer Course, Witnessed in Blood, A True Murder Investigation, Michael C. Hall Podcast, First Episode of Season 3, and the first two episodes of United States of Tara. The movie is BD-Live.